How the walls might start to fall down by disabled students moving up, moving on #STEMDTG

Earlier this week I did a post about social mobility issues.

In it I mentioned that I would be chairing a school and college workshop at a conference yesterday about in and out of university transitions for disabled students in the STEM subjects .

STEM Disability Transition Group Conference London 2013

STEM Disability Transition Group Conference London 2013 Moving up, Moving on

Here is a brief summary of my personal views about the outcomes of the conference.

Firstly, I thought the conference itself was a great success, bringing together a range of delegates from the English university sector, other parts of the education system and employment. Many of them mentioned how good it was for them to be able to engage face-to-face on shared issues around supporting disabled students.

There were some really interesting speakers, including graduates who explained in a very personal way the obstacles they had had to overcome (and were still trying to tackle) because of their particular disability. A gentleman from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) explained more about the Government’s developing employment strategy for the disabled. One shocking statistic that stood out was the fact that the employment rate for people with mental health conditions is as low as 15%. It was also notable that while higher levels of qualifications increase the employability of disabled people (not surprising really), there are still significant gaps between their employment rates and those of the non-disabled a few years after graduation.

As for our workshop, we were encouraged by the high level of interest from the university sector in what happens earlier on in the education system. This is very positive and needs to be nurtured somehow from both sides in a 2-way process. Anecdotally, we were all aware of highly expert individuals who for some reason cannot adapt their teaching and tutoring support styles to the needs of the disadvantaged. Doing this actually produces benefits for all their students. As a footnote, I wonder how many disabled students there are in highly academic schools in England, especially grammars and independents?

The role of parents came up in the workshop. They have a significant influence on the career-related choices their child makes at school according to our group’s data and a survey by the Wellcome Trust. But looking at some of the DWP date in the above link, you can see that many parents of the disabled have a tougher time themselves, with caring for their child taking a toll on employment and other life options. This can become a vicious cycle and needs to be broken in the worst cases, particularly where social and economic disadvantage has an impact. If the parents are disabled this becomes doubly difficult for them.

Which brings me back to some of the suggestions in my earlier post on tackling social mobility.

I talked about wider strategic accountability within the local area to ensure link up with employers and identified skills needs. I also wanted the Social Mobility and Child Poverty CommissionUUK and the CBI to drive the social mobility agenda in partnership at a national level to influence key policy makers in Whitehall and Parliament.

The conference made me realise this is even more essential now, especially for those disabled young people who deserve as much opportunity as anyone else in our modern society.

Note: a revised and expanded version of this post is available on NatureJobs blog.