Post School Transition for Students with a Disability

A speech by Denis Meadows PhD Adjunct Senior Lecturer School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University

First, transition is all about the moving from one lifestyle situation to another, in this case moving from life at school to further education, work, and independent living. During this shift for students at The Glenleighden School we aim to achieve a post-school situation of an acceptable quality of life. This includes a job or further education, a safe comfortable place to live, and good social networks with family and friends. One important factor in achieving this is to plan for this transition early. For students with additional educational needs planning for post-school life should begin at around 14 years of age as early planning allows students to familiarize themselves with the post-school environment, set goals for the future, learn the skills that will assist towards meeting those goals, and make adjustments if goals or desires change. It’s a self-determined process where students, supported by their parents and family make choices about what they wish to do and achieve when they leave school. It’s what the transition literature refers to as transition-focused education.

Second, for students with additional educational needs there is evidence in australia and queensland that a transition-focused education requires some attention. In 2005, the human rights and equal opportunity commission reported that only 53% of persons with a disability in australia were employed and that this number has decreased since 2003. In one of only two follow up studies of students with special needs conducted in australia over the last 20 years, it was revealed that only 25% of students with an autistic spectrum disorder, an intellectual impairment, or a dual diagnosis of these two conditions, had ever held a paid job in a community setting. Around 60% attended non-paid day programs, while 13% worked in australian disability enterprise businesses. 93% of this student group were in receipt of a disability support pension and 78% of these received the maximum benefit indicating that their earnings were of an insufficient magnitude to affect the pension. There are no wide-ranging australian studies of post-school destinations for students with speech/language impairments but overseas data indicates that post-school outcomes for this group could be greatly improved. All of this indicates a need to enhance the quality of the transiton process when students are still at school in what paula kohler calls transition-focused education. Her taxonomy for transition programming is the gold standard for transition best practice and forms the basis for all of the recommendations and position statements issued by the division on career development and transition, a component of the council for exceptional children. The taxonomy consists of 5 elements:

  • Student focused planning where students are taught to set their own post-school goals, plan out how they can be achieved, and taught how to check on progress and make adjustments. This is known in the transition literature as the self-determined model of instruction.
  • Student development is the part of the model where the school assists to teach      students the skills required to achieve their goals.
  • Family involvement requires families to have input into the planning process      and take some responsibility for assisting their son or daughter to achieve their goals. Families also require information from the school about the nature of the transition process and how they can assist their son or daughter to more successfully navigate the post-school sector.
  • Program structure refers to the formulation and documentation of transition      program philosophy, policies and procedures, evaluation of student post-school outcomes, and professional development for all those involved in the process.
  • Interagency  collaboration is the final plank of the taxonomy. This is the focus for this evening and brings me to my third point.

The setting and achievement of goals for post-school life presupposes a collaborative relationship between the school and post-school service providers, educational institutions, training agencies, workplaces, and businesses with which students will eventually engage. Unfortunately, the human rights and equal opportunity commission study noted poor links between schools and post-school systems. Interagency collaboration is viewed as a key component in any transition process for without it the preparation of students for the post-school world becomes problematic. The curriculum over the last 3-4 years of school should increasingly come to resemble the post-school worlds in which the students will eventually reside. Research tells us that the more time students with additional educational needs engage in work and other out of school experiences while still at school, the more likely they are to find employment when they leave school. The number of work experiences engaged in while attending school is highly predictive of post-school employment as is having a job at the time of school exit. Engaging in school-based apprentiships, traineeships and participation in regular educational experiences such as tafe are also indicative of post school success. The provision of these experiences is built on the foundation of good collaborative relationships between schools and the post school sector. Good collaboration requires high levels of connectivity, trust, and sharing of resources and staff. It can be high risk but produce excellent outcomes for students as good collaboration can result in more closely accommodating to student needs, skill levels and learning styles.

Schools working with students with additional educational needs should accommodate to post-school service providers, learn their needs and limitations, share resources, and work as a team, perhaps engaging in joint professional development activities and involving post-school providers in planning meetings for students who are interested in their services. In this way you can generate a culture of commitment to the transition process and before long post-school providers, employers and further education agencies are making suggestions to schools about how, with their involvement, outcomes for students can be improved. The launching of the transition pathways data base and making connections with the post-school sector is an important first step in assisting students and parents in making contact with the realities of post-school life. However, active engagement of the school with the post-school world is the key.

Interagency collaboration can also be addressed on a wider basis than an individual school collaborating with individual businesses, post-school service and educational providers. Community transition teams consisting of secondary school transition personnel, post-school providers, employer groups, parents, chambers of commerce can identify common goals, address local transition issues and work together to solve the transition problems that exist in local communities. As the wider community becomes more aware of the skills these students can bring to the workforce and the supports schools can provide in learning and teaching in the workplace, the more they will be willing to provide opportunity.

My next point surrounds the predictability of post-school destinations. The evidence seems to suggest that what students do immediately after leaving school is highly predictive of their future life path. That is, a student who moves into employment and/or training immediately upon school exit is more likely to maintain training and employment later on in life. Many persons with additional educational needs enter australian disability enterprises or non paid day activity programs on school exit in the hope that they will be “trained up” to move on to employment related activities. Unfortunately, this flow through model is not a reality as individuals who follow this course rarely move on, another point noted by the human rights and equal opportunity commission.  Placement accompanied with supported training in a real world context is preferable. Place and train is much more successful than a train and place model.

My final point is that the transition planning process which includes making contact with post-school providers early is essential. Leaving it until year 12 is too late. Age 14 seems to be the time to begin. In my view, engaging with the set plan and individual futures planning process should begin for these students well before the mandated year 10 timeframe. Over an extended period of time students with additional educational needs can be exposed to a wide range of post-school environments and opportunities, make and adjust individual choices, and learn the skills necessary to turn their choices into a reality. In this manner a more seamless transition can be achieved. Leave school on friday and begin work or further education on monday is the key.  This longer-term view of the transition process for students with sli seems to be supported by parents of these children who report great concern about their 14 year old children’s ability to live independently and gain employment when they leave school. Parents seemed to be more concerned with these aspects of post-school life than they were about their child’s speech or language difficulty.

Studies from The United States indicate that school districts that have good outcomes for their students with additional educational needs collaborate at a high level with the post-school sector. Having schools with the vision to have quality engagement as is indicated by the compilation of this transition pathways database is an essential first step in this collaborative process and we congratulate all of those involved.

So, become involved in transition-focused education by educating all the players about its components by holding parent information evenings, asking post-school providers to make presentations to staff, students and parents.

Start the transition process early.

Be aware that real life experiences such as work experiences that are community referenced are important for post school success.

Plan to ensure that students enter a meaningful community-based activity immediately they leave school so that the transition is seamless.

Congratulations on the launch of the database and I trust that it will be a factor in ensuring more positive post-school outcomes for senior students at The Glenleighden School .

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