In this guest post, Careers Adviser Theresa Petzold talks about how she caters for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) when undertaking careers advice sessions in schools.
How staff can support careers guidance for SEND students
As I work as an independent careers adviser in mainstream schools, I don’t focus purely on SEND students. However, each year group will have a number of students with mild to moderate support needs, including some with an EHC plan. I typically see every student at least once for a one to one chat, either in year 10 or year 11, but there are a few additional things I do to prepare for students with additional needs. This is where the input from school staff and particularly the SEND team is extremely valuable.
The importance of background research and preliminary meetings
One of the first things I do when starting with a new year group is to look for any priority students, and SEND students are high on the list. This not only ensures that they have contact with me early on – and with that more time to consider their ideas and options, but it also gives more opportunity to have follow up meetings where required. Sadly this is usually not possible for every student in a year group due to financial constraints, but I always try to make sure it is an option for SEND students and others with additional support needs in particular.
A student may be flagged for anything from dyslexia to autism, so once I have that basic list from the school, I will speak to the head of year and the SEND team to find out further details. These are incredibly useful conversations for me and allow me to check if the student would benefit from individual or specialised arrangements.
Tips for facilitating SEND students in careers meetings
I will usually meet one to one with a student, but this may be quite daunting to some SEND students – especially if they have never met me before. They may benefit from plenty of warning that they will have a meeting with me, and we may move the meeting from the careers office to an environment they are more comfortable in. Or I might see them for a few minutes while they are working with an LSA or similar, so they know who I am and are aware of what our meeting will be about. Some students may prefer to have someone familiar with them, like an LSA or a parent. This can also be helpful from my perspective – particularly if there are communication issues. Someone who knows the young person well can help to do things like re-frame questions where appropriate and also support the young person after the meeting, particularly if they may struggle to retain or reflect on what can sometimes be complex detail.
Early conversations with SEND staff also help me to adjust my approach. For example, I tend to use a lot of metaphors in my work, which is something that can backfire when I work with a young person who may take words very literally, for example those on the autism spectrum. Therefore, any tips from staff on how to prepare both myself and the student and how to communicate most effectively with them is gratefully received.
It is also useful to know if a student is comfortable talking about their condition/needs. As I work in mainstream schools, students are usually on the “high functioning “ side of the special needs spectrum and may have only recently been diagnosed. I have worked with students with recent diagnosis of autism and found that some individuals embrace it and are keen to talk about it, while others may still be coming to terms with this new information and find it adds to the anxiety of the situation. Therefore, knowing if they are happy to speak about this, or if a more softly, softly approach is better, can be very helpful to allow the student to get the most from our careers meeting.
I find that it can help prepare students for their careers conversations by letting them know that all students will have this opportunity and they are not being singled out (provided this is the case in your school of course) and where, when and with whom it will take place. It is an opportunity to chat about their ideas and worries for their future and is not just about choosing a job (in fact it is rarely focused just on this in secondary school). We may chat about GCSE options, apprenticeships, college and university, as well as how the world of work is changing and what industries or even careers may link to their current interest. It is absolutely possible to focus more on keeping options open if they don’t feel ready to focus on particular paths.
In general I find going “blind” into a careers conversation isn’t a big problem and can even be helpful, as I don’t have preconceptions. However, for students with additional support needs, SEND or otherwise, this can be risky as they may not disclose significant personal issues or support needs that may affect options after they leave school. Having some awareness helps me to point out what support and opportunities may be available and how to access them, as students may limit their ambitions and choices where they really don’t have to.
Advice to schools
Please let your careers adviser know about your SEND students! It can be so beneficial!
Who are they? Why are they flagged as SEND? Would it be best to see them ASAP or would they benefit more from a meeting later in the year? Knowing these things will help your careers adviser to do a better job!
What should the adviser know about the student to support them as best as possible and avoid potential pitfalls in the conversation?
Is it best to see the student with a parent or LSA or would they prefer a one to one meeting?
Always get in touch if you think an early, or additional, meeting would be useful. Any careers adviser worth their salt will do their absolute best to follow up and adjust their approach as needed. After all, it’s all about maximising the benefit of careers meetings for ALL students – whether they have additional needs or not.
About Theresa Petzold
Theresa works as an independent careers adviser, supporting young people in secondary school and college settings, and allowing them to explore their education and career options in order to make the right choices for their next steps. She holds a Postgraduate Diploma and an MA in Careers and has been working in mainstream education settings, as well as with individual clients for 10 years. If you’re interested in getting in touch with Theresa for your school or setting, or would like to find out more about the service she offers, why not visit her website or LinkedIn page today?
Axcis are a market leading employment agency specialising in the recruitment of SEND staff for mainstream and specialist provisions. Therefore, if you would be interested in a teaching or support position at a school or alternative provision, why not get in touch or register with us today and find out how we can assist you? Alternatively, if you are seeking staff for your school or provision, or would like to refer a friend to us, pop us and email – we’d be happy to help!