Leading role


It’s time re-evaluate the SENCO’s place in the structure of our schools

Since the Government started the process of reforming the SEN system, with its Green Paper Support and Aspiration: a new approach to Special Educational Needs and Disability (2011), the changes to SEN education provision have been fundamental. Prior to this, Ofsted had noted that the legislation and guidance around SEN had become confusing, the needs of children and young people with a statements of SEN were not necessarily being met, and the term SEN was being used too widely.

From 2014, all schools in England and Wales have followed the new SEN Code of Practice (COP), which outlines statutory responsibilities for local authorities and educational settings in meeting the needs of children and young people with SEN and disabilities.

The huge changes that have taken place over the last few years have meant that SEN practice in schools is constantly changing on both strategic and operational levels. SEN has become a higher priority; the progress of pupils with SEN is highlighted even more than before in Ofsted criteria and all new SENCOs now have to have a postgraduate qualification in SEN coordination.

The overhaul of SEN categories has meant that schools have had to radically alter department processes relating to identification of SEN, record-keeping and monitoring. The emphasis on teacher accountability for SEN has created a heightened need for partnership working. The focus on developing quality first teaching and providing appropriate CPD opportunities as an integral part of INSET is even more important.  The increased dialogue and collaboration with outside agencies needed to create education, health and care (EHC) plans and transfer statements of SEN has also had a huge impact on time, particularly in larger settings. In addition, revised SEN policy and the introduction of an information report to outline SEN practice in school has further highlighted the importance of clarifying information regarding admissions, provision, reviewing and monitoring and funding arrangements for SEN.

A clear vision

The highlighted priorities above are certainly part of the SENCO’s role and concerns raised in a number of reports prior to 2014 presented a need for considerable change and transparency, which has been an ongoing process over the past few years. However, what is the impact of this period of review and change and what are the costs? Future investigation needs to focus on the implementation outcomes of the COP for both the state and independent sector. In addition, the combination of large strategic priorities and changes to day-to-day practice has, I believe, shown that SENCOs are at the forefront of inclusive practice and teaching and learning – traditionally a leadership role in schools.

Rosen Web (2011) argues that there still exists a sense of “ambiguity” over the SENCO role and there is huge variation from school to school. My key concern is how SENCOs can lead change in a new and ever-shifting political landscape at a non-senior level in school, unless of course the role is given flexibility and a degree of freedom. I am fortunate in my current role to have this freedom.

Radford and Oldham (2011) examine this idea as they recognise both the development of the SENCO role over time and the potential tension that exists as a result of that development. I believe that the current context of the SEN reforms provides an ideal opportunity to re-examine the role of the SENCO in mainstream schools in order to dispel some of the perceived “ambiguity” and to clarify the SENCO role at either middle-leader or senior level. Such a reappraisal is essential to developing SEN practice on a whole-school level.

Further information

Kerri Haynes-McDonnell is Head of Learning Support/SENCO at Bootham School in York:


  • Morewood, G. (2012). Is the inclusive SENCO still a possibility? British Journal of Learning Support. Vol 27, N.o 2. p73-76.
  • Radford, J. and Oldham, J. (2011). Secondary SENCO leadership: a universal or specialist role? British Journal of Special Education. Vol 38, N.o 3, p126-134.
  • Rosen Web, S. (2011). Nobody tells you how to be a SENCO. British Journal of Special Education. Vol 38, N.o 4, p159-168.
Kerri McDonnell
Author: Kerri McDonnell

changing role of the SENCO

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changing role of the SENCO


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