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

A new professional pathway for SENCOs

Initial training and later professional development mean nothing if they don't reflect our needs. The modern SENCO is no exception. 

Earlier this week I explained why we need to rethink the role of SENCO. The post prompted much discussion about the SENCO’s significance, and how decisions on the allocation of time and the structure of support staff are made differently from one school to the next.

Although issues surrounding the amount of time, administrative support and staffing capacity we have to uphold our responsibilities are well-trodden ground, the responses to the post were an incentive for me to start thinking about solutions.

If given a ‘blank sheet’ on which to redesign an appropriate scheme of training and development for SENCOs, what would I include?

To be a qualified teacher or not?

The requirement that a SENCO must have achieved qualified teacher status (QTS) before being appointed to the role is a subject of continuing debate. We’ve already seen the consequences of business leaders being touted as a solution to the teacher recruitment crisis.

In a similar fashion, we shouldn’t lower our standards for a role that remains statutory in all schools just so that we can recruit more SENCOs.

We shouldn’t lower our standards for a role that remains statutory in all schools

As things stand, the SENCO is the only role where QTS is a mandatory prerequisite. While there’s no doubt that SENCOs benefit from being qualified teachers, a new approach to succession planning and workforce development should create routes to QTS as part of a new SENCO pathway.

I don’t see the need for colleagues who follow this route ‘to have [undertaken] two full years main scale teaching before undertaking the SENCO role’, for example. The QTS for existing school staff will allow SENCOs to consolidate experience they’ve already acquired.

A grounding in SEND law

An essential part of the SENCO’s role is knowing the law. Too often SENCOs are bogged down with unnecessary paperwork and frustratingly complex local authority processes.

However, SEND law is yet to be appropriately enshrined in accredited training. From my many discussions with colleagues across the country and electronically, I am often told that the NASENCO Award offers little to no legal training as part of the course.

I’d recommend that every SENCO, no matter where they work, undertake legal training as part of any requirements for the post. This may be part of a renewed NASENCO award, or IPSEA’s online e-learning.

Any future qualification for SENCOs should have legal elements as a mandatory requirement.

Leading CPD

Another core element of the modern SENCO role is developing and delivering training for colleagues. Headteachers need to recognise this, if colleagues are to ever receive enough time for training, but SENCOs also need to have opportunities to develop training skills.

The Teacher Development Trust has developed a qualification for CPD leadership – much of its constituent material could be relevant to a future ‘SENCO Award’. Leading high quality CPD for other members of staff must be high on the SENCO’s agenda.

Advocacy

Advocacy can refer to many things, but in general, it means taking action. This can mean speaking or acting on behalf of others – sometimes we can underestimate the power of good communication. This freely available advocacy toolkit is a great starting point, and again could form part of a formal accreditation.

The importance of developing our own skills can be overlooked when the demands on our time are so great, but to do so regularly is vital.

Understanding co-production

Coming to terms with the value of co-production should be integral to a SENCO’s training. We reach the best outcomes for young people when schools and families work together. Not only is it important that this is stressed as part of training and development, but we must also explicitly teach how we can engage positively with parents/carers and develop effective joint working.

We reach the best outcomes for young people when schools and families work together

Any revisions to SENCO training should draw upon some of the excellent work by the National Network of Parent Carer Forums and ensure the proper co-production of a revised award. We can all learn more about working collaboratively; however rather that SENCOs being trained to ‘do’ this to parents/carers, better to develop core concepts ‘with’ the existing network of organisations.

Engaging with research

I am fortunate enough to be part of many different research projects, and have even developed some myself. However, my concern is that, despite being an ‘M Level’ qualification, the engagement with research in the NASENCO award often stops upon completion.

As part of any national qualification, SENCOs should learn how to find research reports, papers and journals, so that they have the means to engage with the latest research and can use it to inform their own practice. The new Chartered College of Teaching is a good example of how this ought to look. Indeed, the SENCO’s grasp on research should be no weaker than their teaching colleagues.

A new light

A comprehensive study of how the role of SENCO (and their working conditions) varies across the country is the next step in giving shape to the recommendations above, as well as encouraging headteachers and governors to see the role in a new light.

From my experience as a SENCO, and the conversations I’ve had with colleagues over the years, I know that there are many things critically absent in the way we formal accredit SENCOs. Only when we’ve addressed the lack of support available to SENCOs, from initial training to later CPD, can we ever hope to secure a truly unique professional identity.

As ever, I appreciate your thoughts.

Use research to inform practice

Now is the time to focus our attention on what the latest evidence-based research tells us works to support learners in the classroom.

This May, our Annual SEND Update conference will give you the skills to translate the latest research into effective practice.

Find out more

More from Optimus

Time to rethink the 'effective SENCO'

High quality, low cost: a guide to CPD for SEND

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