The SENCO journey - transitioning to a strategic role: Guest post from Malcolm Reeve, AET

One of the significant requirements of the Children and Families Act 2014 (known in SEN circles as ‘The SEND Reforms’) encompassed the redefinition of the role of the SENCO.

Schools are legally required to have a SENCO, and if they are new to the role, they have to attain the National SENCO Award within three years of taking up their post. 

Previously, the role of SENCO has sometimes been seen as ‘the person who helps the children with SEN’; they might have had a group of learning support assistants at their disposal to help them with this role. However, the reforms, and the SEND Code of Practice which arose from them, makes it absolutely clear and incontrovertible that SEN is everyone’s responsibility and that the progression of children with SEN cannot be seen as just one person’s responsibility anymore.

The Code of Practice makes it clear that teachers are responsible for the progress of children in their class, even when they are supported by, or working with, a Learning Support Assistant. Thus the SENCO needs to move away from a ‘doing role’ to a ‘strategic role’ where they ‘advise’, ‘liaise’ and ‘ensure’.

The reality is that this aspiration is not easy to achieve and the implementation of this across schools in England presents a significant challenge both for the SENCO, for wider leadership teams, and for the school as a whole.

Malcolm Reeve, Executive Director for SEND & Inclusion at Academies Enterprise Trust.

How the ‘strategic challenge’ plays out

It is often overlooked that the SENCO can run the largest provision in a school; keeping a watching brief on all children and looking after a SEN Support list, which can sometimes contain 20-30% of the whole school.

This year the average SEN Support list in a mainstream school in England is between 14 and 15%. The requirement for the SENCO to adopt a strategic role is to be welcomed, but in achieving it the challenge plays out in four main ways:

  1. The extent to which the Headteacher, and whole school senior and middle leadership team, accept their responsibility to ‘lead SEN’ and how much they support the SENCO in achieving a strategic leadership role.
  2. The extent to which the SENCO is able to adjust his or her thinking to a strategic perspective and adopt the ‘tools’ of strategic leadership.
  3. The extent to which teachers rise to the challenge of being ‘teachers of SEN’ and equip themselves both with approaches and skills which reflect this in practice.
  4. The extent to which Learning Support Assistants become more specialist in the support they offer around the four main types of SEN.

This blog is focusing on how the SENCO adjusts their thinking to a strategic perspective and adopts the tools, which will assist them.

SENCO top tips

  • The Code of Practice and the law on SEN are your ‘bibles’- know them inside out. IPSEA run an excellent course (cheaply) in SEN and the law.
  • Read and understand your school’s strategic development documents (SEF, School Development Plan) and agree with SLT how the longer term vision of SEN is threaded through these and embedded in school improvement thinking.
  • Develop a relationship with the SEN governor and discuss the vision of SEN with them. Meet with them prior to full governing body meetings to discuss SEN provision and outcomes.
  • Use data on the composition of the SEN support list, and the progress which pupils with SEN are, or are not, making, to inform effective intervention and staff deployment. Discuss these with phase leaders in primary schools and heads of department in secondary schools.
  • Use the data to develop an SEN action plan or transformation plan that clearly links with the whole school improvement plan.
  • If you are not a part of the leadership team (the Code of Practice states that a SENCO will be more effective in their role if they are), discuss with your line manager how you can influence SEN strategy with their support.
  • Establish your role in supporting and developing high quality teaching for all throughout the school by conducting SEN ‘learning walks’ (sometimes with the Headteacher and members of the SLT).
  • Prioritise SEN CPD for staff and investigate different models that you could use in your school (coaching, sharing of good practice, Lesson Study etc.)
  • Meet with parents and inform them of your strategic role. Invite them to be part of a parents’ forum or ‘SEN Committee’ where they can influence SEN strategy e.g. by reviewing SEN info report / policy.
  • If you’ve not done it already, complete the National SENCO award.

Moving to a more strategic SENCO role can seem daunting, but armed with the right approach and with the support of the whole leadership team your school can make a world of difference to the children and young people you support.

Malcolm Reeve is Executive Director for SEND & Inclusion at Academies Enterprise Trust (AET).

Malcolm is a National Leader of Education and was a judge at this year’s Shine a Light Awards.

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