The changing role of the SENCO


How SENCOs can help school staff meet the needs of all pupils

With one in five pupils identified as having a special or additional educational need, the role of the SENCO has never been so important to whole school development and improvement. The new Ofsted framework and the new Teachers’ Standards focus on teachers supporting the most vulnerable pupils to ensure that they are making significant progress.

The inclusion agenda, SENCO regulations and the National Award have led to significant changes in the role of the SENCO over the past decade. The recent announcement of a sizeable fall in the number of pupils identified as having SEN belies the simple fact that there are many more children with special and additional needs in mainstream schools. The new Teacher Standards, now in operation, place a greater emphasis on supporting pupils with SEN. Challenging professionals to adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils, the Standards also call on teachers to use and evaluate distinctive approaches to engage and support them.

This has a clear impact on the role of the SENCO; diverse responsibilities for the role include staff training, working with external organisations, classroom observation, impacting on teaching and learning, data analysis and leading on school improvement. The specification for the National Award for SEN Co-ordination lays out very clearly the knowledge, skills and understanding that a twenty-first century SENCO should have; one of the significant changes to the role is the line management of a far greater number of support staff – this includes time-tabling, training, performance management, ensuring effective provision and assisting with planning of work.

Ofsted inspection framework

The revised Ofsted framework will impact greatly upon the role of the SENCO. Although the overall responsibility is with the leadership of the school, there are a number of aspects within the four key judgements that the SENCO will be expected to have the evidence to support.

The revised framework will focus sharply on those aspects of schools’ work that have the greatest impact on raising achievement. Engagement with headteachers, school staff, governors, parents, pupils and staff is also a key theme. The framework will also focus in more depth on the achievement of pupils, the quality of teaching, the behaviour and safety of pupils and the quality of leadership and management of the school. Pupil development – spiritual, moral, social and cultural – will also be a key measure, and inspectors will examine the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils, particularly those with SEN.

The emphasis within the evaluation schedule is very clearly targeted at those pupils who are underachieving and who are not making the expected progress. These may be pupils who have an identified special educational need and/or disability, but they may well be a significant group within a school who are not receiving the targeted support that they need to improve.

The key to a school’s success is that they can evidence high quality educational provision which is offered every day to every pupil. The SENCO has always played a very important part within a school inspection; however, the new schedule will demand much more from this already extensive role and, therefore, it is really important that the foundation stones are laid to enable the SENCO to carry out the strategic role effectively. This means ensuring that all staff have the skills, knowledge and understanding they need to provide high quality teaching and learning opportunities for all pupils.

SENCOs should oversee appropriate intervention strategies for those with SEN.Continuing professional development and local support

One of the key messages within the Government’s SEN Green Paper, and reinforced in the new Ofsted framework, is the need for high-quality continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities for the school workforce and those who work with schools supporting children and young people. The announcement of the second year of the National Scholarship for teachers and the introduction of a scholarship for SEN support staff was broadly welcomed, as was the fourth year of funding for the National Award for SEN Co-ordination.

Many SENCOs facilitate CPD within their own school or arrange for outside agencies to provide specialist training and support as the need arises. Schools should have at least one full day per year looking at SEN and how to adapt the curriculum and teaching styles to meet the needs of all children. Secondary SENCOs often offer additional twilight sessions for newly qualified teachers or new school staff, but these are voluntary. Local authorities (LAs) have provided SENCO conferences but these can become information giving sessions rather than quality CPD and can differ from one authority to another. There is increased concern that with the staffing cuts taking place at LA level, much of this support may disappear and schools will have to look at alternative ways of accessing training and support providers.

The National Award for SEN Co-ordination has seen some excellent examples of networking opportunities both on-line and face to face developing both within an LA and beyond. Some special schools offer excellent training opportunities for mainstream staff but this is not the national picture. There is an increased role for special and mainstream schools to work together within clusters/federations to support CPD opportunities for all staff.

For some SENCOs, one of the more recent aspects of their role is working with other schools (especially special schools) and external agencies to ensure a holistic model of support for a child. With more and more children with complex needs in our mainstream schools there is a much greater need to seek advice and support from other professionals to ensure that provision meets the needs of each individual.

Although every teacher is clearly a teacher of children with SEN, there needs to be one lead person who can support what they are doing in the classroom. SENCOs not only advocate for children but can be instrumental in developing early intervention strategies, carrying out assessments and advising on appropriate and alternative interventions and strategies as the child moves through the school.

The SENCO is vital in ensuring that all the changes within SEN policy are implemented in schools. Although the SENCO regulation in 2008 legislated that all SENCOs must be qualified teachers and those appointed since 2008 must undertake the award, the quality assurance processes is still not robust and so is not being systematically implemented across the country. The SENCO is very important and we must ensure that governing bodies understand that they need time and resources to carry out their role and responsibilities to the highest level. Schools also need to ensure that there are high-quality continuing professional development opportunities for all staff.

Further information

Lorraine Petersen OBE is Chief Executive Officer of nasen, the UK professional association for special and additional educational needs and disabilities. nasen is the Department for Education’s delivery partner for free specialist SEN training:

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