SEND Youth panels

By Carl Newbould, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Background – Kids in Museums Award

This award is free to enter and has the following categories; best museum (small, medium and large), best digital offer and best inclusive offer. Normally there are several weeks for museums to get their entries in (as well as nominations from the public) and the shortlister will see these applications a week in advance of a group meeting. The group of shortlisters are nationwide and before coming together they will have independently read and made notes on museums they think have strong applications. The shortlisters then all meet (via zoom) to decide collectively which museums advance to the next stage.

Background – Careers for All

Careers for All is a programme that has run since 2019 through Leeds Museums and Galleries. It creates career aspiring activities for young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities). The aim of the programme is to help bridge the gap from learning in school, college or university, to earning in the workplace. Activities made available through Careers for All, to name but a few, include work experience, career taster days, outreach workshops and careers fairs. In 2020 after winning the Museum and Heritage Award for “Learning Programme of the Year” Careers for All went digital. This meant utilising the website MyLearning and using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to generate activities.

The idea

In 2021 after I was invited by Kids in Museums to help shortlist entrants for the annual Family Friendly award I saw an opportunity to engage young people in the decision making process. I decided to form a group of young people (16-25) with SEND to act as a youth panel for the short listing process. My aim was to gain enough young people to open up discussion and have a variety of opinions brought into the group. The main attribute I was looking for in the recruiting stage was for participants to be sociable, talkative, and happy to share opinions. These traits were to play a huge part in the work going forwards.

The recruitment of the youth panel

Pupils who were recruited into the panel were not recruited through an application and interview process due to the short time span to (3 weeks). This however meant taking out an aspect that may have put off a lot of pupils at an unfair advantage/ disadvantage as many people with SEND have negative experiences of recruitment (which is a topic for another case study!) The panel members were recruited through networks already formed as part of the Careers for All programme. Some of the pupils I had met before and so I specifically asked their tutors if they wanted to be involved, this included a student with cerebral palsy who I had struggled to find placement for until this point. Knowing students and building a knowledge of their interests and skills is a huge advantage when running work experience as it allows you to offer places to pupils quickly, knowing they are more likely to enjoy and succeed in their role. The rest of the group were brought together using established networks within local Colleges and Schools. Each person who wanted to join filled in a booking placement form which helped to identify the adjustments that they would need in place to be part of the panel.

Youth profiles

Below are some of the profiles given by the people who joined the youth panel. Most of the information was disclosed by the young person with assistance from a class teacher, tutor or job coach. Please note that due to confidentiality the names have all been shortened to a single letter and the names of the participating schools and colleges will not be specific.

In total there are 6 young people on the panel from 4 different educational sites.

L is 25 and attends a local charity. The charity is set up to give 16+ year olds internship and work experience opportunities. All people who attend the charity are autistic. L filled in her own booking form and said that things may need explaining in detail. They said that they can be energised by exercise and movement and find straining at a screen drains their energy.

J is from the same charity as L. He is 21 and is autistic, in his application he was happy to declare this himself. J said that they need tasks to be explained in detail. J said that their enthusiasm is in music and looking after their dog and they find maths difficult.

S is 18 from a mainstream college but works in a SEND unit. S self-identifies as autistic and are proud to be autistic. They are enthused by the museums and heritage sector and had run a successful placement to write a blog earlier in the year.

R is 18 and from a local SILC (Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre). R is autistic. R had completed a work experience with Leeds Museums before covid lockdown where he wrote and delivered a tour with a classmate.

E is from a local collage, similar to S he is also based at a site designed for students with SEND. E has limited mobility in both his arms and legs. E has engaged with the Careers for All programme in the past through partaking in “meet the professional” workshops. In these workshops when asked about what he would like to do for work E said “something which uses my voice because that’s a part of me that works. My arms and my legs don’t really work but my voice does”

T is 20 years old and from the same college as E and has a diagnosis of both dyspraxia and autism although as he was brought onto the panel (in his self-written booking form) he declared that “for accessible I am fine”. He noted that he enjoys gaming, history, science and maths and does not enjoy sports.

First meeting

The group’s first meeting was predominantly designed as an icebreaker session. I created a PowerPoint to share in the zoom which included a visual timetable and the agenda was sent out a week early so the students knew what to expect. Following a process that works with our Community teams Preservative Party Youth Group I used a casual question at the start of the workshop to introduce the students to each other and give each person a chance to speak. This was “What TV show are you enjoying at the moment” and “a good thing that has happened to you recently”

I used the theory of spiral curriculum for the first session to ensure I started with more straight forward concepts ready to build up to more complex topics. This included covering what a museum is and naming museums the group had visited. To tune the group into the Kids in Museums Family Friendly I asked them what makes a museum good or bad and left the group to discuss. The group came up with a number of aspect that they felt a museum should be which I wrote down and have listed below along with the initial of the student who presented the point initially;

  • They should be colourful and interesting not plain and boring (T)
  • Interactive (E)
  • Information needs to be accurate (T)
  • They need to be accessible (S and E)
  • Museums should represent the diverse audiences that visit them (S)
  • They should run new exhibitions to stay exciting (J)
  • Fun and educational (R)
  • Differentiate for different audiences (T)

The above gave me a great marker for the groups understanding of museums and what I could focus on going forwards.

The group worked very well together as a group with E treating everyone as a friend almost immediately. This attitude helped the group to feel less formal/ friendlier. Whilst looking at the first application as an example E claimed that the font was too small for them to read. I increased the font size and zoomed in and did so for the following documents in prep for the future. L was quieter in the group and left before the end of the session (which lasted an hour). This was down to her energy level falling towards the end. This was noted for future workshops where an activity break was planned in.

On a final note when asked if the group wanted to return for the following week I was met with an emphatic yes with R saying “I have never been a judge on a panel before, it is a privilege to be here. I am very grateful.”

Second meeting

The second meeting was focused around learning what the Kids in Museums manifesto marks are, seeing an example of an application and then deciding upon an assessment method. The group started with an icebreaker question similar to the first session. The group settled into the session very quickly with E warmly welcoming every member of the panel.

Before the zoom meeting I collected a number of different assessment methods to share. This included scales, words, traffic lights and emoji’s. It was interesting to see that initially there was no consensus initially. T very quickly wanted to put the applications under words of yes, no and maybe, S declared that she would like to use the scale most of all, L liked the traffic light system and R smiled in immediate response to the emoji’s and said that was his preference. I asked the group if they felt there was away to compromise. They mixed the assessment methods to create their own (shown below).

Third meeting

The aim of the third meeting was to do an ice breaker, re-cap what we had discussed in the assessment meeting and then assess our first application. To help with this I read the application before the session and realised how difficult the process might become. This caused me to add to the session slides which covered critical thinking. Being a very broad topic I focussed on how sentences and paragraphs can be specific or vague/ sweeping and examples and visitor feedback is good evidence.

The third meeting occurred without S and R arrived late and dysregulated as their friend had an accident during lunch time which occurred just before the zoom. This meant that for the majority of the session R did not engage in the zoom. R continued to go back to talking about their friend to their teacher off screen during the session, missing social cues and talking over others in the group. The group as a whole however were calm and understanding including E who specifically offered his sympathies to R. E also had to leave the session early to get his transport.

The meeting timings did not work for this session as we did not complete assessing the application. This was partly due to members of the group arriving late and leaving early but there was also too much content to get through. I asked the group via email how this could be improved and L fed back that we did not need the icebreaker activity anymore and she just wanted to get on with the applications. J also fed back that the meeting felt very stop and start and that he wanted the format to change to avoid that by reading more of the application at a time before assessing it. Both these pieces of feedback were followed for the next meeting.

Fourth Meeting

The format of this meeting, following feedback from L and J, was cut to introductions followed by assessment, with the aim to get through an application before the end of the session. All members of the group were present but I was surprised to receive an email from T in the morning asking to do an extra hour of assessment with me and E as “there is a lot to do and we want to get through them”. T was also aware that there were too many applications to complete with the time it was taking the group to do and asked how it was going to be done. I explained to him that I was doing a lot of them independently and asking the group to help with ones I was unsure about.

T and E both worked with me for an hour before the full panel joined an hour later. They were determined to work together to get an application done. I read a paragraph at a time and then we discussed our thoughts and feelings towards it before moving onto the next. I offered for T or E to read sections. E read sections but T did not want to even though his reading ability appeared to be higher than E’s. This shows that ability and want are not the same. T was not pressured to read and E was given the time to read at his own pace. Occasionally due E’s reading pace T lost some concentration but could be cued back in.

Following the first hour T and E put themselves into a more executive position for the hour session with all panel members present. Speaking first after almost every pause. Their confidence was high and they maintained a high level of energy and concentration. T took up a time keeping role to ensure the group completed assessing the form by the end of the session and he kept us all to time very effectively.

Fifth meeting

This was the final group meeting before the shortlisting placement was complete and was delivered with no intro/ icebreaker activity. The group no longer wanted or needed one and simply wanted to work on the applications. E and T continued to predominantly lead on the activity, being the first to respond in most pauses however all students with the exception on R spoke out voluntarily without being cued in. This was great to see as it showed the rise in confidence of the group especially in S, L and J who were often quieter members of the group.

At the end of the meeting E said he was going to miss the people in the group as they are all great people.


The young people who participated were given feedback forms with the following questions;

  • What careers have you learnt about?
  • What did you do on placement?
  • What skills and knowledge did you gain?
  • What was the best bit?
  • What could be done to make it better?
  • What jobs would you consider in the future and why?

Of the 6 that participated (at the time of writing this) 3 have responded (J, T and L). These are in the appendices but a few key takeaways are noted below;

J filled in the form most comprehensively of the 3 that responded. This is potentially an indication of the value he found in the project however the needs of each individual needs to be taken into account and until this point no writing was required of the placement pupils. T said he learnt what it was like to be on a panel and J said “an insight about what it’s like to work in a museum, however L interestingly put none. She did not see the panel as a job nor pick up on roles discussed whilst shortlisting.

When asked about what they did on placement J and T concentrated more in describing what was included in the brief more generally“I was being panel judge for the kids in museums family friendly awards” whereas L wrote “Give my opinion and listen carefully to others.” This was interesting to see how a question can be interpreted differently unless the wording is made specific, or you are present to guide what it is you intended.

For Skills and knowledge each pupil found aspects they gained; L put team working T “how to evaluate applications” and profoundly J commented;

“I have learnt the difference between “sweeping statements” and “specific statements” and how these may affect an application. I developed my decision making skills as it was important to help the team decide which museums we thought should be added to the shortlist.”

J commented that the best part of the placement was that his opinions mattered in something so important. This is exactly what Careers for All programmes look to achieve. Giving a voice to future professionals and providing them with confidence to use their voice and pursue employment. L commented that the best part was “Having fun and meeting new people.” And T simply put “Judging the applications”. This, I felt, was a reflection of how focused he was on task from the start, always keen to do more and get stuck into the task. This is something T also mentioned in improving the placement saying he wanted to get more done.

Digital issues were brought up in feedback to improve with J saying that background noise from other people’s cameras was distracting, this is potentially linked to his autism diagnosis and the common trait of over sensory stimulation. L commented that she wanted the cameras to be switched off.


The Panels success led to the creation of a new youth panel group. This group has been running digitally for several weeks with the intention to meet on site with the lowering of covid restrictions. 3 of the original 6 members of the shortlisting panel continued to form the founding members of the new panel. Two were unable to attend due to school finishing and issues with keeping contact and L left to focus on applying for a career.

Key takeaways

  • Establishing partnerships with schools and colleges to learn who their pupils are including their needs and interests is key to matching the right person to the right experience.
  • Having an agenda (and using it like a visual timetable) is important especially for autistic students, however this can become less important as confidence grows.
  • Having a break slot in the hour is important. The group can always say they do not want it.
  • Ice breakers are effective in early meetings to give everyone a chance to speak and settle in. Make sure the group know this is happening beforehand to remove pressure of processing and answer the question yourself first to model an answer.
  • Allow the group to talk without your input to help the group feel like equals however…
  • It is important to still “chair” the meeting and cue people into talking if they are quiet or they may not engage again if not given a platform to speak.
  • Make text at least size 16 and zoom in when sharing your screen to help students with visual impairment to read.
  • Allow group to read documents used in a meeting but also read them out loud to give multiple ways to retain information.
  • If group are expected to read send out the documents before a meeting to allow time for it to be read.
  • Be aware of how communication can break when transitioning from term time to school holidays (and visa versa)