At first glance, the key issues related to SEN support and provision seem overwhelming. It gets worse at second glance, and the third … Small wonder so many schools find recruitment so hard for this role.
Thanks to Charles Weedon, educational psychologist and author of Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP) SpLD and SNAP-B, for the following article.
Who are they, who should they be?
The SENCO is the only role in a school that must be a qualified teacher and have a post-graduate qualification (unless they were in post before 1 September 2009). As a SENCO, you're responsible for some of the most challenging pupils in a school – at the same time you're at the confluence, the crunch point, for an ever-increasing barrage of expectations and demands.
The traditional SENCO
Traditionally, the right people were easier to find. Traditional SENCOs tended to immerse themselves in those children who needed extra attention, as often as not in separate base. They developed a great store of understanding of children's difficulties. The role required patience to work with socially awkward and frustrating students (and their parents), the ability to adapt resources for a broad spectrum of needs, a lot of paperwork and record keeping, liaising with the outside agencies that were forever lacking and unavailable and, of course, with the teachers who came to you for answers for any student with an SEN label. It could be a tough job, but it was graspable, manageable, and usually pretty rewarding.
The SLT SENCO
But that's history, and thinking has shifted steadily away from this role, towards a wholly different creature – the SLT SENCO. Thanks to Ofsted, the SEND Code of Practice and the Teachers’ Standards, we have seen a significant attitude shift – from separating SEN students from the classto making them a central measure of a successful lesson. ‘Rapid and sustained progress of all groups’ is interpreted to mean that the students beyond the edges of the average need to be making significant progress in a teacher’s class for it to be considered any good.
The SLT SENCO has a vital role in determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision in the school - provision mapping, working in partnership with parents, supporting other colleagues, commissioning services and demonstrating pupil progress. The new SENCO is someone who can think in whole-school leadership terms, has great communication skills with staff and an ability to get the school into gear for the Ofsted challenge. It is someone who must be on the SLT. He or she must contribute to teaching and learning at every level — observing, advising, guiding, managing, leading….
As a teacher, ideally you should see your SENCO as someone who regularly pops into your lessons to support you with differentiation, understanding student needs and personalising learning. After all, this is now a key metric for the success of your lessons.
The qualities needed
The buzz word is leadership. A SENCO is increasingly seen as a generic whole-school leader. It is suggested that SEN specifics can be learnt in the role, whereas it is much harder for someone with a Master’s in SEN to learn the requisite leadership skills.
No longer is your SENCO the person who knows the most about, for example, dyslexia. As one blogger phrased it, you need to be:
- a lead professional
- an advocate and knowledge/information manager
- a commissioner and broker
- a resource manager
- a partnership manager
- a quality assurer
- a facilitator
- a solution assembler…..
Scary, or what…..?
How can I possibly do all that, and at the same time implement what has to be the SENCO's core responsibility: planning and reviewing for my SEN students…?
More than scary. You just can't be all of those things. It's self-evidently too much. ‘No longer is your SENCO the person who knows the most about, for example, dyslexia’ is easy to say, and it carries a certain logic considering all those other demands.
But good SEN planning and reviewing must be at the heart of SEN provision. Specialist knowledge and advice, hard won and cumulative, mustn't be glibly crowded out by a plethora of high-minded policy aspirations.
So if you can't do everything yourself, then make use of tools that do some of the critical bits for you. And they are out there - just one example might be the Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP) where some questionnaires for home and school, and some simple tests if you want to use them, provide you with detailed learning and behavioural profiles, information and strategies, for each of your SEN students.
These aren't the only ones - there's a lot of great stuff out there. But as the pressures and demands upon you mount inexorably, you have to find ways of managing them. This is just one way forward.
If you liked this blog, view all of our other SEN articles here.