Meriel Bull has some advice to help build a partnership that works for everyone
Everyone knows who their school’s SENCo is. They are usually to be found striding purposefully in any given direction, looking slightly windswept, with a handful of students trailing after them. At times, they may also be as elusive as a colour ink cartridge. But what do they do, and what can they do to help you?
The role of the SENCo, to summarise, is to ensure that all children can access education according to their needs.
They will have responsibilities to children in the school with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities to ensure their individual needs are recognised by staff and their learning environment is appropriate to them.
They will often direct a team of Teaching Assistants, deployed to meet these needs within the classrooms and beyond.
They spend immense amounts of time communicating through telephone calls, meetings and emails with parents, staff, pupils, other SENCos, a wide variety of outside agencies, and collate opinions and advice to ensure that each child has their needs met in school.
They will have a duty to report or discuss matters arising with pastoral teams and senior management.
Despite a big overhaul in approaches to Special Educational Needs in recent years, there is still a great deal of bureaucracy, administration, and hoops through which to jump.
They may also have a teaching timetable, and this may explain why it is difficult at times to track them down, however, SENCos see staff support and training as part of their role, and will be keen to help.
All SENCos will have experienced a staff member starting a conversation with a student’s name, and then saying “Is he one of yours?”
The sentiment of ownership could be forgiven; however, the student is ‘one of ours’ – ‘we’ being the whole school, working together to give every student the opportunity to learn and develop. What the SENCo can do, using their skills in SEND and their knowledge of the student’s individual needs, is to help you improve the student’s learning in your lessons.
With that in mind, decide what you need from the SENCo. Do you need knowledge about the student’s learning barrier? SENCos have a wealth of literature covering a wide range of topics, such as dyslexia, sensory impairment, and Asperger’s. They may be able to give you a summary of the condition which will help you to respond to the student in your classroom, or signpost you to resources for a wider understanding.
The SENCo has often liaised with professionals linked to the student, and may be able to suggest what works for that student, such as using their name when giving instructions, or printing resources in certain fonts or colours.
It may be that you agree together that some involvement with a TA in the classroom may be necessary (although this is not always the answer and other strategies may be discussed first). Good communication with the TA supporting your lesson is essential, and a few suggestions of how to work with them are included below.
Once you have assessed what you need from the SENCO and discussed this with them, plan how you are going to take action. Present your plans at the department meeting so that strategies can be shared and used as an SEN resource in the future.
Adding SEND to your meeting agenda is good practice, and may improve the inclusion across the whole department, in addition to improving subject area links to the SENCo. Prepare resources as needed with the help of the TA or SENCo well in advance.
If there have been issues raised by parents, it may help to discuss your plans of action with them, and the SENCo will most likely want to support you with this, especially if they are already in regular contact with them.
When putting your strategies in action, stay alert to how it affects the learning of the student and monitor progress as appropriate.
If using resources you have created, encourage feedback from the student. If you are using different ways to communicate instructions, look carefully to assess the impact you are having on their behaviour. If you are supported by a TA or other member of staff, seek their observations too.
You may not get perfect results straight away. Often a change in strategy or working environment takes a little time for the student to positively adjust, but if you are mindful of this change, then it will pay off soon enough.
As with everything we do in our working lives, review your actions. Do this with the SENCo, as they may be able to suggest areas you could tweak. If the student is making progress, reward them with a call home, positive postcard, or other means you use at your school.
Also, share your good practice. If you have had issues with certain students or areas of need, then others may too and would be keen to hear of your successes.
Review progress again periodically as the SENCo will love hearing how a student with SEND has achieved or succeeded, and you will have begun a good working relationship with your SENCo. In short, and following the graduated response approach that is recommended for SEND best practice:
Assess – what do you need from the SENCo? Knowledge, strategies, skills or resources?
Plan – prepare in advance and share this with your subject area.
Action – stay focussed and responsive to the needs of the student.
Review – share good practice with your colleagues, reward the student, and keep the SENCo updated.
• Include the TA in your department meetings. If they are unable
to attend, ensure they get copies of meeting notes, schemes
of work, and resources as relevant. The more they know, the
more they can target their support.
• Use small group work for targeted differentiation, such as
pre-teaching topics, re-teaching terminology and concepts,
and peer assessment in a more secluded environment.
• Work with them to create differentiation resources you can
use repeatedly within your department, such as learning
maps, key word prompts, and sensory resources.
Meriel Bull taught for over 12 years as a well-qualified SENCO; and now uses her experience and passion for SEND to write full time.