Nigel Pugh writes about the many different hats a SENCo must wear in their daily work.
Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCo) are probably the most important person you will meet during your child’s SEN journey. They have a complex and nuanced role to play in the lives of pupils with special educational needs.
Being a SENCo is a demanding role that requires a big heart, oodles of drive, and a passion for providing support. It also requires a child-centred approach, with patience and collaboration. Their main roles will normally include tasks involving policy (overviewing budget, annual reviews and line management), practice (identifying needs, being aware of different types of SEN, understand SEN law) and parents (explaining, supporting and advocating to and for parents).
They spend the majority of their working lives writing reports or on the phone to various agencies. Many, particularly in primary schools, also have a teaching role. It is beyond doubt a difficult and multifaceted role which requires a lot of listening, and an awful lot of writing and an eye for detail.
What are some of the key responsibilities of a SENCo?
A SENCo must be a qualified teacher, they are normally a senior teacher with many years of experience. They have to be able to command the respect of both the senior leadership of the school and the classroom teaching and support staff. It is a difficult balancing act! The title of SENCo is an appointment made by the Head Teacher. Newly appointed SENCOs from 2014 onwards should have The National Award for SENCos or equivalent, which is a mandatory qualification.
The Senco normally has a strategic role within the school, working collaboratively with classroom teachers, school leaders, external agencies such as Educational Psychologists and health and social care colleagues, and of course, the pupil’s parents. The SENCo will be the key point of contact for all those involved.
The SENCo must also assess, manage, and advise on changes to the School’s SEN budget and provision of SEN resources to ensure that the needs of those pupils with SEN are effectively met.
The role is perfect for natural-born communicators, who will have to provide advice, guidance, training, action plans, and resources to teachers and teaching assistants in order to help their SEN pupils achieve their full potential across the four broad areas of need; communication and interaction, cognition and learning, social, emotional and mental health and sensory and/or physical needs.
The SENCOs day-to-day practice includes responsibilities including progress monitoring and review, class
roomobservations, regular feedback to parents, and written reports with important updates. The SENCo should be able to put into practice the “assess-plan-do-review approach” that is required by the SEN Code of Practice to monitor a pupils progress. They may also be responsible for administering the various assessments, tools and methods that are necessary as part of this approach, such as screening tests, completing questionnaires, analysis of the data etc.
In their role of supporting, assessing and advising, the SENCo has a key part to play to ensure that support staff, often specifically Teaching Assistants, have an appropriate role in addressing the needs of those pupils with SEN. How the role of a Teaching Assistant is defined in each school is an area where the SENCo should be involved. It is part of the day-to-day provision for those pupils with SEN and the support must be appropriately targeted to help achieve the best possible outcomes.
For parents, the SENCo is the go-to person in the school. They have to be open, approachable and engaged. They provide emotional support to parents at a very stressful times in the lives of the family. Parents are the ones with the most questions, the most emotional investment, and the ones who will do anything for their child, putting the SENCo in a conflicting position of having to balance the books, advocate for maximum support for the child and correct parental misunderstandings, being held accountable. It is a job that really does require the skills of a UN mediator.
If students have an EHC Plan, then the SENCo has additional responsibility to ensure the resources are available in accordance with the EHC Plan and they will be responsible for coordinating the EHC Plan provision.
What challenges do SENCos face in their role?
Many would argue that the biggest challenge is meeting the diverse range of special educational needs, under a constrained budget where limited resources are available. On top of this, some SENCos are assigned to additional schools, multiplying their demand and dividing their time even further. To add to this, most SENCOs have a teaching role, and there can be insufficient time away from the classroom to fulfil their SENCo role and frequently a lack of administrative support and time allocated to support this important role.
The administrative or bureaucratic element can be personally challenging, with ongoing assessment, stringent record keeping, completing forms, writing regular reports and liaising with outside agencies. On top of that, the continued strategic overview, professional development and leading inclusive values and practice can make this a demanding role.
Balancing all of these responsibilities is a big ask, but it truly does come with great reward for the most proactive of SENCos, who have the opportunity to promote inclusive practice and directly impact the educational welfare of the students who need it most.
Who is the SENCo to the parents?
The parents play a key role in their children’s education and will want to maintain a regular dialogue with the SENCo, expressing any concerns if they believe something is holding their child back. High quality, inclusive teaching remains the remit of the class teacher, who remains responsible for the child’s overall progress. The SENCo’s role is to support and advise the class teacher in their important role – all teachers are teachers of pupils with special educational needs.
Parents will often view the SENCo as holding most of the answers and most of the chips. They are the person with the knowledge and authority to address minor concerns and resolve major ones, as well as being available to raise any issues that the parents themselves aren’t there to spot. The SENCo should have a good understanding of how needs are identified and assessed, raising any potential issues with parents.
The SENCo is the liaison officer, but their role isn’t one-way. In fact, the SENCo could also make suggestions for the parents so that they can play a key role in their child’s development. The SENCo could also raise any concerns they may have with the Local Authority or outside agencies, after first discussing with parents.
Ultimately, being a SENCo is a difficult but rewarding job for those who suit it. When you find you have a good SENCo, reward them with lavish amounts of chocolate, wine, thank you cards, and flowers!