A plea for inclusion to be at the heart of every school’s life
With the continual changes taking place in our education system, the role of the SENCO has altered significantly. Mercifully, no longer is the post of SENCO generally allocated to the teacher who can’t cope with change or who can’t teach well, or the staff member who is waiting out the last few years until retirement.
Thankfully, no longer are students routinely removed and placed into units, regardless of their individual needs, or put together so that the rest of the children can learn in the class without interruption or “difficulties” for the class teacher.
The SEN Code of Practice (2014) says that every teacher is a teacher of all pupils. This statement ensures every staff member is accountable for the progress of the children within their class and ultimately, for making sure that every child actually makes progress.
A new role
The job of the SENCO has never been more challenging. I believe that this role should now be redefined as the inclusion coordinator (INCO), because every child should be included in everything that the class does. Indeed, some settings are beginning to use the term. The INCO’s role, therefore, would be to ensure that any barriers to learning are removed.
The INCO should, when appropriate, work with the families of children with SEN and, other issues, as help and support are given to them. The Government has acknowledged the all-encompassing nature of the SENCO position with the introduction of the mandatory (for new SENCOs) National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NASENCO), which recognises that this is a specialist role like no other in school. It is a Master’s level course that supports those new to the post and helps them understand the leadership responsibilities, and current legislation and guidance. It also stresses that inclusion should be central to any school.
There is even recognition of the increased responsibility within the pay scale, where an SEN allowance must be paid to classroom teachers in any SEN post that requires this mandatory SEN qualification.
The bigger picture
According to the Training and Development Agency, the SENCO/INCO should be able to “work with senior colleagues and governors to advise on and influence the strategic development of inclusive ethos, policies, priorities and practices and take on a leadership role in promoting a whole school culture of best practice in teaching and learning in relation to pupils with SEND” (TDA, 2009).
Due to the advisory nature of the role, the INCO ideally should be part of the leadership team. If possible, they should also be part of the safeguarding team as children with SEN can often be vulnerable and need additional support. Knowing the bigger picture and working with families gives the INCO a clearer insight into the difficulty of the child that needs additional support.
When speaking about a child with additional needs, I will often refer back to Maslow’s hierarchy of need. If a family enters a crisis situation, the children may be adversely affected and cannot, in reality, be expected to concentrate on the educational issues before them. Not knowing what awaits them at home will often take precedence in their thoughts, and therefore distract them from their educational challenges.
Forging strong links
At a time of cuts to local services, we have seen increasing demands placed on schools to deal with issues that might, in the past, have been covered by outside agencies. The INCO must be prepared to support families, not just pupils. This includes helping with a whole range of social, emotional and psychological issues, as well as difficulties in the family environment or liaising with other professionals in other disciplines, such as occupational therapy and speech therapy. This can range from helping parents with their benefits and bailiffs to registering families with doctors and dentists.
Where agencies are available, the INCO needs to forge strong links to help ensure children and families are well-supported. Being incredibly determined to demand help and persevere without losing this support is a valuable skills for the role. These kinds of issues are not confined to term times either; they tend to show themselves on the Friday afternoon at the end of the school term.
Sometimes, out of necessity, schools are choosing to cover areas of SEN by employing their own specialists. I have visited schools with their own ASD classroom, speech and language specialists and occupational therapists. Employing a full time emotional learning support assistant is often fundamental to dealing with behavioural and emotional issues within school.
Identifying and actively supporting children who have emotional needs allows any potential outbursts or lack of focus to be addressed before bigger issue arises. This in turn allows other children to learn in a calm, safe and stable environment.
The INCO needs to work with and help get the most out of all the various professionals involved in supporting pupils with SEN.
The bedrock of the school
The effective inclusion of pupils will help to ensure the school is a happy as well as an efficient place to be – a place where staff enjoy their work and challenge the children in order to help them flourish. Children need to feel safe at school and know that their voice will be heard. If they have worries, they should feel comfortable to express them. Where potential problems are discussed out in the open, any issues with bullying can also be tackled quickly or even prevented.
Visitors and parents can generally sense the atmosphere when they enter a school building; they can tell if staff and pupils are happy and if the bonds with the local community are strong. Families know if they have somewhere they can call in on for help. The school should be a place where nobody is afraid of trying anything, where mistakes can be made and rectified without judgement or difficulty. In this way, the school becomes a place of growth.
The role of inclusion coordinator is a big one and only the very determined should do it. Unless inclusion is at the centre of your beliefs about education and society at large, and you are confident that you can engender this passion in others, placing inclusion at the heart of school life, then just don’t apply! If you are not phenomenally methodical, or if you struggle to work effectively with some potentially very challenging adults, then don’t attempt it! But if you feel you can do these things, you might just find that inclusion coordinator is simply the best job in a school to have.
Jane Thomas is the Inclusion Lead Teacher and Safeguarding Lead at Rudheath Primary Academy in Northwich, Cheshire, which is Focus Trust school and has received educational support from Focus Education: