A new college for young adults with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has opened in Manchester.
Digital Independent Specialist College (DISC) offers young people aged 16 – 24 the chance to learn certain subjects in a small-scale, supported environment that is personalised to their needs and talents.
These subjects include:
– Web development
– Graphic design
– Project management
Since opening its doors, 30 students with autism, learning disabilities and other additional needs have enrolled with DISC to develop and practise a range of creative and digital skills.
All tutors at the college have experience of training and supporting neurodiverse people and have worked in Manchester’s own digital industries.
The specialist college was set up by Digital Advantage, a charity that has delivered digital work experiences to over 5,000 young people of all ages and abilities in Greater Manchester and the North West, since 2015.
Diane Ainsworth, deputy headteacher of Manchester special school, Pioneer House High School, trustee of Digital Advantage and chair of governors at DISC said: “Around the age of 16, many students with special educational needs and disabilities leave school – where they’ve felt secure and nurtured for many years – and start a big, mainstream college.
“Lots of them subsequently drop out or struggle because they feel lost. We started DISC to give young people with learning disabilities a range of inspiring and supportive study options that align with their needs and digital career ambitions.”
DISC is currently funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), and local authorities across the region.
The specialist college offers two main programmes. The first is a flexible pre-internship, based on students’ interests and delivered in partnership with SENDCode, a social enterprise that supports young, neurodiverse people.
The pre-internship includes remote learning, working at DISC’s city centre studio and, where appropriate, external work placements with supporting businesses.
The second is a supported internship, a year-long, full-time programme for young people with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Students can also access pastoral, peer-to-peer and weekly maths and English support.
Both programmes give interns experience of what it feels like to work in a digital job. They work on real life briefs from Manchester employers such as Manchester City Council, Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust and Jason Lock Productions, as well as the chance to build their own digital portfolio.
Staff work closely with interns to help them find the right job or education once their internship has ended. This might be an apprenticeship with a partner employer or freelance work supported by Digital Advantage.
Andy Lovatt, founder of Digital Independent Specialist College (DISC) and CEO of Digital Advantage said: “It’s shocking that only 29% of autistic adults in the UK are in paid employment, and that figure is just 4.8% for adults with learning disabilities.
“Young people with disabilities are still guided towards traditional supported internships in retail, hospitality or healthcare and for some people this is right, but for many, these roles limit their aspirations and career progression.
“DISC helps young people with a passion for digital to get their dream job. We’re disrupting expected pathways for SEND young people.”
Dylan O’Brien, 19, from Gorton in Manchester has autism and dyspraxia and is doing an apprenticeship with Digital Advantage, the charity that set up DISC.
He said: “I left school in year 8 because I got no support, it was overwhelming, and I struggled to get in on time. When I went to a mainstream college it was the same…
“Things are different with Digital Advantage. Everything is personalised to you. There aren’t big classrooms or hundreds of students. If you ever need help you can get it.
“Every day I go to their Manchester studio and make websites, edit videos and take photos. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made.”