Using the SLT to support SENCos
Using the SLT to support SENCos
School leaders have a vital part to play in helping SENCos thrive in their roles. Abigail Gray, SEN consultant and NASENCO programme tutor, outlines what SENCos actually want from the SLT.
- SENCos have an operational, strategic and advisory role in delivering SEND provision alongside the headteacher and the governors.
- SENCos need to be supported by senior colleagues, whether they are part of the senior team or not.
- SEND provision must be an integral part of the school’s management.
I work with groups of new SENCos and find myself more and more convinced that the effective leadership and management of SEND is a key factor underlying a successful and thriving school.
My own early career was spent as a SENCo in a mainstream inner-city school and it would appear that each major educational shift has made this role more central, more complex and more demanding.
What is expected
The expectations for SENCos are rather concisely set out in just over a page of the Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years 2015 (SEND code of practice), with bullet point after bullet point neatly stacking one responsibility upon another. Notably, the role of the SENCo, unlike that of the headteacher, has to be filled by a qualified teacher and one with a masters level qualification.
Armed with qualified teacher status and the National Award, SENCos must take on this operational, strategic and advisory role in delivering SEND provision alongside the headteacher and the governors. The word most often repeated is ‘liaising’, appearing at least four times in the role description.
For the machine of SEND provision to work, it would appear that the SENCo must act as a cog at its centre, ensuring the interconnections are both precise and productive.
Working with teachers
Whilst 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 SEND? After all, every teacher is a teacher of pupils with SEND.
That being true, the SENCo has a legitimate if somewhat onerous role with regard to the performance and professional development of their colleagues, including senior ones. Yet we know from It’s about time: The impact of SENCO workload on the professional and the school, the 2018 report by Bath Spa University, NASEN and the NEU, that SENCos are still not necessarily members of the SLT, particularly in secondary settings where this was true of 70% of respondents.
It’s 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.
It seems that the important message (that effective, compassionate and aspirational SEND provision benefits everyone, not just the minority) is still unclear.
There is a difference between SEND provision and other school departments. SEND doesn’t function like a limb. It can’t be isolated and reset in the same way. To be successful it must be integral. SEND provision may be overseen by the SENCo, but 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.
What can be done to support SENCos in their role?
It’s not simply about competency. In order to be successful, it’s 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’s not forget is to advise, to liaise, to coordinate, it’s impossible to manage a complex, school-wide operation. It’s surprising how often competency is stymied by systems that fail to recognise the need for genuine delegation, effectively neutralising impact because there is not sufficient access to decision-makers and decision making.
Access to teaching staff
SENCos need access to their teaching colleagues. This means 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 SEND allows for considered sharing of information.
Time to reflect is also 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.
Supporting SENCos and students
The workload survey 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, as meeting additional pupil needs is both a moral and educational imperative.
- Find out more about Best Practice Network’s NASENCO programme.
- Read the report, It’s About Time: The impact of SENCo workload on the professional and the school (Bath Spa University, Nasen, NEU)
Abigail Gray is a SEN consultant and course tutor on the National Award for SEN Coordination (NASENCO), run by Best Practice Network, one of the UK’s largest providers of professional development and support for education professionals. Abigail has over 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 www.senworks.co.uk.