Crossing the Divide


Martin McLean, Education and Training Policy Advisor (Post-14), National Deaf Children’s Society

Further education (FE) is getting a lot of attention at the moment and rightly so. The UK has major skills shortages in many sectors and Brexit may mean we are less likely to be able to rely on EU immigration to plug the skills gap. The Education Secretary, Justine Greening, as I type this blog, has just made a speech where she talked about creating ‘an army of skilled young people for British business’. To address skills shortages the Government is creating 15 technical routes and new T-level qualifications in England. Wales is also on the verge of significant post-16 education reform.

FE colleges will play a major role in delivering the new qualifications and with FE colleges being the destination for the majority of deaf young people at 16, investment in the new technical routes will be no bad thing if they lead to clearer pathways to employment.

Recently, a small piece of research was carried out for us by a group of civil servants and corporate sector employees on the transition deaf young people make from FE into employment and the support they receive to do this in FE. We asked them to look at this issue because there is so little data out there on the outcomes of deaf young people who attend FE colleges – are they finding jobs after leaving college and how well prepared are they for entering the job market? We suspected that the support available to them to find work might be quite poor. Sadly, the research confirmed that this is probably the case. The main findings of the group’s research were:

  • 59% of parents of deaf young people stated their child’s college did not help them find any work experience or placement opportunities
  • 39% of parents stated their child had not received any careers support or guidance at college
  • Young people who had received college-supported work experience were more likely to have gone onto employment or further study

Some parents reported negative experiences with their child making the transition to work:

“It was disappointing that on his first visit to the Job Centre, in an effort to find employment, they put him on ESA (Employment Support Allowance) without the necessity to attend support sessions. In other words, he was written off as being unemployable”

“We didn’t know what help was available. Recruitment companies didn’t seem to be interested in helping my daughter get a job and I put this down to her being deaf.”

This type of experiences provide a strong case for deaf young people having access to tailored careers advice at school and college. It is not just about access to careers advice that their hearing course-mates receive. Do young people know that they can benefit from Access to Work? Do they understand their rights under the Equality Act? Are they aware of the organisations that might be able to provide further support when they leave education? We believe schools and colleges have a role in making sure deaf young people receive this type of information.

deaf young person looking for work

It is expected that work experience will be a compulsory part of a T-level – this is welcome and we need to make sure deaf young people receive the support they need on these placements.

FE and skills reform has cross-party support and I believe that better investment in FE will benefit many deaf young people. However, before they embark on any technical routes, we need to fight for deaf young people to have better access to decent careers advice so that they can make properly informed decisions about the career opportunities available to them and understand support that is available in the workplace.

I’m deaf myself and remember leaving education to find work being very daunting. I am sure it is the same many deaf young people finishing education today. Through working together with the FE and skills sector NDCS hopes to make the divide between education and work a lot narrower.

The John Lewis Experience

Paula Brown,  Family Officer South Wales

Paula Brown, Family Officer South Wales

Deaf children and young people in Wales repeatedly tell us that deaf awareness is simply not good enough – in schools, leisure activities, NHS, public transport and shops. That’s why NDCS Cymru as a team has made raising deaf awareness a key objective, in terms of campaigns activity and also Family Officer outreach.

Here’s an example of one such initiative where NDCS Cymru (in partnership with John Lewis, Cardiff) facilitated a supportive, meaningful work experience for deaf young people, and hopefully ensured an enhanced shopping experience for deaf children, young people and the wider deaf community going forward.

From small acorns…
Who would have thought that a chance meeting, three years ago, between NDCS Cymru staff and a speech and language therapy student, who was working part time in John Lewis, would have led to work experience placements for deaf young people in the Cardiff store? Well it did and it’s been fantastic

Whoever said ‘fair exchange is no robbery’ was on to something. In the first year of our relationship with John Lewis my fellow family officer, Jamie Rhys-Martin, and I just provided the deaf awareness training. It went so well they asked for more! But we wanted something out of it as well and that’s when the deal was struck. Jamie and I provide the deaf awareness training to their staff (partners) once a year and a group of deaf young people get work experience placements in return.

Here are the best bits……so far!
• New opportunities for deaf young people that they would not have had otherwise – and real experience for them and John Lewis partners, putting theory into practice.

• Friendly and welcoming partners who want the deaf students to feel included and benefit from their work experience week.

• Behind the scenes tours of John Lewis and seeing the inner workings of the store which is a world away from the pristine store that shoppers see.

• Mind your BOPS, don’t confuse your FFF and FFs, watch for the WINS and get your fill in the PDR – a lot of confusing acronyms!

• Cheap and tasty eats in the HIGHLY subsidised PDR (Partners Dining Room). It was impossible to spend £10 between 3 of us in one day and that was eating and drinking as much as we possibly could at every opportunity. If you knew Jamie ‘hollow legs’ Rhys-Martin you’d know how hard that is to believe but it’s true!!!!

What did the deaf students & parents think…
• “Really good to see how retail works, the kind of money they take and the people there. I think working for them is a much better choice that most other retailers tbh. Tuesday I was on EHT, Wednesday on Tech and Audio, Thursday on Lighting and Seasonal and Friday they moved me back to Audio and TV. Was also surprised how much I was “allowed” to do apart from the case, I could take the sale, check if it was in stock, do print-outs, advise etc. So yeah, very pleasing!”

• “The best thing was to be able to experience what it is really like to work on a shop floor dealing with customers, also making friends and learning about different products.”

• “Thank you Paula & Jamie! A…had a fab week in JL. He says he’s thinking about the JL apprenticeship after his A levels! Who knows, but it was a great experience for him.”

• Hi Paula I had a fantastic time in John Lewis I enjoyed everything I did but the best thing was using the till and helping the customers. I also met some new friends and have a good experience of working in the store. I would love to work there:-)”

• “Yeah it’s good, so happy”

We’re very grateful to John Lewis for the giving the deaf young people of south Wales such a brilliant opportunity. John Lewis has demonstrated in a practical way that being deaf is not a barrier in their workplace. Hopefully other companies will follow suit.

So here’s to 2015 and the next batch of deaf work experience recruits!