Creating Opportunities

Aurora CEO Stephen Bradshaw shares his thoughts with Learning Disability Today on how Aurora is creating opportunities for young people.

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Originally posted on 26 September 2017 on Learning Disability Today

This week we announced a new addition to our family of specialist educational needs schools and colleges: Foxes Academy.

The acquisition of a new service is always something to celebrate, the group gets bigger and with it so does the positive impact we can have on young people across the UK.

However, Foxes coming on board truly cements the approach that we want to follow at Aurora and the difference that we want to make – principally around employability.

Employability, built on identified passions, is the key to unleashing the skills and talents of an entire generation of young people with learning disabilities - and at Aurora we want to lead that revolution.

Foxes Academy, which offers training and residential support for young adults within a commercial hotel environment, is widely regarded as one of the most innovative organisations in the learning disability sector, with a proven track record in securing sustainable employment and independent living outcomes for its learners.

And the acquisition comes hot on the heels of the opening of Aurora Boveridge College, in Dorset, where students aged 16-25 get the opportunity to learn and develop skills to prepare them for the world of work.

Creating opportunities

In time, students will transform the 16 acre gardens into a working ‘mini farm’ and kitchen garden which will be run as a business. In addition, they will operate a catering and events business (planned to include weddings and private events) as part of their Hospitality and Catering course.

If catering isn’t your thing you can create and run a digital studio - as part of your IT course. The studio will print marketing and promotional materials for local businesses. Or there’s always the motor vehicle repair course run by a fully trained HGV mechanic.

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The bottom line here is that we want to create REAL opportunities for our students that mean they have the ability to lead a purposeful and rich life once they leave our schools and colleges.

The issue of employability amongst people with learning disabilities and associated communication difficulties has for too long been ignored. Sadly, countless special schools have followed a strategy of ‘contain and entertain’.

And those children lucky enough to attend an ‘outstanding’ school or college are sadly all too likely to return home after graduation without the opportunity to support themselves. Instead they end up stuck at home lacking purpose.

We call them the ‘sofa kids’ and I want to help end this tragic waste of talent. To prove that another future is possible look at the success Foxes Academy, in Somerset, has had.

More than 86 percent of Foxes’ learners from the past six years have achieved employment, with 87 percent going on to live semi-independently. This compares to a national average of under six percent of adults with learning difficulties in work.

In addition to training at Foxes Hotel learners gain nationally recognised qualifications. This includes the NVQ Level 1 Hospitality Services, Entry 3 Introduction to Hospitality, Functional Maths, English and ICT, English Speaking Board, Employability and CIEH.

So yes, we do ensure that young people will still have the opportunity to obtain external accreditation through the exam process while developing skills in vocational areas that they can build on.

Focusing on self-esteem

So how do you tap into the hidden talents and abilities of young people who often lead very challenging lives?

Well, we set out to be different – to have a curriculum that focusses on self-esteem, confidence and the strengths of the child rather than their weaknesses. To find their passion and give them opportunities accordingly.

Once you find a person’s passion you unleash an energy that makes almost anything possible – this is true for all of us, so why not for a young girl or boy living with autism?

That’s why we are looking to create care and employment pathways for young people to learn a trade and follow their passion – whatever it is.

And we’re also developing our supported internships with major companies and providing apprenticeships within Aurora itself.

In developing our model, I often think of a young man I had the good fortune to teach almost 20 years ago. He was on the autistic spectrum and had been written off by mainstream education.

He now holds a senior role in the Home Office. Not bad for someone who was ‘unteachable’.

If he can find meaningful employment and a life with purpose so can many, many more young people in the SEND community.

Join our mission

Naturally, I’m hugely proud of the work we are doing at Aurora to ensure our education, care and support services are part of a journey, not a destination in itself. And of course, I want to highlight the inspiring work that we are doing as a company.

But that’s not enough for me. I want others to join us in this mission - providers, policy makers, commissioners, businesses, communities, young people and their families.

Let’s all come together to innovate and create powerful opportunities for young men and women who shouldn’t be forced to squander their talents. This should be our job.