“Every young person is unique, it sounds a bit cheesy but it’s obviously true. And yet despite that I have spent 14 of my 17 years working in colleges where I have often seen the offer to be more like ‘a one size fits all approach’.
Of the many examples I could choose to write about, I will pick one from within my own family. My brother has learning differences not dissimilar to some of the students at Burlington House Sixth Form. He spent about 8 years of his education moving around the College circuit under the guidance of some fantastic teachers and staff, but what he did over those 8 years was largely similar in terms of demands and content.
It became a bit of a conveyor belt of ‘sameness’ and settling for mediocrity. It was really my parents who helped to break this cycle through their relentless love and support for him and many many interactions with the Local Authority, the Job Centre and, occasionally, those Colleges.
Now that I am Head of Sixth Form for Burlington House School, I meet parents like my own who have been fighting for what’s right for their child/ren and I sympathise with them. I understand their desperate need for their child to be happy in adulthood and prepared to lead a full life, and I see Burlington House Sixth Form as a stepping stone towards that.
The UK has a long way to go in terms of the employment of neurodiverse people, especially those who hold EHCPs like many of our young adults. Only around 5% of adults who had an EHCP are currently in employment. My brother is one of the 5% – but it’s not been an easy road. My mum describes it as a ‘highway to hell’ and rock and roll is never far away from me and my life as you will see by reading on!
When I was given the professional opportunity of a lifetime to start our unique Sixth Form I knew that it had to have its foundations within the community and not become an island cut off from wider society. It had to offer opportunities to students to learn new skills outside of the classroom and to gain sustained and meaningful work experience.
In a nutshell, I wanted our students to be proud and able to say to their friends and siblings what they have been doing during the week, and for it to far exceed anyone else’s College experiences. Our students deserve the best of the best and if a growth mindset is embedded like we are trying to do, then I believe we can empower the students to join the 5% and, over time, grow that figure nationally.
Employers! We need you…
If an employer can dedicate some time to a young person, to truly help to engage them and build a rapport, they will soon see that our students have so much to offer.
Each one of our Sixth Formers is ready and waiting to make a massive impact on the job market. We have bilingual students, tech wizards, creative geniuses, philosophers, chefs, high level sport stars, actors and actresses, models, composers, animators… you name it and we have somebody with a talent!
The wonderful inclusive employers we have partnered with so far, who took the time out of their busy working day to meet us and listen to our vision, have helped grow our students’ mindsets much more than we could ever hope to do in a classroom setting alone.
The crowning moment so far has been our Bush Hall ‘takeover event’. An event so unique that I really don’t think there is anything that is remotely similar to what our students did.
Maybe I have watched the School of Rock one to many times (!) but our students were able to pull off a night where they:
● sold tickets and promoted the event,
● ran the bar, the security, the box office and merchandise (selling over £400 of merch for charity on the evening itself),
● exhibited photography and art work,
● hosted VIP guests including the Hammersmith Mayor,
● planned and executed the sound and lighting for the event,
● hosted and managed the stage, and
● performed as a band over the course of the 3 hour event!
Fast forward to results day (summer 2022) and it was no surprise that these same students gained a 100% pass rate in their BTEC courses and helped our Sixth Form to enter the national A Level results league table in position 181 overall, and securing the number one spot for specialist colleges in England.
If you or someone you know is an employer who is interested in tapping into the potential of neurodiverse minds, please get in touch. We can’t wait to introduce you to our amazing young people.