Careers Adviser Cathy King-Spooner has written a blog about her experience and passion for delivering guidance to students with special educational needs and disabilities.

It’s my job and my passion to help school students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) make positive, realistic career choices and to take ownership of their career plan and training pathway. I do this onsite at schools, where I meet students both in mainstream and special needs education, who have an education and healthcare plan (EHCP).

Students’ rights to aim for their potential

An EHCP is a legal document that outlines a young person or child’s special educational, health and social care needs and the additional support required to help them achieve what they want in life. It’s essentially a passport to extra resources and support which can include funding for education that continues beyond the age of 19 and up to the age of 25.

The 2014 Children and Families Act requires the local authority to assess a student for an EHCP if they, or their parent or guardian, request it. The local authority has a duty to assess, and decide whether a student’s needs are such that an EHCP is required, or whether their needs can be met by the support already available in the school.

In summary, the law requires the local authority to pay attention to the wishes and feelings of the student and their ambitions (even if unrealistic). Local authorities must also involve students in the process and support the student and family through it to achieve the best educational outcome.  This is also how I work with all students, whether or not they are SEND, which addresses 3 of the 8 Gatsby Benchmarks; namely that every student receives personal guidance about careers and labour market information which addresses their needs. The ECHP application and assessment process can be challenging for students and their parents so my role includes signposting parents to the relevant agency within the local authority who can support them through the application process, and who can help to prepare for appeal at tribunal if an EHCP is not granted.

It is helpful if schools inform their careers adviser if a student has an EHCP as in my experience the students are not always aware. Ideally the outcomes from careers guidance interviews should contribute towards the annual review of the EHCP, which is a multi-agency meeting with the students and parents/guardians.

Supporting “grey area” students

Delivering careers information and guidance is about getting to know the individual student in front of me, so working with SEND students is essentially no different from the way I work with anyone else.

Students who get their ECHP “passport” can benefit from additional years of supported education and training. But I also meet students who have applied for an ECHP assessment and not met the criteria for an EHCP. As always, my conversation with these students is about working out what they are good at. This is often reflected in their hobbies and extra-curricular activities, and my job is to find that passion and then work with the students to identify the pathway to reach their potential. Delivering careers information and guidance is about getting to know the individual student in front of me, so working with SEND students is essentially no different from the way I work with anyone else.

What are you good at?

Success in our educational system fundamentally relies on each student having a high competence in the reading and writing elements of literacy, which doesn’t necessarily recognise other modes of intelligence.  I frequently meet students whose grades indicate that they are falling behind in literacy though they have great potential for success once they are able to move into an environment where they can focus on their own passion. If a student declares that they may have dyslexia I can liaise with the school about providing an initial assessment. If the outcome leads to a full assessment and diagnosis the available support would make a significant positive difference to the student’s educational attainment, career prospects and economic security, and their inner world of improved mental health and self-esteem.

One such student I met was dyslexic­­­­—which was impacting his achievement at school—and wanted to be a furniture designer. He struggled to read, write and process information quickly in an academic environment but during the careers conversation his demeanour started to become more positive as he realised there would be genuine opportunities for him to express his creativity and practical skills while learning his trade at college. He and I both had a strong feeling that he would ‘fly’ given a chance to put his time and energy into what he really wanted to do.  

My earlier role with Adviza was on the prison contract where I worked with adult male prisoners to help them prepare for employment. A high percentage of these men had indicators of dyslexia.  Research conducted by Talbot (2009) 1 evidences that high numbers of people with learning disabilities and difficulties are caught up in the criminal justice system and that their support needs are unlikely to be recognised or met in this environment.  I believe that early intervention through supported education at school can provide equal access of opportunity to positive life choices for young people who might otherwise be caught up in the criminal justice system.

Support for students on the autistic spectrum

I work with many students who are diagnosed as having an autistic spectrum condition. Although they may share some common traits, everyone is different and it important to find out how the condition affects each individual.  For example some autistic students are sensitive to noise and many don’t like change. So when I talk to them about going to college or university it’s always about more than just courses and choices; it is a longer conversation about what college life is like, what it’s like to study and learn in a louder, busier environment than school. Colleges usually have an induction period at the beginning of the academic year to allow all students to familiarise themselves with the new environment. I am aware of some colleges that have quiet areas where students can study, chill out or rest if they feel stressed. In my experience there is more awareness now of the need for this, and more support for SEND individuals.

Nobody should be left behind

My passion is working with students at risk of dropping out of education and I enjoy doing all I can to keep them on track.

My particular passion is working with students who are at risk of dropping out of education. I always explain to students when I meet them that I am not employed by their school so I am independent and impartial. This means that I can initiate a different kind of conversation while aiming to build trust and gain students’ confidence. I can help them to apply for college and I enjoy doing all I can do keep them on track.

My biggest frustration is meeting students who are at risk of failing in their education, and who will leave year 11 either with low expectations for their future – or conversely very high expectations that are unrealistic.  We’re all curious and interested when we’re babies, so when people switch off from education it’s a sad indicator that something isn’t working.

There are many individuals with SEND who could perform well in jobs they will never get a chance to interview for because they are not aligned with a well-worn pathway that favours success in a particular kind of education. One college I know of has tried addressing this for ECHP students by providing the opportunity for SEND students to producing a video CV rather than the more usual written document, which gives students equal access of opportunity to showcase their talents.

Everyone has the right to a meaningful life, and that includes equal access to opportunities for education and work. Employers are getting better at recognising this, but there is still work to be done. We’ll keep on trying.



Talbot, J. (2009), "No One Knows: Offenders with learning disabilities and learning difficulties", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 141-152.


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