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UK Athletics: Supporting students with special educational needs

Category: UK Athletics, Work Experience, Corporate Social Responsibility, Partnerships, Student Support, Special Educational Needs, UKA, disability confident leader, The Hive College


UK Athletics achieved the Disability Confident Leader level prior to the start of the World Para Athletics Championships London 2017 in recognition for work on disability for the championships and their internal policies and procedures. Since then they partnered with Hive College to provide work placements for their students. Becky Cudby, HR Officer at UKA and Ruth Martin, Placement Coordinator at Hive College speak about the successful partnership between their organisations to help young people with special educational needs and disabilities and how they were able to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

Rebecca Cudby, HR Officer, UKARebecca Cudby, HR Officer, UKA

Becky: At UKA, we are very much committed to improving the quality of life for people. We partner with different charities like the Track Academy and Hive College to offer work experience to students. We also partner with Home Country Athletics Federation on particular grassroot projects, such as competition structure, maintenance and use of athletics facilities, and the Street to Stadium programme to target underrepresented groups. 

We use local volunteers for our major events such as the British Championships, the Diamond League, and other international events, and we try to minimise the environmental impact of our events by using sustainability protocols to cover travel waste energy, recycling, etc. The main thing is to inspire the nation to be more active and participate in sports. It's certainly a commitment of the organisation and we are demonstrating that commitment through the different activities that we are involved with.

Charley Johnson, HR Officer, UKACharley Johnson, HR Officer, UKA

Charley Johnson and I are both HR officers at UK Athletics, involved in all the typical HR activities like recruitment and employee relations issues, training and development. But we are also both members of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advocate Group at UKA. Charley sits on the Inclusion theme, and I sit in the Disability theme. It's something that we're both very passionate about as well as all of the advocates at UK Athletics. Our role is to educate and influence and start conversations around the protected characteristics and the issues people face who fall into those categories.

Ruth Martin, Placement Coordinator, Hive CollegeRuth Martin, Placement Coordinator, Hive College

Ruth: Hive is a special needs college. All of our learners aged between 19-25 have learning difficulties, and then some of them have additional physical disabilities or medical conditions. We offer three different programmes: Live, Thrive and Strive, each offered depending on the student's needs and aspirations. I work specifically with the Live students and their aspirations are to move into some kind of paid work. So it's my job to try and make that happen for them through businesses offering work placements and supported internships for between six to 12 months. We provide support for students to do that job to the point when the student becomes independent then the business can offer them a job and start paying them. 

Hive College Students

Becky: Our partnership with Hive College started in 2017 as part of our Disability Confident Leader commitment. We provided 6-week work experience placements for Hive students in different departments at UKA including HR and the communications and major events teams, which helped students learn new skills and grow in confidence. In the same year, we reserved a number of volunteer roles for people with disabilities at London 2017. Since March 2020, we haven't been able to invite any students into our offices due to COVID, with all of us working remotely from home, so all placements have been paused. However, some of our staff have spoken virtually to the Hive students to offer some insights into their roles at UK Athletics, which we believe have been beneficial to the students.

Ruth: Earlier this year, I reached out to employers that we partner with and asked for people to virtually speak to our students as guest speakers so that learners, who were predominantly studying at home, could still have that access to employers and develop their skills. I think we had probably five different speakers from different departments within UK Athletics, including their Chair, Nic Coward. Some speakers have been at the Olympic games and the students were so inspired by that. Speakers would give a presentation to the students for about half an hour, showing some photos and videos about what their role is and then invite students to ask questions. Our students usually come up with such unexpected questions that the speaker would say, “Wow! I've never been asked that question before.” So it was brilliant and really worthwhile. 

Becky:  In July 2021, Charley Johnson and I supported Hive’s Employability Day. We were so happy to get involved. When work placements haven’t been possible during the pandemic, we have continued to support students through online sessions, with employees sharing their career journeys to give an insight into roles at UKA.

UKA online session

Ruth: Our Employability Day was going to be an in-person event, but the uplifting of the lockdown was postponed and we had to move the event online. Still, it was a fantastic experience for the students. We’ve met different people from UKA, obviously including HR. We've met somebody involved in planning, who talked about doing site visits in Tokyo to scope out the hotels to make sure that they were accessible for the para-athletes. That kind of information is so great for our students to hear because when they think of the Olympics or athletics they usually think of the athletes, they don't consider the amount of work behind the scenes that could open up realistic work opportunities for them. They won't have considered that job or known that it existed until we've had these sessions which helped the students develop a much broader understanding of the world of athletics and gain a better understanding of how organisations are structured with their different departments. Knowing what an HR person does might inspire them to look for a role in that space.

Becky: We used this opportunity to introduce learners to back-office functions like finance and events management. I think there is this misconception that to work at UK Athletics you have to be an athlete yourself. And as Charley and I can prove, definitely not. I'm new to HR myself. I'm a career changer, so we talked about what our first jobs were and where we've moved to show the journey that we've had to take. I hope that's been helpful and useful to the students. We always try to promote our work with Hive College to encourage others and we have been approached recently by other sports organisations for further info on how they can get involved.

Ruth: As an offshoot of this partnership, we have been introduced to the leads for volunteering at the Commonwealth Games with the potential of office placements in the centre of Birmingham. That's really exciting for our students who wouldn't ordinarily have thought of putting themselves forward for those volunteer opportunities and wouldn’t know how to apply for them.

Becky: It has been fortunate that Donna Fraser, our ED&I Lead, is also Head of Inclusion & Engagement at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Our hands have been so tied with COVID, but there's definitely a lot on the horizon. I think the volunteering opportunities are the next step as we are moving back to a normal life. We are looking forward to making these placements and volunteering opportunities happen and making sure that we've got the right support in place for these learners so that they get the most out of the opportunity.

Hive College Team

Ruth: We want to bring positive benefits to the business through matching the right student to the opportunity, making sure that it's within their aspirations and their strengths. Some of our learners with additional needs may have accessibility, medical or nutritional needs. We help organisations with sorting all this and we send a member of our staff with each student placement. We are providing that safety net to ensure that businesses get the maximum positive impact from our students being on site. We also do the risk assessment and make sure these organisations have got the right insurance in place so a student on work experience is covered. 

We set targets for each learner within their work placement of things that we want them to be able to do by the time they finish that work placement. The work supervisor is there to track and measure their progress. Another focus for next year is for us to be able to share the student’s progress with employers so they can see how they are making a difference in the lives of these young people. Our ongoing partnership with UK Athletics for several years stands as a perfect example.

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