Supporting your SENCOs
Supporting your SENCOs
There is plenty that school leaders can do to support their SENCOs to meet the ever-increasing demands of the role. SEN expert and NASENCO tutor Abigail Gray explains
The role of the SENCO has changed quite a bit in the years since I was working in the role. My own early career was spent as a SENCO in a mainstream inner-city school and it would appear that each major educational shift in the two decades since has made this role more central, more complex and more demanding.
I now spend a lot of time working with groups of new SENCOs as a consultant and a tutor on Best Practice Network’s National Award for SEN Coordination (NASENCO) and find myself increasingly convinced that the effective leadership and management of SEN is a key factor underlying a successful and thriving school.
The expectations for SENCOs are set out in just over a page of the SEND Code of Practice (DfE, 2015). Notably, the role of the SENCO, unlike that of the headteacher, has to be filled by a qualified teacher and one with a Master’s level qualification. Armed with qualified teacher status and the national award, SENCOs must take on this operational, strategic and advisory role in delivering SEN provision alongside the headteacher and the governors.
The word most often repeated is “liaising’’ – this appears at least four times in the role description. For the machine of SEN provision to work, it seems that the SENCO must act as a cog at its centre, ensuring the interconnections are both precise and productive. While these connections clearly include senior colleagues, external agencies and parents, arguably the key connection underpinning effective school-wide provision is that made with teachers. Without collaboration with teachers, how else might a SENCO deliver on their responsibility to “oversee” and “coordinate” the provision and deliver a “graduated approach” including the identification of SEN? After all, every teacher is a teacher of pupils with SEN.
That being true, the SENCO has a legitimate if somewhat onerous role with regards to the performance and professional development of their colleagues, including senior ones. Yet we know from the 2018 report by Bath Spa University, Nasen and the National Education Union – It’s about time – that SENCOs are still not necessarily members of the senior leadership team, particularly in secondary settings where this was true of 70 per cent of respondents (Curran et al, 2018).
It is hard for me to see the logic of configuring a school-wide, strategic role – one with budgetary, legal, external and internal lines of accountability – outside the key management structures that exist to create, monitor and evaluate a school’s key mission. Is it possible that our message – that effective, compassionate and aspirational SEN provision benefits everyone and not just the minority – is still unclear? I have often written about the difference between SEN provision and other school departments. It is clear that SEN does not function like a limb – it cannot be isolated and reset in the same way. To be successful it must be integral. SEND provision may be overseen by the SENCO, but it is expressed by all teachers and understood by those children with additional needs in the starkest terms of acceptance or rejection, inclusion or exclusion, future or failure.
So, what can be done to support SENCOs in their role?
They need authority.
It is not simply about competency. Training and qualification guidelines considered that, in order to be successful, it is necessary for SENCOs to be supported by senior colleagues, whether they are part of the senior team or not. Without the necessary authority to do their job, which let us not forget is to advise, to liaise, to coordinate, it is impossible to manage a complex, school-wide operation. It is surprising how often competency is stymied by systems that fail to recognise the need for genuine delegation, effectively neutralising impact because there is insufficient access to decisionmakers and decision-making.
They need access
SENCOs need access to their teaching colleagues – genuine regular opportunities for meaningful interactions about pupil needs, resources and strategies and also to share the school’s approach and processes for monitoring, recording and reviewing the progress of pupils with identified or emerging needs. The rationale for the school’s approach to SEND should be clear to everyone. Good CPD is relevant, and not always about extending knowledge into undiscovered realms, but about deepening understanding of the immediate context. Making a clear plan for points of contact around SEN allows for considered sharing of information.
They need time to reflect
This is vital. The SEND Information Report should be known by and relevant to all. Sharing the review process for the SEND Information Report is an important aspect of evaluating and improving the operation and coordination of provision.
The It’s about time report reveals that SENCOs are both isolated and inundated, yet at the same time deeply committed to their pupils. The risk, of course, is that this way of working becomes unsustainable and that many will leave the profession. To stem this tide school leaders must do all they can to ensure that SENCOs are in a position to thrive in their roles.
For details of Best Practice Network’s NASENCO programme, visit www.bestpracticenet.co.uk /nasenco
Abigail Gray is a SEN consultant and course tutor on the National Award for SEN Coordination (NASENCO), with Best Practice Network. Abigail has 25 years’ SEN teaching experience and is the author of a number of articles. Her first book, Effective Differentiation, was published by Routledge in May 2018