How to support students on work placements

Work placements provide an opportunity for vocational learning and personal development. They can be a particularly valuable way for disabled students, and those with no previous work experience, to experience the world of work from which they might otherwise be excluded. It is important that all students have equal access to work placements.


  • Provide all students with opportunities to disclose disabilities and medical conditions which may affect their work placement. Students may be reluctant to disclose a disability, because they discrimination.
  • Where the disability may impact on the work placement the university may be obliged to ensure that the information is passed on eg where students will be working with children or other vulnerable people, or where chemicals or dangerous equipment will be used and there are health and safety considerations.
  • Seek the student’s permission to pass details of their disability and support needs to the employer. Only pass on information relevant to the placement.
  • Some students may be confident about discussing their disability with the employer; others may want the university to negotiate on their behalf. Agree who will be responsible.
  • How will confidentiality be respected? eg what happens if a student does not wish fellow students to be able to identify him as disabled.
  • Is privacy respected by communicating arrangements to students in a private letter?
  • Appropriate adjustments may only be possible if the student discloses a disability.

Reasonable adjustments might include

  • Selecting placements to minimise travelling for disabled students.
  • A preliminary visit before the placement starts for the employer and student to discuss support needs.
  • An orientation visit before the placement starts so that disabled students can find their way about the location.
  • Adjustments to practical arrangements, such as travel and accommodation, rather than to the work itself.
  • Extra rest breaks, and the chance to take care of medical needs.
  • Assistive technology.
  • A support worker or job coach.
  • A “work buddy” to provide ongoing support and training.
  • Part-time rather than full-time placements.
  • Support at interview.
  • Adjustments at pre-placement training eg at first aid courses.

Sources of funding to support disabled students on placement

  • Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA).
  • Access to Work funding may be available to students who are employed during their work placements. Contact the Disability Employment Adviser at the local Jobcentre before the placement begins. This may include funding of special travel arrangements, interview support, job coaches, additional equipment.
  • The university may need to fund reasonable adjustments.
  • The employer may be willing to fund adjustments.
  • Socrates funding may be available for disabled students on overseas placements.


  • The university has a legal responsibility under the DDA and SENDA for ensuring that discrimination against disabled students does not take place in the provision and arrangement of work placements, and that reasonable adjustments are made.
  • While a disabled student is on placement with a firm, and has a contract of employment with them, the employer has responsibilities towards the student under Part 2 of the DDA (employment).
  • Academic staff are responsible for seeing that learning outcomes are met.
  • The university is responsible for responding appropriately to any discrimination reported by students on work placement.

Finding placements

  • Placement organisers should discuss with each student his or her placement requirements to ensure that placements match the student’s skills, preferences, needs for reasonable adjustments etc.
  • Students with no previous work experience may have unrealistically high or low expectations.
  • Where students are responsible for organising their own placements, they may need extra support in approaching employers, writing applications, interview coaching.
  • Possible sources of placements include the Careers Service, local employment agencies, specialist charities eg Scope.
  • Develop partnerships with local or regional organisations of disabled people.
  • Do students have the opportunity to choose their work placements where possible?
  • Consider a wide variety of placement providers. Disabled students are often underrepresented in commercial placements and found disproportionately in public sector and disability organisation placements.
  • Do placement approval procedures take account of diversity issues?

If there is no suitable placement

  • Make every effort to find a suitable work placement for the student.
  • Only as a last resort should an alternative experience be sought that will meet the desired learning outcomes.
  • Decisions on the suitability of a placement should be made on the basis of an examination of the particular abilities of the students, and the particular circumstances of the job. Any blanket exclusion of all disabled students is likely to be illegal.

Course planning

  • Where a work placement is an integral part of the course, consider the needs of disabled students at the course planning and approval stage.
  • The learning outcomes of the placement may need to be adjusted eg to give a higher focus to employability-skills for a student with no previous work experience.
  • Does your recruitment literature refer to opportunities for disabled students to participate fully in work placements?


  • Do you have a written agreement indicating the respective roles and responsibilities of placement provider, institution and students?
  • Is a physical access audit of the premises needed? Who will do it?
  • Who is responsible for assessing the needs of individual students?
  • Who will pay for reasonable adjustments?
  • Who is responsible for health and safety issues in the workplace?
  • Is socially and culturally specific disability information available for overseas placements?
  • What are the procedures for responding rapidly to any difficulties and complaints?
  • Are there procedures for terminating unsatisfactory placements and transferring students to more suitable placements?
  • Has any extra funding been arranged before the placement starts?
  • Does a student require a support needs assessment of workplace assessment before starting? Who will provide this?
  • What procedures are in place for monitoring the placement and providing feedback to student, employer and institution?


  • Arrange a named contact to receive the student on placement and carry out their induction.
  • Give the student names and contact details of staff at the university who will be available to respond rapidly to any problems during the placement.
  • Arrange a named person at the placement organisation to contact with any problems.
  • Arrange an on-going review procedure with the employer to ensure that the placement is going well.
  • Seek feedback from the student and employer about how the placement has gone, and use this to improve future placements.


  • Can adjustments be made to assessment methods employed in placement learning to accommodate disabled students?
  • Have you considered how issues relating to professional bodies and ‘fitness/licence to practice’ affect disabled students’ progression onto programmes and to employment?


  • Could training be provided for employer mentors of disabled students on placement?
  • Could disabled students be mentored by others who have successfully made the transition to employment or postgraduate study?
  • Encourage ethnic minority students to join a diversity mentoring scheme.


  • Do all placement organisers receive disability awareness training?
  • Would disability and diversity awareness training sessions be helpful for staff in the placement organisation? This might be paid for by the employer or the university.

Further information