Even the most dedicated SEN coordinators can’t work miracles
I read with interest Hayley Goleniowska’s article, What Do Parents Really Think of SENCOs?, in SEN Magazine (SEN63, March/April 2013) and whilst I agree in principle with all that she says, I feel I need to add the following as a balance.
I am fortunate to work in a school where the Headteacher provides non-teaching time, every week, for me and the colleague with whom I share the role. We are part of the school’s Leadership Team and our views are regularly sought and respected. Our school is a new-build and well-resourced, creating a positive environment for staff and pupils alike. My colleagues, I know, value my advice and support; we have a fantastic team of well-trained, enthusiastic and caring teaching assistants and the majority of parents work well in partnership with the school. So what’s my gripe?
The problem is one of scope and scale. There are currently 145 pupils on our SEN Register (the school is an urban, three-form entry primary with nursery). This number has risen steadily year on year, particularly in the number of children entering nursery and reception with speech, language and communication difficulties. Throughout the school, increasing numbers of pupils are displaying social, emotional and behavioural difficulties due to difficult home circumstances and backgrounds. This is not simply because of our catchment; in other local schools, of varying sizes, I know this pattern is replicated.
For many pupils, I need to link up with a wide variety of outside agencies, as well as parents and carers. The meetings, phone calls, referrals, IEP/ILP paperwork and supporting of class teachers and TAs takes a huge amount of time and, understandably, every parent can only see their own child’s needs; each colleague is focussed on the pupils currently in his/her class and every outside agency is pushing its own agenda and requirements of the school. We have responsibilities to all our pupils and sometimes the demands made by parents and others involved with a particular child, become impractical or even unreasonable – it actually feels as though there are aspects of their responsibility that they would rather we take on. Inclusion, in the true sense of the word, is always the best we can aim for, but in reality, lack of adequate and appropriate support can leave schools struggling, staff stressed and pupils’ needs failing to be properly addressed.
With recent and continuing cuts to local education authority support, it is often a harder and more drawn-out process to access specialist help. Even when that help is accessed, we regularly receive letters informing us that a child has been discharged from specialist intervention due to non-attendance at clinic appointments.
I have been an additional educational needs coordinator (AENCO) in Wales for more than ten years and our school supports pupils with additional needs very well, as confirmed by an “Excellent” ranking from Estyn (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales) and the fact that several professionals outside education have recommended us to parents of pupils with SEN. But even so, we seem to come in for a lot of flack from different quarters at different times. Sadly, it is rarely, if ever, that we get a “Thank you”.
The role is extremely challenging and demanding and most SENCOs/AENCOs I know are completely dedicated to it. Believe it or not, we do it for the children. There are many occasions when I have felt like throwing in the towel but it is the children that keep me focussed. What we need is for all those we are working with to realise that we are not magicians or superheroes, and are not always able to meet everyone’s every demand – but we are, in the main, caring, committed, hard-working professionals who often, unseen, go above and beyond the call of duty to do our best for the children in our care.
Karen Beeby is a primary AENCO in South-East Wales.