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Where Will Your School’s next SENCo Come From?

Anne Heavey suggests some ways in which schools can do more to spot and nurture the burgeoning talents of would-be SENCos...

  • Where Will Your School’s next SENCo Come From?

In recent years there’s been continuing rise in the number of children entering reception with complex needs, who require additional support to settle in to the school environment.

At the same time, there’s also been a growing awareness of autism. More children are now coming through the school system who are suspected have autism, who are waiting for their assessments to be done and for their education, health and care plans to follow.

As a result, attempts have been made to try and increase the quality and quantity of SEND training during ITT. The steps taken have included adding components on specific learning difficulties, the processes by which it’s possible to secure an assessment and how to support learners with SEND in the classroom.

However, there’s also a need for more TAs to be trained in the specific needs of the individual children they’re working with, so that class teachers are able to draw on additional support when they need it.

Every teacher a teacher of SEND

Since 2014 there’s been an expectation that every teacher is a teacher of SEND. Ask teaching staff, and that’s certainly what they want to be. Support staff, teachers and leaders alike all want to do right by their children and offer SEND support where it’s needed, but feel that their workload is a barrier.

Often they simply won’t have the time to properly understand a child’s needs, prepare the necessary resources, attend all the meetings and see to everything else that goes with the territory.

They don’t always possess relevant specialist knowledge, and therefore won’t fully understand the barriers to learning that some of these children have. In some cases, schools won’t be able to provide those resources internally, or even draw on them externally where that might be beneficial, such as with speech and language therapy.

Addressing those issues of workload, resources and training is where the SENCo comes in. They need to be a qualified teacher, and will typically have entered the role via one of two routes.

There will be those who have decided they want to become a SENCo specifically to work with children who have SEND, and others who’ll be looking for that next opportunity to progress – in some cases they might have been offered the role to help prepare them for senior leadership.

Particularly in primary schools, where there usually won’t be as many teachers compared with secondary, someone may be asked to assume the (statutory) role of SENCo when they haven’t initially put themselves forward.

What makes a good SENCo?

In any case, a would-be SENCo needs to demonstrate three core attributes. First and foremost, they must be someone who’s really good at maintaining relationships with colleagues, pupils and parents. They have to be exceptionally good at speaking to people, have an optimistic outlook, be patient and able to see the best in every situation.

Secondly, the role of SENCo needs to be filled by someone who’s extremely organised, since there’s a great deal of information, deadlines and processes that they’ll need to stay on top of. As well as guiding the school through those, the SENCo will need to liaise regularly with parents, NHS professionals, LA representatives and others, which will require considerable planning, prioritising and communication skills.

Finally, a SENCo has to have a real eye for detail. They need to be able to study long and complex documents such as the SEND Code of Practice, synthesise what they need to know and do and disseminate that information clearly to staff and members of the school community. So how should you go about spotting potential SENCo talent among your staff and nurturing it?

Realise that potential

You can begin by setting up a meeting between the staff in question and your existing SENCo – or even a SENCo at a different school – and arranging for the staff to experience what the role involves over the course of a typical day.

Many younger teachers often envisage that a SENCo will spend most of their time working directly with vulnerable pupils. In reality, the SENCo might not end up spending all that much time directly with the pupils themselves, but rather facilitating the support that needs to be put in place around them.

Encourage your would-be SENCos to sign up with online groups and forums such as The SENCo Forum and look into what the highs and lows of the role involve. Where are the flashpoints? If your school can support an assistant SENCo role, try appointing them, perhaps on a trial basis.

In my view, we benefit as a profession by sharing talent across schools. If somebody on your staff has the potential to thrive as a SENCo, how prepared would you be to share that person with another school? Would you be willing to tell them, ‘We don’t have any opportunities here right now, but a school nearby does’?

We need to become more collegiate in how we develop our staff. That doesn’t have to mean telling staff that they need to transfer elsewhere. Instead, we could perhaps encourage them to look at the bigger picture when considering the next stage of their career, and not limit their ambitions to working within just one school, but multiple schools within a larger area.

Build in time

Ultimately, we want to be in a position where we have staff who are confident in supporting pupils with the most challenging needs in the classroom, working alongside trained support staff.

Leaders have to give SEND training the priority it deserves in schools, but doing so is hard with so many demands on INSET training time. However, nobody loses out from learning SEND-related skills, such as how to support vulnerable learners, how to recognise the signs of developmental conditions such as dyslexia and knowing how to obtain additional support for children who need it.

What leaders need to do is proactively carve out time for their staff to develop such skills, and look into exploring avenues such as online training, in-house CPD and work shadowing. Leaders then need to ask themselves what they can do to help teachers and support staff work together more effectively in terms of planning and reflecting on their practice.

If we want staff to properly reflect on how things are generally going for each child, time will need to be built in to the school culture for that to happen.

Anne Heavey is the national director of Whole School SEND; visit sendgateway.org.uk or follow @send_gateway.

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