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The post of SENCo is too often treated as a middle management position rather than a leadership role, argues Michelle Haywood…
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Some years ago there was a dedicated TV channel for the teaching profession called ‘Teachers TV’. One of the programmes produced for said channel followed a secondary school SENCo around for the day, though the duties she was shown carrying out could be similarly applied to a primary school.
Viewers saw the SENCo accompanied by a man with a clipboard, who asked her about the various tasks she was performing before giving her advice on how to manage those tasks better. Having filed her paperwork, she was given tips on how she could employ a ‘RAFT’ approach (Refer, Action, File, Tash). After answering a telephone call about how a pupil’s needs were being met, she was advised to record the conversation on a pro forma. She was also shown holding a meeting with a group of teaching assistants, as well as undertaking some class teaching.
To help the SENCo manage the more strategic aspects of her role, another specialist was drafted in, who proceeded to introduce her to the principles of provision mapping. It was interesting that throughout the day there had been barely any mention at all of the role being strategic, aside from this brief provision mapping session – nor any talk of how the role should fit into the school management structure.
Instead, the role was portrayed as largely operational, with little emphasis on SEND leadership, since many SENCos at the time did not form part of their school’s senior leadership team.
Fast forward to 2016, and the SENCO’s role is seen very differently. In some schools, deputy heads teachers are required to combine the role with their other duties, while some larger multi-academy trusts now appoint SEND directors to lead on SEND matters across several schools.
These different visions of the role have emerged in the wake of the latest SEND Code of Practice (see tinyurl.com/ SEND-COP-2015), point 6.87 of which states, “The SENCo has an important role to play… in determining the strategic development of the SEN policy and provision in the school. They will be most effective in that role if they are part of the school leadership team.”
We’ve seen the role of SENCO evolve from being an operational one, to one of strategic leadership – but perhaps using the title ‘SEND leader’ could help define this change more clearly, and raise the role’s status within the school structure yet further.
‘SEN leadership’ ought to be considered a senior position due to the range of responsibilities it now entails – assessment and identification; tracking and evaluation, improving pupil outcomes; ensuring resources are used efficiently…
A good SEND leader attached to a school’s SLT will be able to monitor all of that, while at the same time gauging the effectiveness of staff working with pupils who have SEND. They will be well placed to effectively monitor the SEND provision that pupils receive, and ideally positioned to contribute widely to leadership and management strategies across the school.
What we see instead is that SENCo roles tend to sit within middle leadership. The individual in question will usually complete the National Award for SEN Co-ordination after acquiring the role, which will provide them with an overview of SEND that covers not just leadership and management, but also knowledge and signposting around meeting children’s needs within the four areas of SEND defined by the Code of Practice.
The National Award might provide a good grounding for the role, but today’s SEND Leaders don’t necessarily need such extensive knowledge – not when there’s now an expectation for ‘every teacher to be a teacher of SEND’. However, there should certainly be someone within the school who possesses experience of identification, assessment and intervention processes, and is fully aware of the statutory requirements surrounding SEND – and where better for that person to sit than the senior leadership team?
Michelle Haywood is the SEN and inclusion manager at Entrust Education; she blogs at michhayw.wordpress.com
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