The benefits of supported work experience and learning practical skills

Posted on 27th Aug 2019 in School News, Autism, Emotional and behavioural difficulties

A barista training course gave LVS Hassocks students a chance to learn skills to benefit their futures

Sarah Sherwood, Director of SEN at LVS Oxford and LVS Hassocks, explains the benefits of learning through practical tasks...

Why practical learning is so effective

For many individuals with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, learning through practical tasks holds more meaning than conceptual learning within a traditional classroom situation. Tasks such as making a drink, cooking a meal, changing a bicycle wheel or upcycling a piece of furniture have a sequence of steps with a defined ending. As an initial stage in teaching a new practical skill, a task analysis needs to take place, so that each component part of the task is isolated and can be taught as a single skill. Some students prefer to do the last element of the task, with staff completing the initial parts. This is known as back-chaining. Forward-chaining is where the student completes the first element of the task, with staff completing the remainder. Whichever form of ‘chaining’ is used, over time the individual with ASD is supported to complete the full sequence to achieve task completion from beginning to end.

How therapy can boost practical skills work

Therapy input is essential for students undertaking practical skills. At LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford, occupational therapists assist the young person with ASD in organising the resources required for the task, whilst speech and language therapists advise on the wording and graphics required for a task instruction sheet. A task instruction sheet takes the individual through the task step by step, enabling them to achieve independence in completing the task.

LVS Oxford's link with Blenheim Palace allows students to gain valuable work experience there

Careers focus

Engaging students with future opportunities is a great way to get them thinking about what direction they wish to take through their qualifications and ensuing work experience. Careers Week at LVS Oxford gave students of all ages a chance to learn about possible future employment in a very interactive way. Visitors from sports coaching programmes, local hotels and pubs demonstrated roles available, whilst plumbing and electrical trade sessions allowed them to try their hand at manual roles. Careers advisors also visited to help students prepare their CVs and practise interview techniques. At LVS Hassocks a Careers Day saw visitors from technology, media and sporting professions run workshops that left students enthused and ready to consider their futures.

Work experience within school

LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford also offer students supported work experience. As work experience can be daunting, this initially takes place on site, either in the café or student reward shop at LVS Hassocks, in tending for chickens, or as part of the Junior Estates Team. This gives students the opportunities to gain a taste for work experience in an environment they are familiar with and more confident in. A barista course at LVS Hassocks recently gave a number of students the chance to learn transferable employment skills and earn a qualification for their CVs that will help them to live independent lives in the future. The bespoke course gave training on making a whole range of drinks and built soft skills like confidence and interaction with the public. The certificate the students earned in Foundation Coffee Skills is a qualification that could lead to a job in a coffee shop.

Links to local employers create opportunities

Once the students have the confidence to use their task instruction sheets independently to complete a task, the schools secure them work experience with local employers. Initially, the students are fully supported by school staff, ensuring they understand the requirements of the job they are to do. Additional task instruction sheets can be drawn up if required, to ensure that the young person is able to complete the task with minimal supervision. As the student becomes more confident, staff are able to fade their support, until the student is able to work independently. This model has proved extremely successful, as the schools have students gaining work experience at venues from Blenheim Palace and local gyms to retail outlets and cafes to give them the skills they need to live independently as adults.

This article first appeared in the 2019/20 edition of Which School? for Special Needs. The digital version can be viewed here: