Supported internship scheme helps St Martins School students gain valuable work experience

29 May 2024

Students from St Martins School in Derby, part of Shaw Education Trust, are gaining valuable work experience and employability skills in a Supported Internship Pilot at the University of Derby.

As part of the pilot, six students with Education, Health and Care Plans who are enrolled at St Martins School are engaged in ten-week placements in a variety of roles, including within the University’s library, cleaning, post room and catering teams.

Supported Internships are a government-funded strategy designed to improve the life chances of young people with special educational needs and disability (SEND) by supporting them into paid employment. Open to people aged 16-25, they include support from a Job Coach, who accompanies the interns on their placement to guide them through tasks as well as supporting them to develop their life skills, numeracy and literacy.

Across England, Supported Internships are offered in a number of settings, including hospitals, and other universities.

Employment levels for people in the city with SEND are low – according to the NHS’s Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (ASCOF), only around 1.8% of adults aged 18-64 with a learning disability in the city, who are known to the council, are in paid employment. This falls below the low national average of 5.9%.

Sabrina Hobbs and Professor Kathryn Mitchell
St Martins School Executive Headteacher Sabrina Hobbs and University of Derby Vice-Chancellor Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL

Research carried out by a University of Derby team including Professor Deborah Robinson and Dr Geraldene Codina, found that Supported Internships lead to the broadening and deepening of social inclusion for interns and graduates.

Professor Robinson said:

“Supported Internships are a significant and important strategy which help to create the bridge from education and into employment for disabled people. The University of Derby is incredibly proud to be the site of a Derby City Supported Internship. The interns are growing and thriving in their roles and the University is growing too as we live our values as an inclusive employer.”

One of the interns describes the importance of being in a different environment to school and working with mentors:

“I have found that being at the University is exciting and fun. There are lots of opportunities here for me to improve my work skills and some fantastic placement areas. I have met some great staff who have supported me, and there is plenty for me to learn. The staff have made me feel like part of the team and I look forward to coming in to work with them.”

As part of the Supported Internships arrangement, the job coach keeps in regular contact with the intern’s family. A parent of one intern said:

“The programme has been amazing for our daughter. Being able to choose a placement where she feels comfortable and can work at her own pace whilst building up confidence, has been essential to her development. We really appreciate everything that has been done to enable a successful experience.”

As an education offer, supported internships provide numerous benefits to young people and their families. Professor Robinson and Dr Codina’s research also showed there to be considerable benefits to host organisations, with existing employees feeling more that they can talk about their disability, and other employees talking about disability from an inclusive standpoint.

Sabrina Hobbs, Headteacher of St Martins School, said:

“The benefits to the interns involved in this opportunity are immense. They will not only develop skills for working life within a supportive employment setting, but they will also take steps towards realising our school vision of shaping an inclusive society as they add value to the University environment. Colleagues and students from the University of Derby will gain wonderful, shared experiences alongside the interns that will stay with them for life and hopefully inform future decisions that create even more opportunities for people with SEND.”

Central to the success of an internship is the active support of the employer’s senior leaders. Professor Kathryn Mitchell CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, has recently co-led on an inquiry into inclusion for disabled students in higher education. She said:

“It is extremely rewarding to witness the interns actively participating in their placements at the University. As an institution, we are passionate about working together with staff, students and stakeholders to create an inclusive and collaborative culture and environment. 

“I very much hope that the pilot is just the beginning of a full and varied programme of supported internships across our city, involving a wide range of local businesses.”

Find out more about SEND research at the University of Derby.

Find out more about Supported Internships at St Martins School. 

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