Supporting Children with SEND – What does a SENCO do?
I became a SENCO five years ago and, initially, it felt like I had taken on far more than I had expected to. The sheer number of things I needed to know and do felt insurmountable. However, with some good training, some experience (and a lot of red wine!) it soon felt like a much more defined role.
One of the best pieces of advice I received was from an experienced SENCO; she reminded me that the ‘CO’ part of SENCO stood for Coordinator: “You coordinate the SEN provision, you don’t provide it all.”
Understand your legal SENCO responsibilities
Completing the NASENCO award in my second year really helped me to understand the role. It also meant that I studied the Code of Practice (2014)– the SENCO bible, which meant I understood my legal responsibilities. Chapter six is particularly useful, as it outlines the areas of what schools must do and what schools should do to support children with SEND.
Identify those children with SEND
One of the most important roles of a SENCO is to ensure the identification of children with special educational needs in the school. Your local authority will provide a guide for which needs should be given universal provision, provision with some additional support, and which needs will need an EHC or specialist provision.
One of the first things I did as SENCO was to introduce a staff training programme. This enabled me to ensure that staff understood the Code of Practice, the plan-do review graduated process, and different types of SEND.
Teachers usually spot SEN so it is imperative that teachers know what to look for and how to inform you. They also need to know how to communicate their concerns to parents.
Once you can identify needs, it is your job to prioritise and devise a plan of action. The increasing lack of funding for SEND means that resources are scarce and EHC’s are even rarer. It is your job to decide which child needs to see a Speech Therapist, Educational Psychologist, a referral to CAMHS, which child needs an additional intervention, or which child may just need some adaptations by the class teacher.
The best way to do this is by Provision Mapping. There are programmes available to do this or you can create your own. This will really help you, especially early on as a SENCO, to keep track of children and the provision provided. It is also important to keep a track of provisions provided when/if you come to apply for an EHC.
Monitoring the progress of children with SEND
As SENCO you will also be responsible for tracking and monitoring the progress of children with SEND. For some children with SEND that can’t access the national curriculum, this may mean introducing a new assessment programme.
Tracking and monitoring will allow you to see which interventions are working, but also identify which children haven’t made progress and therefore need to be prioritised to be seen by outside agencies.
Due to the nature of SEND, analysis of data can sometimes offer an inaccurate picture, therefore, it is essential to meet with the child, parents and teachers each term. SEN/EHC reviews allow you to get a true picture of how the child is doing and what may need to be put in place to help them succeed further.
The ultimate champion of the child’s needs is the parent or carer and, so, they often have a unique insight into strategies and methods which work best for the child.
High-quaility teaching and learning for children with SEND
This brings me onto your responsibility to ensure that there is high-quality teaching and learning for children with SEND.
Quality First Teaching means that all children should make progress. In order to support teachers to do this effectively, you need to have a comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of different types of SEND and what strategies, resources and interventions work best for each one.
Teachers will come to you for support and, although you won’t always have the answers, you need to be able to go away and find them! Again, whole school training is really important to help increase staff knowledge and some of the best training I have seen has come from outside agencies such as Play Therapists, Educational Psychology, Speech Therapy and the School Nurse.
You will also need to ensure that staff have specific knowledge to provide provision for children with less common types of SEND, such as a particular condition or disability that you may not have come across before. Obviously, this is particularly important for children with medical needs.
As a SENCO you will be responsible for arranging appropriate interventions which may be whole school or on an individual level. You may find that schools use programmes or interventions that they have used for a long time but are not necessarily fit for purpose.
In the beginning, I came across a lot of protests along the lines of ‘we have always used this here’. It is your job to assess and monitor the interventions to ensure that they are effective and ensure that the children make accelerated progress. You are also responsible for coordinating assessments by outside agencies such as a Speech Therapist, Educational Psychologist or CAMHS. This will include arranging meetings, observations and parent consultations.
One of the most important parts of the role is communicating with parents. You will often be the person that has to inform a parent that their child has additional needs. This can be devastating for some parents and you are the person that the parent will turn to for help and advice through the often prolonged and difficult journey to diagnosis or applying for an EHC. Outside support for parents can often be difficult to find and is not always consistent. As a SENCO, parents will rely on you as a constant source of support.
As I mentioned before, as a SENCO you coordinate SEND provision at your school, but you also ensure that you are constantly developing provision to ensure you are providing the best support possible. This strategic element of the role can be tricky if you are not a member of the Senior Leadership Team and, therefore, are not able to make the big decisions needed.
However, as a SENCO you are the SEND specialist in your school, and it is your job to advocate for the children with SEND. This can sometimes be a hard battle as the very nature of SEND means that schools must put in additional time and funding for these children.
You need to look at your school’s individual needs and decide what is needed to ensure that the SEND provision is the best it can be. You may be responsible for the budget and how SEN funding is spent in your school and you will need to be able to effectively communicate this to Senior Leadership Team and Governors and parents. You need to ensure that your school is compliant with the SEND Code of Practice and that your school puts the needs of the children first and has inclusion at the heart of all it does.
Unfortunately, as a SENCO you will also have LOTS of paperwork. EHC applications need to include a wealth of information.
One of the things I quickly realised when I started as a SENCO was that I needed to record everything as I went along. This made it much easier when applying for EHCs. I spoke to the local authority about what paperwork was needed for an application to be successful; I was told simply – ‘as much information as you can’.
The best advice I can give is to contact your local SENCOs and ask for their advice. There will be very little that they have not seen or done, and they can be a vital source of support for you.