North East Connected

North East LEP initiative supports students with special educational needs into the workplace

Children and young people from Northumberland with a wide range of learning difficulties and disabilities are being given valuable experience of the world of work thanks to the North East LEP’s Enterprise Adviser initiative.

Students at Cleaswell Hill School, Choppington, Northumberland, will be undertaking work placements and hearing direct from businesses about jobs in the North East economy thanks to the school’s involvement with newly appointed Enterprise Adviser, Keith Nicholson, General Manager of the sustainable development company, Earth Balance (

Keith is the latest North East business leader to join the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Enterprise Adviser initiative, which seeks to improve careers education in schools and colleges and support them in working towards the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks, a national pilot scheme led by the North East LEP to improve the quality of careers advice.

Keith Nicholson, General Manager of Earth Balance said: “Physical and mental disability should not be a barrier to employment. That’s a really important message we need to send to young people and employers.

“I’m looking forward to working with the staff and students at Cleaswell Hill School to show them the opportunities available to them in their area. I want students to have a realistic picture of what it’s like to work in different sectors so they can make an educated choice about their future.

“I’ll also be working with businesses to dispel some of the myths around employing someone with a disability.”

Emma Steele, Sixth Form Cluster Leader at Cleaswell Hill School, said: “Working with Keith and Earth Balance has been a fantastic experience so far as we’ve been able to introduce the students to a range of different employers and open their eyes to a host of different careers.

“Giving them experience of a real life work environment will be really important in creating and raising aspirations. This experience could be the start of future career for many of our students.”

Cleaswell Hill School provides specialist education for children and young people aged four to 19 with a range of complex needs and disabilities. Its key aim is to equip students with the skills, knowledge and experience needed to live and work in society with the highest level of independence as possible, contributing and caring for one another.

It provides support and guidance to help overcome the barriers that may have affected many students’ progress in the past.

In addition to Emma’s role at Cleaswell Hill School, she also chairs the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) Working Group, a partnership between the North East LEP and a range of public, private and charity organisatons that work to ensure young people with special educational needs and disabilities can access quality careers advice and benefit from the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks in their schools.

Lindsey Peek, Enterprise Coordinator at the North East LEP said: “One of the aims of the SEND Working Group is to address the potential barriers to work for young people and how, as a group, we can find innovative solutions to those problems.

Our Enterprise Advisers are helping that work by championing their positive experiences of working with SEND Schools to the business community. Keith is the perfect Enterprise Adviser to partner with Cleaswell Hill School. Not only is his business based in the area, he has a real commitment to ensure all young people, not matter what their physical or mental ability, have access to the same opportunities and experiences. We share his belief that everyone should be able to achieve his or her career aspirations.”

Enterprise Advisers bridge the gap between business and education, ensuring schools and colleges provide the best possible careers advice and students have an excellent understanding of the opportunities available to them in the North East.

The initiative also supports schools and colleges in delivering the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks; eight clearly defined benchmarks for high quality and effective careers guidance. The pilot in the North East LEP region has proved so successful the benchmarks are expected to form part of Government’s new statutory guidance for schools in delivering careers advice. The North East LEP also hopes to expand the scheme to include Primary schools.

The North East LEP’s Enterprise Adviser programme has been running since December 2015. Part of a national initiative developed by The Careers and Enterprise Company, Enterprise Advisers work in partnership with enterprise coordinators to support schools and colleges to navigate the range of possible employer interactions and to help them create a whole school strategy for careers, enterprise and employer engagement.

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