Many mainstream schools pride themselves on including children with additional needs. They ensure that the school environment, both academic and social is accessible to children of all abilities. It is the SENCO that ensures that this is possible.
By Emma Phoenix
What exactly is a SENCO?
SENCO stands for ‘Special Educational Needs Coordinator’ and they’re a key member of any teaching staff; responsible for children with special (or additional) needs in school. They are facilitators, ensuring access to learning across the entire curriculum, working closely with teachers and parents to put tailored support in place, particular to each individual child’s needs. They offer an element of pastoral support too, ensuring the children feel fully part of the school community, with opportunities to socialise with their fellow pupils. SENCOs should demonstrate understanding, skill and passion for ensuring that children with additional needs are fully catered for throughout their school experience.
So, what does a SENCO do all day?
SENCOs are qualiﬁ ed teachers in their own right. Aside from their support of children with additional needs they might well also have a teaching timetable. In some schools, they are also members of the Senior Leadership Team, enabling better communication between teaching departments. The SENCO’s main roles involve keeping records of the pupils in the school who have a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) and continually identifying and assessing pupils who require support. Another key aspect is overseeing the school’s SEN policy, updating it annually and disseminating it among staff. They will, for example, communicate with primary schools during the September intake period, to gain access to any support records that may follow a child into secondary school.
The SENCO will liaise with outside agencies to better provision support for pupils. This could include educational psychologists, behavioural support workers, youth workers, literacy or numeracy support, social services/educational welfare, child and adolescent mental health (CAHMS) and sometimes the pupil’s GP as well as with parents and pupils.
Depending on a pupil’s need, the SENCO may have to ensure access to exam considerations for pupils with visual impairments, or to provide support for pupils with hearing impairments and they will also ensure physical adaptations, such as those needed to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users.
Another important aspect of education for SEN pupils is the social aspect of school. If the child has a need that creates social anxiety or impairment, or perhaps a physical disability that prevents them from joining in certain activities, it is the SENCO who provides opportunities to remedy this. They will provide opportunities to learn how to make friends, mix with other young people and feel comfortable in the busy school environment. This could take the form of group work projects, seeing a behavioural support worker or counsellor, or perhaps joining a school club.
How to have your child assessed
Every child that a SENCO works to support will have individual needs. Some will have physical or sensory difficulties, while others will have moderate to severe learning disabilities. Some SEN pupils are given support for the long-term, while others might require short term intervention, for behavioural or emotional needs, such as bereavement, anxiety or bullying issues. Either way, the SENCO has the task of assessing the situation.
Assessments are carried out in different ways. For instance, the SENCO might observe the child in class, or ask a learning support assistant to do so and to take notes on their behaviour and responses in certain scenarios. They might make an appointment with an educational psychologist to assess the child more formally, at which time they might conduct various psychological and baseline assessments with the child, producing a report with specific recommendations. SENCOs might also use standardised school testing to glean an idea of the pupil’s general ability. A selection of these approaches can be used to create a strategy to support the pupil whilst in school. The SENCO will set targets to share with staff and parents. The data will then be moulded into the pupil’s individual education plan (IEP) and will include details of support so that they can be measured and evaluated at review meetings.
What if you’re not happy with the support your child is receiving?
Sometimes a parent can feel unhappy about the support their child is getting in school. It can be difficult to know how to go about finding a solution to this, but the best approach is to ask for a meeting with the SENCO to have your say and explain the problem as you view it. You know your child best, and they know the school, so working together is sensible and important. Make sure the SENCO provides a guarantee that they will respond to your concerns. You can also approach the headteacher (or college principal) or board of governors, should you feel that your concerns aren’t being fully addressed.
The ideal is to keep a clear channel of communication open between you and the agencies involved. Everyone should be equally aware of the facts, challenges and solutions being trialled, with all of which being centred on the child and their ongoing wellbeing.
The SENCO can liaise with outside agencies to better provision support for pupils.