I have spent a lot of time talking about the problem - a mismatch between learning style and teaching can lead to incredible difficulties for the learners (and I understand that it isn't plain sailing for the teachers either).
Now I want to start thinking about how this can change. And I have to say at the outset that I don't believe that the solution lies in creating better schools, or by training teachers and TAs to manage the variety of learning styles that children have.
"Begin with the end in mind" is a sound recipe for success. And the end in mind, in this case, is employment and contribution to our society.
The employment market is hugely diverse but we have already seen that it struggles to accommodate different learning styles. The reasons for this are well documented elsewhere, but my summary is that Mainstream Employment is an extension of Mainstream Education. Little wonder those who are the marginalised, diesnfranchised and forgotten children of today's schools (Jarlath O'Brien) struggle to leap straight into happy healthy and long term employment.
We need to create an alternative employment market that mirrors the separation between mainstream education and special education.
There are some excellent social enterprises that are starting to do this, but it is far from being a market place - check out Harry Specters for a good example of this and some first class chocolates.
The instrument for creating this market place is the Social Firm. An organisation that is specifically designed to employ people from a specific group - people with autism in the case of Harry Specters. Indeed any firm that has over 50% of its staff from a specific group qualifies as a social firm. It can take on any legal form, and often is set up with equity to attract investors - it certainly doesn't have to be a charity.
The Social Firm will have a joint mission - to make money for profits, growth, or reinvestment, and a social purpose usually around providing employment for a group that finds employment difficult. PALS in our case.
I often hear the question asked: 'but how can a social firm compete with others in an open market if it has to expend resources on its social mission'?
The answer is "because of its social mission".
The people that are employed are not randomly chosen. Nor are they put through the turmoil of the modern interview. They are picked because their talents and interests align with the firm. That's the secret.
Imagine a young person who loves taking computers to bits, putting them back together again, helping family out with their IT problems, and maybe a bit of ethical hacking on the side. C
an you imagine a better more focused employee to work in a computer repair shop that offers advice to customers on how to keep themselves safe online?
Social firms already exist. What is needed, though, to transform the outlook for PALS, is a market place of such firms. Real choice on where to work to best match their talents. The ability to move jobs from one safe environment to another. The opportunity for promotion and more responsibility if they want it ...
... and the chance to make the jump to mainstream employment when the person is ready after sufficient years gaining real experience ...
... not just as soon as they have finished a traumatic period in our education system.
In the picture with this blog I show the relationship between employer and the mainstream education system, with an idea as to how this might look for the PALS Stream and the market of Social Firms. More on this in the next blog.