Carline Ikoroha, Senior Job Coach,from West Lea School has been awarded the ‘Highly Commended Practitioner of the Year award’ at the British Association of Supported Employment Conference.Carline received the award for her significant contributions to helping the special needs community transition into the workforce via a Supported Internship Programme she hosts at West Lea School.

I was lucky enough to interview Carline about the award and was able to ask her some questions.

Upon researching Carline, I discovered the award she had won in 2011, named the 'Divine Woman of the Year Award'. Carline told me that winning the award ‘was an amazing experience’, she also said that she was ‘in total shock’ when she won it. Futhermore the next year {2012} was also a significant year in Carline’s life. Not only was she involved with the opening ceremony at the London Olympics with the ‘Kaos Choir’. But, that August she had a major operation. Carline told me that she ‘was in hospital for quite a few months and wasn’t able to walk speak or anything’. The operation changed Carline’s thinking in a lot of ways and she suggested that it ‘possibly made me connect even more with the young people I work with, because I needed to learn how to talk and walk again.’ When I asked Carline if spending so much time dedicated to the program ever took a toll on her she replied, ‘When you love something, when feel very passionate about something , regardless at the length of time that you are there or the amount of stress you can get sometimes, you just still find a way to get along with it.’

I was curious to find out about the Supported Internship Programme I had heard so much about. I discovered that the programme that Carline runs with her team is for young people aged 16-25. The programme is about getting young people with special needs into different work placements  with the end product of them getting permanent employment.

Carline told that there are three main things that they need to have to join the course. The first is to have an EHCP – an educational health and care plan. Then they need to be independently travel trained but Carline told me that sometimes the students are not and the program allows for this. The third criteria is that the young people are eager to work.

Carline does assessments with them – known as mini VPs (a mini vocational profile) which is about finding out the things that they like so that the workplace that Carline fits them into would be suitable for them. Throughout this segment of the interview I could really tell how much Carline loved her job and her students. She told me with a smile that ‘we’ve got some amazing young people. Amazing’.

Covid was hard for everyone but it hit Carline’s internship program especially. Carline told me, ‘We were working behind the scenes, trying to deliver laptops to students all over the place. It’s been really difficult because that kind of equipment has always been in school. You just log in and it’s there: it was starting from scratch. The technical side of things was quite a problem but we got through it.’

To finish off the interview I decided to ask Carline about how we as a society can break stigmas and when it comes to working alongside people with special needs. Something Carline said that stuck with me was, ‘at the end of the day you have to remember that people with special needs are people first before any disability.’ She also told me that ‘ Sometimes it’s about people not waiting to be told but to go out there and find out different things. Go on Google, speak to people, invite yourself to schools or different places.’ It was a pleasure to interview such an incredible woman like Carline, she truly deserved to win the award.