Our top 10 survival tips for SENCOs are designed to make the transition into the role a little easier, to give you a clear sense of what’s involved – we hope you find them useful.
1. Make sure you have all the key documents
Make sure you have:
A copy of your school’s SEN policy
A copy of the school’s SEN Information Report. Under the SEND code of practice, all schools must now publish information on their website setting out how they satisfy the code.
A list or register of all the children in the school who have been identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities.
A provision map: this should show the intervention programmes that are taking place in the school, who’s having them and the frequency. You will also want to have some form of system to measure the impact of the interventions.
NAHT advice is to make sure that at the very least you have pre and post intervention data (for example, reading or spelling ages) so that you can start to draw some conclusions about how effective the interventions have been for the children. Ofsted inspectors are keen to know the impact of any interventions, as well as what else has been tried if the outcome hasn’t enabled the pupil to make progress, so having additional strategies up your sleeve will stand you in good stead.
2. Find out about staff expertise and plan whole-school SEND CPD
It’s critical that you have an understanding of the level of SEND expertise in the school. NAHT recommends carrying out an audit of all teachers and Teaching Assistants (TAs) and/or Learning Support Assistants (LSAs). You can then use this to begin to design a SEND CPD plan for your school.
3. Look to access training, peer support and SENCo networks
Many local authorities or trusts do offer training for new SENCos and it is a good idea to try and access this as soon as possible. If you haven’t already done so, you will also need to think about signing up to complete the National Award for SENCos as it is now compulsory for all SENCos to hold this qualification within three years of taking up the post.
One of the best things you can do if you are new to the post is to become a part of a local network of SENCos. If you are struggling to find a local network, contact SENCos in local schools and ask them. There are also a range of online networks.
4. Make sure you know about the SEND Code of Practice
This is a key document you will need to be familiar with – it’s the SENCo bible!
In very simple terms, this is a government document that outlines the legal requirements and statutory guidance that applies to all schools when it comes to SEND. Having a good overview of sections 5 or 6 for Early Years providers and schools is a very good idea.
5. Relationships are key
As a SENCo, you will have to work with other people – you are there to take the strategic lead, not to do everything yourself – that would be impossible.
There are other key relationships to consider – every governing body should have a nominated SEND governor and you should aim to meet this person as soon as possible. Their role is to have strategic oversight of SEND and to work with you to ensure the school is acting within the law and statutory guidance as outlined in the code of practice.
Also, ensure you’re on the same page as the school’s senior leaders, especially the head teacher – this is critical when leading school improvement.
6. Carry out an audit of any interventions / SEND provision that is already in place
Having an overview of pre-existing interventions and programmes will help you to see what resources you have to provide and where there might be some gaps.
7. Staffing structure
It’s important that you have a clear view of the staffing structure, especially in terms of TAs. Getting the staffing structure right for TAs is likely to be an important part of your role to make sure that the team is having the maximum impact on children and their learning.
8. Leading a team
As SENCo, you’re almost certainly going to be asked to lead a team of TAs. It’s advised that you could use the first meeting of the year as an opportunity to discuss protocols, expectations and working practices for the year ahead as well as to give the team an opportunity to ask any questions that they might have. You may also want to use this first meeting to start to outline your vision for SEND provision in the school.
9. Contact details for external agencies
Knowing how to contact your local educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and CAMHs teams is a useful starting point. It’s worth making contact with some of these key agencies in advance to find out their process for making a referral so that you know how to refer when you need to.
10. Key dates for the year
To help get ahead, try to outline at the start of the year all the key dates that you and your team need to be aware of – for example, the deadline for applications for special arrangements in end of Key Stage tests or exams (the person leading on assessment should be able to give you these). Over time you will build up a useful list that can just be updated each year.
Once you feel you have a good understanding of the state of play for SEN in your school NAHT would strongly suggest you write a position statement. This is a document that briefly outlines where you think things stand for SEND currently. It will highlight any strengths, as well as any key areas that you feel need improvement and or further development.
This can be a key document to take when discussing your early thoughts with your head teacher and SEND governor. Having a position statement will allow you to begin to develop an improvement plan for SEND and to prioritise the areas that you feel you need to address first. It can also be a great comparison tool for you to look back on at the end of each year to see how you have advanced SEND provision in your school.
NAHT is the leading union for school leaders’ and as a member you get access to legal support and advice, discounts and deals on your daily purchases, access to a mentoring scheme and savings on our highly-rated CPD courses and conferences. To join us, visit our membership page.