Careers for all – SEND students in museums

Carl Newbould – Leeds Galleries and Museums

Work experience; the how and why

Anyone who has organised and delivered work experience placements will know that it can take up a lot of time and effort and often (if we are really honest) are frustrating to deliver when you are met with disinterest from an unmotivated teenager (or adult!). So why, why, why would you take on the additional pressure of a work placement with a person with SEND and where would you start? Below I will explain how to run a placement and why they may surprise you.


To find placement pupils with SEN I would recommend a number of different approaches. You could ask a mainstream school that you have a good relationship with if they would like to take part but if you target a local SEN school or college then you are likely to get more expertise to help you. Through the Careers for All programme I found that schools are often enthused to get involved providing you show you are sincere, flexible and willing to listen to their advice and act upon it. If you do not have easy contact with a school or college then advertising on the local cultural education partnership and the SEND local offer are good places to start. Every council should have a local offer but these can vary in quality depending on the staff who are assigned to manage it.

The biggest piece of advice I would give before commencing a work experience programme with SEND is to expose yourself to as many pupils/ students, schools, colleges and teachers as you can. When I initially created a careers offer I had not taken into account the vastness of variety of needs I may come across. I remember sitting in a staff room with SEND teachers and them looking awkwardly at each other as I explained the offer available. One then politely and diplomatically then said “have you been round our school and seen our pupils yet?” I had not, but took this as an opportunity to learn so asked if I could. I was toured around the site and when I got back to the staff room I had a distinct realisation of the need for a wider offer. I sat down with the teachers and told them I would come back with a wider offer that would engage more of their pupils.

A key point of note behind this anecdote is every school/ college is different and of course every individual within that setting is different. Visiting the young people you will be engaging with in their familiar environment will allow you to understand them better and prepare. It also, crucially, will allow them to see you and learn who you are. This is particularly important if you are intending on taking on an autistic pupil(s) as change can cause huge levels of anxiety. By visiting the pupil you will have reduced one area of uncertainty.

Meeting your potential student/ pupil in their school environment will also allow you to see how they like (or do not like) to work. You could ask a number of pre-visit questions electronically, which is useful, but meeting in person has many more advantages.


Before the first day of a work experience placement there are several things you should know about a person with SEND. This information is best obtained through conversation with the pupil and teacher but having a record is also important.

The Lighthouse School in Leeds, a specialist school for autistic people advised that you should know about energy and how to manage it. This should include what gives you energy and what drains it. It is important to not completely avoid tasks that drain energy but instead be aware that sustained periods of time doing these activities may be difficult. Mixing a day with both energy draining and energy boosting activities is good practice.

Within a work experience it is also possible to practice what is known as job carving. Job carving is used when an individual can complete the majority of their job but there is an element/ or elements they will find distressing or potentially impossible. This is considered a reasonable adjustment not with work experience but also employment.

Young people (under 25) with SEN who are in education will often have an EHCP (education health and care plan). An EHCP will be co-written between the young person, their family and professionals working with them. It will detail their interests and aspirations and outline outcomes the person wants to achieve going into adulthood as well as needs they may have. It is worth asking to read the EHCP so you know what motivates the pupil.

For a pupil with high anxiety and/or social, emotional and mental health needs running a site tour will help to reduce stress and uncertainty. These site tours should allow the pupil to see where to sign in and out, where they will spend the majority of their time working and where they will eat. For many pupils taking pictures will allow them to look at the images when they get home and process the site in preparation for their first day, for this reason it is good to make explicit that this is something you are happy for them to do. Introducing staff can also be included within an initial site tour but if there are a lot of staff in that day then limiting the introductions to the people the people will be working with directly may help prevent the pupil feeling overwhelmed.

On placement

When placement commences make sure that the day is not going to put them off more work experience (or work in the future). This is why as part of Careers for All placements start with 2 hour days and build up in length depending upon pupil discretion.

It is important to ensure that the young person can take time out to rest or regulate if they are feeling overwhelmed, make sure that every day you are aware of a space a person can go if needed.

Making the placement meaningful and assessment

Career opportunities should not just be a box ticking exercise especially when it comes to SEND. Placements are created by schools and colleges with the purpose of preparing their pupils for the adult world and it is therefore important to help pupils remember their experience. This can be done through a reflective log. A log should be filled in at the end of every placement day so details are not forgotten. The way a log is completed can vary depending on the needs of the pupil. If possible it is best for the pupil to self-advocate and fill in the log themselves however if this is not possible they could fill it in with a placement mentor by dictating their thoughts. This document will then be something they can take with them after placement which they can use to apply for a job in the future. The placement log is also an evaluation tool for the mentor who is able to see what skills and knowledge their pupil has gained each day. A log can be particularly as formative assessment as you will learn what is working and what is not to inform what to plan in the next work experience day.

End of placement assessment is important to understand the bigger picture of what the pupil has learnt. In Careers for All (if the pupil is able to) our summative assessment is done through a mock interview. A mock interview allows you to see if the pupil uses their experiences from the work experience to inform their answers.

The benefits

The benefits of running placements with pupils with SEND is not just for the placement pupil, it is also good for your organisation.

By accepting placements you are exposing your staff to different needs and therefore will help increase understanding and inclusion in the future. This has been true of staff at Leeds Museums who have seen first-hand the value of placements. Staff have commented on the positivity, hard work ethic and joy pupils have brought. This has included pupils with Down Syndrome, autism and dyspraxia.

As a direct comparison, we have run the same placement for neuro typical University students and autistic pupils through the Careers for All programme and colleagues have commented on how they were impressed that the latter did a better job at planning and researching. These moments are only made possible if you engage with pupils with SEND in the first place!

The Careers for All programme is still very new but it aims to help increase diversity in the workforce. With diversity in the workforce you gain new perspectives, new ways of communicating and understanding your audiences and thus more opportunity to have a museum for all.

Staff training/preparation

Staff who are receiving a pupil with SEN should have an awareness for making reasonable adjustments but if worried that you are unprepared and have no training ready for a SEND pupil.  For Careers for All I took a distance learning course in Learning Disabilities and attended autism training from our local specialist school and local training service called STARS.

If you are seeking training for staff and are unsure where to start then you could look at the following sites. These will have helpful information and support, many also offer the opportunity to learn more through a workshop.