The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

SEND: the N is not for NEET

Disability is not a barrier to working, but sadly it can be a barrier to getting a job. Gareth D. Morewood explains what schools can do to encourage change.

We have previously commented on the extent to which the UK is failing to uphold the rights of its disabled citizens, and underscored the importance of working towards better outcomes for disabled young people in education.

To add to this awful picture, this week we saw the publication of another damning report, this one concerning disability and employment. 

The statistics

There are currently over one million disabled people who are able and willing to work, but so often they hear rejections like ‘Sorry, someone else was better suited to the role’ or ‘You’re not quite what we are looking for’ that their efforts to find a job seem meaningless. 

More than a third of disabled people don’t think they will find employment because of their impairment or condition. Two in five don’t feel confident about their chances of getting a job in the next six months.

An Opinium survey of 2,000 disabled people also found that more than half (51 per cent) of applications from disabled people result in an interview, compared with 69 per cent for non-disabled applicants.

This is clearly not good enough.

Two-way street

As SENCOs, we are always looking to make sure our provision for young people’s needs can support positive pathways into adulthood.

However, to truly address this horrific inequality, we must do more to correspond directly with businesses. Not only are employers required to undertake additional training, but they must also adjust their recruitment processes accordingly.

Too often I hear of the difficulties former students of ours have faced in finding long-term employment, despite often being perfectly qualified. For these same students, we worked hard to provide excellent pathways into post-16 education or vocation.

What is a disability?

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to perform day-to-day activities.

Fortunately, the disability charity Scope has just launched a new campaign, #WorkWithMe, with a view to raising awareness and ultimately helping young disabled people get into (and remain in) work. 

Chief executive of the charity, Mark Atkinson said:

‘We have a huge amount of work to do to tackle the disability employment gap. At the current pace of change, the government is set to fail on its pledge to get a million more disabled people into work.

'Disabled people with all the skills to do the job are being repeatedly passed over for roles, while others are being forced to apply for jobs which they know they are overqualified for.

'Employers are missing out on the talent they badly need because they don’t have the right support in place or because of outdated attitudes towards disability.

'At Scope we want disabled people, colleagues, line managers, employers and others to get behind the #WorkWithMe campaign and work with us to ensure disabled people have an equal opportunity to work.’

Read the full press release to learn more about Scope's initiative.

What is going wrong?

Health and safety is often used as a reason to justify outright discrimination against disabled workers. As a matter of fact, there are no health and safety regulations that exclusively concern disabled employees.

‘I had to apply for over 250 jobs before I was offered one. The interviewer would go cold when I said I was visually impaired.’

24-year-old Lauren Pitt, in an interview with The Independent

The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) requires employers to minimise the risk of injury or harm to all employees, so far as is feasible. This includes those who may be affected by their work activities.

What can schools do?

In our schools, we can not only prepare individual young people for working life, but also support them in understanding how to challenge discriminatory recruitment processes. 

SENCOs and teachers have a responsibility to challenge discriminatory practices and inform the wider population of their responsibilities with regard to employment and equality.

We can also engage positively with local businesses and employers, encouraging them to consider the reasonable adjustments that must be made for fairer access to employment.

Schools that hold careers events and employer sessions should make sure that equality of opportunity is at the top of their agendas.

I will be putting the message out there – what can you do?

Further reading


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