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Do you know the 4 principles of supported internships?

At Open Awards we believe that all people should be supported to develop their skills and experiences and to have access to the qualifications they need to succeed. Only 7% of people with a learning disability are currently in paid employment despite everybody having something valuable to offer an employer. We are committed to work with our centres to develop pathways to employment that have a clear route into paid work.

At our Open Inspiration event in Manchester on 20th January, we heard about Salford City College’s Supported Internship scheme. This is a learning programme run by the college in partnership with Salford Royal Hospital, Salford City Council and Pure Innovations. They shared their model and the impressive outcomes achieved by the young people with current figures showing 60% of the learners progress into paid employment by the end of the academic year.

So, what is a supported internship?

The Department for Education’s Supported Internships guidance explains that ‘A supported internship is a type of study programme specifically aimed at young people aged 16 to 24 who have a statement of special educational needs, a Learning Difficulty Assessment, or an EHC plan, who want to move into employment and need extra support to do so.’

What makes a supported internship different to other employability programmes is that it is based primarily at an employer. Internships typically last for 1 year, with a minimum of 6 months unpaid work placement. Coupled with the placement is a personalised study programme, including maths and English. Open Awards’ qualifications that could be delivered as part of a supported internship study programme include Level 1 Award in Getting on at Work and Entry Level 3/Level 1 Skills for Further Learning and Employment. Open Awards’ Functional Skills Maths and English could also be delivered as part of an internship.  

Providers have the flexibility to design their own delivery models, based on their learners and employer’s needs. However the DfE have set out core principles which should be followed.


Principle 1 -A significant majority of the intern’s time must be spent at the employer’s premises. Whilst at the employer, the young person will be expected to comply with real job conditions, such as time keeping or dress code. Where appropriate, learning at the employer should use systematic instruction, a method specifically designed to help people with complex learning difficulties learn new tasks.

Principle 2 - Interns must do some form of learning alongside their time at the employer, including relevant aspects of English and maths.

Principle 3  - Jobs must work for both the young person and the employer. For the young person, the job must fit with their vocational profile, contribute to their long term career goal and be flexible enough to address barriers where necessary. For the employer, they must meet a real business need. As the goal of the programme is for the young person to end up in paid employment, where possible  the employers taking on interns should have a job available to offer at the end of it – should the intern meet the required standard.

Principle 4 - Central to the study programme is the provision of support to the young person and to the employer, including job coaching support. On-going support should continue to be available (including Access to Work) should the employer offer the young person a job at the end of the internship or to support young people who do not achieve paid work to continue to work towards this end.

Internships have been designed to have similar objectives to traineeships and apprenticeships but recognise that some young people require additional support to achieve their employment goals. One difference is the length of programme; 12 months rather than the 6 months of a traineeship. Another difference is the focus on partnership work. The partnership is made up of the employer(s), the learning provider and job coaches (whether employed by the learning provided or contracted through a supported employment provider). The role of the job coach is key as it provides specialist, tailored support to the young person to maximise their opportunity of gaining paid and sustainable employment and it also provides the support required by employers to enable them to offer the opportunities.

To be eligible for a supported internship a young person must be aged between 16 and 24 and have a statement of special educational needs, a Learning Difficulty Assessment (LDA) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. In addition to the eligibility criteria, it is essential for the young person to have the outcome of paid employment as their primary focus and have the desire to work.

The main source of funding for supported internships is the Education Funding Agency (EFA). However, there are additional sources of funding which can be used to supplement these funds including Access to Work to fund additional job coaches for individual’s on their work placements.

If you would like more information about supported internships or support in planning the curriculum for a supported internship, please contact Nina Hinton on or 0151 494 4352

For full guidance from Department for Education please visit

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