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PALS journey into employment

I'm trying to develop a picture that sums up the current journey into employment for PALS in contrast to the mainstream journey. I will call this the PALS stream.

According to government statistics released by the House of Commons library, approximately 11% of young people aged 16-24 who are not in full time education are unemployed.

According to the National Autistic society, approximately 15% of all people with autism are employed.

This seems like a large difference.

In order to access the employment market, there are four hurdles that a young person has to overcome. They need qualifications - very few jobs these days are available without the ubiquitous GCSE in English and Maths. Our education system is primed to deal with this barrier. Department for Education statistics reveal an 80% overall achievement rate.

Job searchers need access to vacancies which is typically managed online these days, although employment centers help so this isn't really a hurdle and young people will be well signposted to get this access. Once there, the next barrier is the CV. Drafting this document is well supported, but the content can be troublesome. Particularly where the employer requires evidence of work experience.

Most jobs require the applicant to subject to the torture of an interview where they will be grilled on topics such as team work, leadership, strengths and weaknesses, and being asked to provide evidence as to why they are the best person for the job. This is a competitive process, and highly stressful.

Once in work, there is often an induction period where the employee works out what the hell is going on. This is the process of 'fitting' into the corporate culture. This is often defined as 'the way things get done round here' which is often a highly competitive environment painted over to look like everyone gets on and plays for the team.

The mainstream route into employment is: Primary school where the basics of maths, English, and working collaboratively are taught. Secondary school where adolescents are taught up to GCSE level and where they develop their identities as young people entering adulthood. College is the final step where GCSE attainment is boosted, practical skills are learnt, A levels are taken, and 90% of stuff learnt in secondary school is forgotten. At this point the decision is taken to either go into Higher education (university) or employment.

As stated, this route is highly successful. The modern trend to take work placements helps with getting the young people 'work ready'.

The PALS stream is somewhat different. It is often categorised by Transitions and Trajectories.

Transitions are tough for two reasons. Firstly PALS often find change difficult. Sometimes this is inherent. Often, though, it is because the change is not designed with PALS viewpoint in mind.

Almost the first thing children are taught in primary school is the noble art of lining up in the playground. What a chaotic process this is! It's one that most children understand quite quickly and the resulting conflict that happens whilst pecking order is established is quickly resolved. If your learning style is such that you cannot learn in an environment of chaos and stress (because of the effect such stimuli have on your brain) then you may never 'get' the art of queuing. And if you don't get it quickly, you will become the target of ridicule or worse. Particularly if your response to such chaos and ridicule is to hit out.

Transitions into the classroom, out of the classroom, preparation for PE, activities in PE, going to the school hall for assembly, lunch time, leaving at the end of the day are all made through the queuing process.

Transitions out of school at the end of the day can often be stressful too for PALS. These events are often accompanied by a discussion between your class teacher or head teacher with your parent. The discussion revolves around the day's issues and incidents and means that the transition to home life is strained. Entering home life may also include sanctions for those incidents.

A young person who is repeatedly teased and bullied will often be moved into a different class. This is a transition into a new and formed social group. Hopefully it will be met with kindness and support for the transition, but will be stressful if the transitionee doesn't really understand why they have to move (they are the victim after all and the perpetrator may well be basking in their success), and additionally stressful if learning how to make social connections is difficult for that person.

Whilst this is going on, young people with alternative learning styles may well have a trajectory which includes interactions with the Health Service. Multiple assessments where adults talk about you, and where they ask literally hundreds of questions and get you to do tests that don't appear to have any purpose. Often these tests result in discussions that leave your parents in tears. Sometimes they result in you having a label that you don't really understand. And then you have to transition back into the class. Or sometimes this trajectory results in a move to a different school.

The over-riding emotional state at this stage is one of isolation. From playground games. From being the last kid standing when football teams are picked. From birthday parties. From education. From the classroom if you are taken out for 1-1 support.

And just when things are settling down a bit, the school suddenly becomes massively over stressed. It's time for SATs. Those exams that we subject all our 11 year olds to, in order to rank how good the school is.

And following on from this stress, is a major transition into secondary school. All of a sudden you move from being the biggest and most mature in the school, to being the smallest and most immature and suddenly the school is 5 - 10 times bigger. You don't stay in the same class group any more, and you get taught subjects such as French, History, Drama, Cooking along with specific science subjects such as Physics, Chemistry and Biology - whether or not you have any interest in them.

The whole purpose of primary school is to prepare you for secondary school. But what happens if this has failed? What if you don't have the social skills to cope with this transition? What if, emotionally, you are not ready for this level of stress? What if you have just about coped with teasing and bullying as the oldest in the school cohort, and are now exposed to the same as the youngest?

The over-riding emotional state rapidly changes from isolation to exclusion. And often is accompanied by many new trajectories including time spent out of education, moving from school to school, accessing Pupil Referral Units, home tutoring and education, more assessments and therapies.

Family life, charities and community organisations help provide some sanity and safety within this confusing world, and allow a level of socialisation and fun to return. And provide relief for the family. But it may serve to reinforce the sense of exclusion.

Not surprisingly PALS in this environment of transitions and trajectories don't do as well as their mainstream peers in terms of qualifications. Average attainment scores for all pupils is around 50. For pupils with SEN and Autistic Spectrum Condition the score drops to 31.

Educational attainment clearly suffers for pupils with SEN and autism. It's worth remembering that attainment is not a measure of ability or intelligence. It is a measure of how well the education system has imparted specific knowledge in an individual, and how well that individual is able to recall this knowledge in an examination environment. People with Alternative Learning Styles are severely disadvantaged in this process.

The attainment figures show a different between PALS and mainstream, but do not really explain the massive gap in employment rates.

I will explain why this is the case in my next blog - and also show what is needed to get PALS employment rates to be equivalent to mainstream. Our goal.

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