The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

It’s time to take action on SENCO workload

The ‘It’s about time’ report has highlighted the issue of SENCO workload. What action can we take to redress the balance? 

Stack of files

Nearly 2,000 SENCOs responded to a call for their real experiences of the job, workload, processes and (perhaps most importantly?) time. The resulting report, It’s about time: the impact of SENCO workload on the professional and the school, was published last week.

Nine years ago I wrote an article about SENCO Time, where I commented:

You can, as SENCO, work 70 hours a week and still not manage to do everything. You need a good team, confidence in distributing the leadership of key tasks and time during the school day to complete key parts of the job.

One might argue that during the last decade little has changed; in fact, other competing pressures in education may have compounded these issues even further. One thing I am certain of, however, is that colleagues need to consider actions in the immediate, medium and long term on a local (school) level, while national organisations lobby for legislative change to protect requirements in the future. 

In this post I try to offer some support and solutions for the short and medium term; hopefully allowing colleagues time to develop the strategic SENCO role in light of the key areas identified.

Of the two roles that are legally required in a school, the SENCO and the headteacher, only the SENCO is required to be a qualified teacher. Furthermore, those appointed to the role of SENCO after 1st September 2009 are required to complete the masters-level National Award for SEN Coordination. This demonstrates the critical importance of the SENCO and why it matters that we give them the capacity to perform their role effectively.

From ‘It’s about time: the impact of SENCO workload on the professional and the school’

Leadership of SEND

One of the key areas of provision is the leadership of SEND. In the survey, 78% of SENCOs stated that other roles and/or tasks routinely pulled them away from being able to carry out the SENCO role effectively. Not even half of all SENCOs (46%) felt that their role was understood by senior leaders; for SENCOs in secondary settings this figure decreases to 26%.

One of the points I have raised consistently over the last few years is that whilst having SENCOs as part of senior leadership teams can be very important, too often additional roles and responsibilities actually mean they have less ‘SENCO time’ as a result. 

The balance here needs to be about the role in context, as part of a whole-school approach to SEND with corporate responsibility across the school or setting (Morewood, 2018). 

Suggested actions

An important first step is just sharing the report with your headteacher or line manager (I did that on Monday with my headteacher as part of our line management meeting). This could lead onto a structured discussion on key recommendations and areas specific to your circumstances in your next meeting, after some reading time.

Having a positive discussion with your link governor is also important; this may be as part of the discussion identified above, or separately, depending upon the structure and relationships in your school.  I have written previously about strengthening SEND-governor relationships, and have always seen this as a key area for positive support, particularly with regard to time and strategic responsibility.

Being part of a professional community is important

Another important recommendation from the report for SENCOs is about being part of a professional community. I cannot stress how important this has been for me during the last 15 years or so: being isolated in the role can be professionally and personally limiting. Previously I have written about what new colleagues can do to get support in the role; this is more important than ever in the current climate. 

I have found that accessing a range of support is important, not simply relying upon one person or group, but accessing forums, email groups, twitter, local networks and colleagues through professional associations and clusters too.  I basically work on the premise that whatever challenge you face now, someone somewhere has been through it before, so learning from that experience and sharing anything that develops as a result can be vital.

Suggested actions

Explore some of the different networks and virtual support available.  Many colleagues share resources and offer direct bespoke support as required.  Other online communities offer a group approach.  The blog Help, I'm a new SENCO and I don't know where to start! is a great place to begin if you are feeling a little overwhelmed. 

Twitter can be an excellent source of support. Occasionally I feel it can ‘suck you in’, so that time seems to disappear! Maybe my self-discipline is at fault there! As with any support, understanding and being realistic about how you are going to engage with it is an important first step.

Keeping positive: look after yourself as well

Looking after yourself is a vital part of working in education. With the report highlighting that 71% of SENCOs enjoy the role most, or all of the time, it is important to remember the successes, magical moments and powerful outcomes that happen because of the hard work and dedication of the many professionals undertaking the role in UK schools.

A key area for further discussion and development here is developing a supervisory model in schools for SENCOs, replacing traditional line management structures.  I have written more extensively about my thinking in two previous posts, and feel the time is right to consider this further.

Suggested actions

Build in positives; don’t let things build up and become overwhelming. If you are able to start discussions regarding a supervisory model of support and management, have some initial discussions and see what might develop. Remembering that peer support is out there and being open and honest in communication can be vital.

Whilst there are high hopes of some significant discussions stemming from this report, we must continue to support each other, share ideas, and continue to keep solution-focused in our approach.  As ever, there will continue to be more in this blog and on the Optimus Knowledge Centre to assist!

References and further reading

Morewood, G. D. (2009) Making Optimum Use of SENCO Time. Optimus Publishing: Curriculum Management Update, 95: 7-10.

Morewood, G. D. (2018) in Bartram, D. Great Expectations: leading an effective SEND strategy in school. John Catt Publications. 

SEND provision: a three-stage plan for school improvement

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