My prior teaching experience in a mainstream primary school eventually led me to the role of Inclusion Manager which I found to be a rewarding, if challenging role, and a highlight of my career. I am now fortunate enough to be the programme leader and tutor for our new postgraduate course at The University of East London, which leads to the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordinator.
Having returned from maternity leave ready for a new challenge (having a baby was clearly not enough!), I jumped right in and am now teaching an incredible group of teachers who I look forward to seeing each week, partly due to their honesty about the roles they have in their settings but also because I see first hand, the camaraderie that has developed amongst them for what they do. It made me reflect on my time as an Inclusion Manager and I recalled it to be initially rather isolating, mainly as I was based in a completely separate demountable classroom, accessed through a locked gate from the school! Hardly inclusive! On a more positive note, after around 10 months I was moved into an office in the actual school which luckily had enough space to work with a very small group of children as well as house all my resources and meet with parents (as long as there weren’t too many attendees!). I finally felt included.
Considering the nature of the role, you hold a unique position in the school, typically there is one SENCo in a setting, or in larger schools, especially secondary schools, there is a team of people working as a SEND team, but there is still one named person responsible for ensuring they meet the needs of their children and young people with SEND. It is also common for the role to be assumed by a member of the leadership team, be it a head or deputy head teacher, some who are currently taking the course. However, for those teachers who are not a member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), can the expectations of being a strategic leader be fulfilled? Is there a mismatch in Government policy and the reality of the day-to-day demands of the SENCo role? There may well be difficulties for the SENCo who is passionate about inclusive practice but is not confident to lead a team, lead change across the whole school, manage aspects of whole school change. Tissot’s (2013) work discusses the Government’s vision of SENCOs as strategic leaders and the challenge to carry out this role effectively if their post does not support this. ‘The lack of SENCOs on leadership teams is stifling the vision of the role as well as its implementation in practice’ (Tissot, 2013, p.39). Nonetheless, there are SENCOs on the course who are not on the SLT but who do feel empowered to be a strategic leader, so is it more to do with the ethos of the school and the culture of leadership within?
My final thoughts will reflect on what the SENCo award does for our students. As I stated at the beginning, an overwhelming theme that the students mention is the value they place on coming together as a group of local SENCos, creating a ready made support network. For example, our Waltham Forest group take lunch together in a local café and discuss the challenges and successes of their responsibilities, share good practice and simply enjoy the time out of their busy schedules to reflect on what they are doing, see what others are doing and take back new ideas to their schools. Of course there is a lot of learning in the taught sessions too, we don’t just ‘do lunch’! Our taught sessions include broad and deep discussion around aspects of the SENCo position, focusing on theoretical understanding of inclusion, discussing research, exploring the new Code of Practice and interpreting Government policy.
The programme’s new intake for 2016/17 is enrolling now so if you are a qualified teacher who is either already a SENCo or holding SEND responsibilities, please do get in touch with any queries you may have. Alternatively, follow the link below to find out more about the course on our UEL website.
By Debbie Kilbride
Tissot, C. (2013) ‘The role of SENCOs as leaders’, British Journal of Special Education, 40 (1) pp. 33-40