Not ordinary or usual - Inside the inspiring SEND team at C+K
The SEND team at C+K do a fantastic job providing inspiring careers information, advice and guidance to young people with special educational needs and disabilities. We asked Ursula Parker, a C+K SEND careers adviser to provide us with an inside view:
In this article I hope to share with you my experience of working in the C+K Careers SEND Team, introduce to you the work we do as a team, the challenges we face and give you an insight into the approaches we take in our work to help inspire engage, empower, promote inclusivity and fairness of accessibility of opportunities.
Firstly, it may be useful to look at what we mean when we use the word ‘special’ as this crops up in our job title, our team’s name, our daily work conversations, the schools we work in and in the delivery of our service.
The Cambridge online dictionary defines as follows…
Special, adjective ‘not ordinary or usual’
A rather fitting definition I think which resonates well the work we do in the SEND Team at C+K Careers. Just by substituting ‘special’ with ‘not ordinary or usual’ quickly sees the terms we refer to daily within our work gain more emphasis and meaning…
- Special school Not ordinary or usual school
- Special educational needs Not ordinary or usual educational needs
- Special education Not ordinary or usual education
If we work with educational needs and schools which are ‘not ordinary or usual’, what is our role as a SEND careers adviser, where do we work and what are some of the challenges we face? How do we as careers adviser, deliver our service and adapt our approach to meet the needs of our clients?
SEND careers advisers and the SEND Team: a brief intro…
C+K are one of the only remaining careers companies in the country to still have a specialist team of SEND careers adviser,. Although we are a small team with only 7 staff, the team are highly skilled and experienced in SEND. We support young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities through working closely with school teaching staff, SENDACT, local and out of area provision including mainstream schools, alternative provision, special schools and other specialist settings. The schools we work with include focus on complex needs and disabilities, SEMH and ASC. We are fortunate to support the resourced provision within local mainstream schools which support those with hearing, visual, physical or specific language impairments and also various alternative provision settings. Our work over recent years has extended, and continues to extend, outside of area which sees us supporting more schools and settings specialising in SEMH and ASC. One of these is a provision focussed on supporting young people with extremely traumatic experiences around sexual abuse.
As my colleague James Davidson mentioned in his blog focussing on our work with NEET clients, our work comes with various challenges and this often can stem from past experiences as well as additional educational needs. Our work involves factors which can make engagement and interaction with our clients challenging at times and makes way for the need of a flexible and adaptive approach from the careers adviser,. We may work across a wide range of provision but talking to colleagues, and from my own experiences, the same challenges present. Challenges include:
- Rarely do we see students on their own… there is usually (in some cases always) at least one other person present to support communication and encourage interaction.
- In many instances school staff need to first ‘pave the way’, through encouragement and confidence building, before some clients will meet with us and engage.
- Communication between client and adviser can present challenges due to language difficulties, level of understanding, visual or hearing impairment, ASC and heightened anxiety levels.
- Each adviser can be actively working with students aged 13 up to adults who are 25 years old.
- With advisors working across multiple settings a breadth of knowledge is required to support students who are looking at specialist college settings for pre-entry level courses, as need cannot be met locally, to those applying for A Levels with aspirations for university.
- Most of the time (all the time in some settings) there is a need to be conscious of the atmosphere in the room to gauge the level of engagement and also to pre-empt a possible disturbance on the horizon.
- Having to quickly assess with students if ‘today is a good day’ to talk to a careers adviser,. Some days we must acknowledge it’s not, even if that means a complete change of plan to what may have been scheduled for the day.
- Need to be very conscious of words and phrases which may be triggers around anxiety.
- Supporting parents who may be anxious themselves or have spent years supporting their child through life and schooling and each transition presents new challenges. Sometimes we present as ‘yet another professional around the table’.
- Transition needs careful planning with a collaborative, often multi agency, approach as lack of a plan can have repercussions in terms of heightened anxiety for all and potential issues or longer time needed to settle in.
- Outcomes are individual and journeys for some of our clients can take a broader form and continued learning may take more of a focus on preparation for adulthood, learning life skills and finding meaningful opportunities to help each young person reach and explore their potential.
- Remember to throw into the mix the recent pandemic and the challenges that has presented to us all!
Adapting our delivery to meet the needs of our clients…
As advisers how do we adapt our practice to work with these challenges? What approaches to delivery have evolved within the team to tackle potential barriers to communication? How do we try to provide meaningful, accessible, client centred 1:1 interactions and group sessions to the wide range of needs presented? Basically, what do we do to try to offer fairness of access to opportunities and access to the support offered by C+K? To give you an idea, here are some of the approaches we’ve taken:
- Young people at our local alternative provisions often start the day with a group breakfast and chat around the table. Advisers join in, share in a cuppa and slice of toast, discuss last nights TV viewing, what they did over the weekend and opinions on last night’s football match. This all goes to helping young people feel relaxed in our presence, get to know us and over time encourages opportunities to discuss future plans. It’s a great way of introducing our support to a group in a relaxed and informal way but also provides an opportunity for us to get a feel of personalities and how some of the individuals present.
- EHCPs, school reports and discussions can provide a wealth of information on the needs of a client but it can be difficult to translate this to how someone actually copes day to day in schools when we don’t have the same relationship or knowledge as school staff. To enhance the information given to us we spend time, where possible, observing students in their classroom settings and completing observational reports to submit as part of their career summaries.
- ‘Get Organised’ is a fantastic publication given to Year 11 students but in some instances this information is very much in an inaccessible format. For example, for a year 11 student with a hearing impairment and a tracheotomy (which meant that verbally it presented difficulty for the careers adviser to understand his speech), uses a computer programme which can ‘read’ out MS Word documents. To make the publication and other information accessible, the adviser typed up relevant sections of information into a document that the young person could then access themselves through their laptop. Links to websites which had a ‘read out’ function were also forwarded. 1:1 interaction was conducted by the adviser speaking to the young person and them replying by typing into their laptop and the text being read out to the adviser. What a difference one computer programme can make!
- Advisers have learnt how to sign key words using Makaton around college and transition. With the help of Mr Tumble and a signing mother and daughter duo on You Tube, I’ve learnt signs for the words ‘new’, ‘friends’, ‘teacher’, ‘help you’, ‘good morning’, ‘my name is’ amongst other words to communicate directly with my clients. Always wonderful to see their reaction when I try out a new word and they clap me with encouragement!
- Over the last 18 months the shift to online working has presented new and perhaps improved opportunities to open communication. Advisers have recorded introductory videos for clients to watch before meeting in person. Lots of benefits to this… they can see what we look like, it can be played over again, shared with parents and can help alleviate some of the pressure of having to talk to someone they haven’t met before. A video was recorded for a Year 11 student with a hearing impairment, half the screen showed the careers adviser talking so they could see the adviser and lip read. The other side had a transcript of what the adviser was saying whilst teaching support from school signed in BSL the video to the young person.
- Advisers start to develop a ‘sixth sense’ when it comes to keeping an eye on the mood of a group of students. It’s not often it happens but chairs do get thrown, arguments break out, attention goes elsewhere but as seasoned professionals we’ve learnt not to take it personally and to step back and let teaching staff take control!
- Sitting still at a desk for a 1:1 discussion isn’t for everyone so we go with the flow and see what works. Sometimes it’s more a case of extracting info bit by bit, particularly where there is heightened anxiety around future plans. It could be a chat stood in a quiet empty corridor, in the corner of a classroom whilst the lesson is happening as they don’t want to leave the room, walking around the school grounds or trying to hold a discussion whilst someone is taking out the stuffing beads, one by one, from a bean bag!
- There are some settings when discussion around courses, qualifications, educational options take time to work towards, for example at the childrens’ home in Bradford. The adviser has developed board games as a fun and non-threatening way to open up interaction. They made a board with random numbers all over it, the students used wind-up toys and where the toy stopped on a number they then answered the question attached to it which included what they would you do if you were the Prime Minister, their favourite film, what they’d do if they won the lottery. It’s drawing out information to help build a picture of someone. The party staple of charades has also been used to act out certain careers for everyone to guess as well as adapting this to a Pictionary form.
It’s difficult to really showcase all the ways we work but if we see a barrier or challenge in our work we try and find a way around it. We use experience and specialist knowledge to provide IAG to each client based on their individual circumstances and needs. We tailor our delivery to meet the needs of clients to promote inclusivity and engagement and adopt various methods of communication to deliver meaningful interactions, encourage participation and reach potential. As a team of SEND Careers Advisers we are proud to be ‘not ordinary or usual’, delivering our support in ‘not ordinary or usual ways’ and to our wonderfully ‘not ordinary or usual’ clients.
In summary, the work of the SEND team in partnership with other agencies is vital in supporting young people and their parents/carers to make well informed decisions about the future. The outcomes for SEND young people in the Calderdale and Kirklees areas are excellent – across the two LA areas 89.1% of 16-17 years olds with SEND are ‘in learning’ compared to 88.6% in England overall.
If you are interested in how our SEND services could work in your school, college or local authority please contact Joel Robinson on 01484 242000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org