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Virtual Work Experience

Four Cornerstone employers and four Special School Careers Leaders come together to deliver a SEND Virtual Week – “Experience of the Workplace”. Based on the 10 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning employment skills.


Head Teachers / School Leaders, School Teachers, Trusts


Careers & Aspirations, Empowering Young People, Inclusion and SEND, Transition


Student/Family Support

Why was the project needed?

With SEND young people making up over 30% of Cambridgeshire’s Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET) and Not Known population, it was imperative to raise aspirations and increase access for young people to a wide range of career choices and post-16 routes. The number of young people with SEND has increased markedly in the area over the past four years. Due to Covid-19, it has become increasingly difficult for young people to access in-person work experience programmes.

What happened and what was the impact?

Four local Cornerstone employers collaborated to create virtual experiences of their companies and provided this to four SEND schools in the area. Every day, a different employers delivered presentations which included activities that required young person interaction. Physical resources were supplied to the schools in advance so the young people could learn more about the companies and opportunities in the local area whilst developing new skills and having fun along the way.

What did and didn't work?

Having a range of employers meant that there was a range of interactive activities on each day, this gave the young people a much broader knowledge and understanding of potential career paths than a one-company physical work experience would have done. They had lots of opportunities to ask questions and get involved in a familiar and supported environment.

It was a struggle getting the resources out to the schools in time – although the experience was virtual, it required physical resources to be delivered to the schools prior to the virtual week. To facilitate this, the project co-ordinator had to drive between employers and the schools.

How did you measure success?

Feedback was gathered from employers, schools’ careers leads and the students. On the last day of the week, the young people gave presentations to their peers and the employers. Please see the wisdom section for examples of the feedback we received.


Ingredients For Success

  • Had to have Cornerstone employers who had a clear link with the local communities.
  • Needed someone to act as a co-ordinator who had good relationships with local schools and employers.
  • Ensured that there were hand-on resources so that the young people did not spend all day staring at a screen.
  • Employers provided their time and resources for no cost.
  • The only investment needed was for co-ordination time.

Is the Project Complete or Ongoing

The project is On-going. The employers would like to do the project again as would the schools.

How is the Project Sustainable

The employers and the school involved in the pilot project has ALL stated that they would like to run the programme again. It is hope that “word of mouth” will encourage more local employers and schools to get involved.

What are the Long Term Impacts

It is hoped that young people involved in the project will find employment/apprenticeships within the Cornerstone employers. This will be monitored once they leave education.

Feedback from some participating schools

“We are extremely grateful to the CPCA and Cornerstone Employers for organising an engaging week of virtual work experience for our students at Highfield Ely and Highfield Littleport Academies.

It has been challenging to find different ways for our students to access real experiences of the work place over the last 15 months but, by bringing the world of work into the classrooms over their computer screens, our students were able to interact with employers from their own local communities. “ SIMON BAINBRIDGE – EXECUTIVE HEADTEACHER OF HIGHFIELD ELY & HIGHFIELD LITTLEPORT


“The Key Stage 4 students have been lucky to have had the opportunity to take part with three other special schools in four days of virtual work experience. The students worked with a different employer each day and then on the Friday each school producing a presentation for the cornerstone employers and the other schools. The four local employers were Cambridge Commodities, Morgan Sindall Construction, G’S Fresh and Anglian Water. The students produced a presentation that described what was most memorable, what was the worst thing, what made them laugh and the things they had learnt to help them in the world of work.  Careers Leader at The Harbour School Ms P Knibbs said that this was an amazing experience, students were going home and talking to their parents about what they had been doing and learnt” PAULA KNIBBS – HEAD OF KS4 – THE HARBOUR SCHOOL, WILBURTON

Feedback for our participating employers

“Water is a precious resource, and we want to help nurture and inspire the next generation of employees or customers by giving students a peek behind the scenes we can get them thinking about their future careers and how they can help us to protect the environment.  We had a fanatic day and were very impressed with all the different ideas the students suggest to stop people flushing wipes – there were songs, raps, drama, product designs and campaign poster. As well as great listening, and research, we saw great teamwork and collaboration.” – ANGLIAN WATER – MARCIA DAVIES – COMMUNITY EDUCATION MANAGER


“G’s were proud to be part of such a great initiative taking the workplace to the school environment with virtual work experience.  We took time to make sure our day was as interactive, fun and educational as possible, the enthusiasm from the students and teachers really made the event so enjoyable to be part of.  It was lovely to see how students had related their learnings to the 10 key employability skills and many seemed to have a genuine interest in the career opportunities in a business like ours.” – Gs FRESH – CHARLOTTE DOWNING – LEAD RESOURCING & TALENT MANAGER

“We are really pleased with how our SEND Virtual Experience of the Workplace day with the students went. Giving back to the local community is really important to us and we are really happy that we could take part in this, along with other businesses from the area. We are so glad the students enjoyed it and were able to take something away from the day.” – CAMBRIDGE COMMODITIES- MARIE LEE – HEAD OF HUMAN RESOURCES

“The team at Morgan Sindall Construction were delighted to take part in the Virtual Work Experience (VWEx) week for SEND/SEM schools in the East Cambs/Fens opportunity area. We were really proud to support this important programme by providing our insights and experiences in order to showcase the many career opportunities that exist within the construction industry.

During the week, students from across the region’s four schools demonstrated some great skills and really engaged in every activity. The presentations they gave on the Friday really demonstrated how much they had learnt during the course of the programme from all four of the participating employers. We were particularly touched to hear that young people that may normally struggle to engage were going home and talking about the week to their parents.” – MORGAN SINDALL CONSTRUCTION – HELEN CLEMENTS – SOCIAL VALUE MANAGER

“It has been challenging to find different ways for our students to access real experiences of the work place over the last 15 months but, by bringing the world of work into the classrooms over their computer screens, our students were able to interact with employers from their own local communities.”

Simon Bainbridge - Executive Headteacher of Highfield Ely & Highfield Littleport.

Area Most Impacted

Careers & Aspirations

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