Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Workstep – how the best training and support programmes are helping disabled people gain their place at work

The best providers of the Workstep programme have displayed a marked shift in the support given to disabled people to overcome mental, physical and personal barriers to get and keep a job, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

Improving progression to unsupported employment: A review of strategies developed by Workstep providers highlights the variety of approaches which a range of organisations have developed to help disabled people gain employment. The report finds the most effective Workstep providers actively promote the valuable skills disabled people can bring to the workplace, helping to break down myths about the roles disabled people can perform. The best providers were found to build good relationships with employers and ensure participants are well matched to the skills needs of local businesses and to the jobs available locally. Larger providers fostered positive arrangements with national companies such as Barclays, Tesco and ASDA, often negotiating guaranteed interviews and providing training related to specific vacancies.

The Workstep employment programme, funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), is specifically for disabled people who need additional support to enable them to sustain work. Most Workstep participants work in the open labour market, through supported placements with mainstream employees, while a smaller number work within supported businesses established to employ disabled people. Workstep aims to help people progress to unsupported employment where this is the right option for them.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said:

'The proportion of disabled adults in the Workstep programme progressing into sustained, unsupported employment is improving but it remains far too low. This report shows how the best Workstep programmes help individuals build their independence, develop everyday skills and gain the confidence to reach their potential.'

This survey looked at a sample of 21 Workstep providers, with the findings based on visits to these providers, 49 employers, and discussions with participants, DWP staff, and providers.

In the better examples, individuals received good personal and practical support, with providers working with employers, colleges, training providers, mental health teams and a range of other partners to assist participants in work placements and permanent jobs. In one instance, an individual with short-term memory loss benefited from the intervention of an occupational therapist, who introduced memory aids such as digital recorder and notepad to bring about a dramatic improvement in the individual’s work rate.

In another example, a profoundly deaf Asian man, with limited signing ability, was able to move into unsupported employment and teach his family signing thanks to the assistance of a job coach with expertise in British sign language. The job coach supported the development of the participant’s signing skills and, using photographs, developed maintenance guides for machinery which the man was able to use in his employment. Another provider used personal advisers to encourage individuals to fully understand their disability, discussing the language they felt comfortable to use when describing themselves, and then going on to write descriptions for their employers of what they can do and how they would need support.

Participants were generally found to be able to develop good personal, social and employment skills, with some able to achieve useful vocational qualifications as part of their programmes, in areas such as food hygiene or the use of specialised tools in forestry work.

Recommendations from the report include:

Providers should:

  • agree development plans with all participants which identify clear actions and specific dates for progression, based on the results of effective and comprehensive initial assessment processes.
  • develop job-related Skills for Life coaching or training.
  • develop close relationships with employers and, ideally, develop written agreements for mock interviews, guaranteed interviews and pre-employment training.
  • work with a range of partners and support agencies, such as training providers, access to work and health care professionals, to develop all the participants’ needs, enabling them to overcome their barriers to employment.

Providers with participants who had transferred from the previous sheltered employment programme should:

  • assess the value of some of the longer-term strategies outlined in the report and adopt those most suited to their provision, such as developing social firms (a 'social firm' is a market-led enterprise set up specifically to create good quality jobs for people disadvantaged in the labour market).

Notes for Editors

1. Inspectors visited 21 providers of Workstep programmes, 12 of which were Local Authority providers, 49 employers and interviewed 80 participants between December 2008 and March 2009. They also interviewed staff from the DWP and a group representing Workstep providers.

2. Improving progression to unsupported employment: a review of strategies developed by Workstep providers is available on the Ofsted website

3. Workstep programmes are delivered in a range of organisations in the public, private and not for profit sector. The Workstep programme challenges training providers to widen opportunities for disabled people and where appropriate guide them into unsupported employment. Where unsupported employment is not possible, the programme seeks to improve the individual’s skills and develop their potential within supported work. Information about Workstep can be found at: and

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children's social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 020 7421 5866 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 08456 404040 between 8.30am - 6.30pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.