Demonstrate a systematic understanding and critical awareness of the leadership qualities required to successfully fulfil the role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (2015) describes the responsibility of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) to manage the day to day operational responsibilities of the role, whilst also highlighting the importance of ‘determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision in the school’ (p.108).
Furthermore, The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review: A Statement is not Enough (2010) describes how effective Special Educational Needs (SEN) leadership should be focused on; improving the quality of assessment and SEN identification, ensuring quality provision and effective intervention, and ensuring accountability for outcomes (p.8).
In my experience, this can often be a contradiction for many SENCOs, balancing the pressures of administrative tasks, against the desire to drive change and impact on teaching and learning.
Tissot (2013) describes how:
In many schools SENCOs have been overwhelmed by paperwork, presenting them with the conflicting demands of managing bureaucracy, against the more crucial development of whole-school strategy (The role of SENCOs as leaders, 2013).
For this reason, time management and organisational skills are paramount in the role of SENCO, allowing adequate time to commit to the improvement of provision, teaching and learning for SEN pupils. I feel strongly that this is an area I need to develop next year, reducing the time spent on administration and ‘fire-fighting’ of incidents, and increasing that spent on improving progress for SEN pupils.
Cheminais (2013) describes other essential qualities for effective SEN leadership; an understanding of their own skills, an ability to motivate, energise and unite staff, a genuine desire to improve SEN provision and an ability to be aspirational in their vision (p.9).
Many of these qualities are displayed, to varying degrees and effectiveness, in the management styles described by Buck (2017); ‘directive’ (giving directives and demanding staff compliance); ‘visionary’ (developing and articulating a clear, long term vision, through staff involvement and motivation); ‘affiliative’ (focus on addressing staff needs rather than standards); ‘democratic’ (trusting in staff to develop their own direction and consensus) and ‘coaching’ (helping staff to identify their own strengths, areas for development and goals) (p.174).
During my relatively brief time as SENCO, my own leadership style has progressed from similarities with the ‘affiliative’ model, very much holding the characteristic of ‘people pleaser’, to a more ‘democratic’ style, feeling more assurance in my knowledge and skills, enabling the staff to have faith in my abilities, approachability and commitment to the role, whilst beginning to have more confidence to challenge staff when needed. Moving forward, and in order to impact further on progress, the ‘visionary’ and ‘coaching’ models may allow more success and progress, ensuring that standards and performance are monitored in relation to the school’s longer term goals, and subsequently achieving greater progress and outcomes for pupils with SEN.
Tissot (2013) describes the pivotal role of SENCO, and still an area of development for me, as having the courage and confidence to challenge reluctant or dismissive teachers; those who place the role of teaching children with SEN onto the Teaching Assistants, rather than accepting their responsibility to deliver Quality First Teaching (The role of SENCOs as leaders).
This is further supported by Packer (2017), stating:
The SENCO is there not only to act as an advocate for those children and young people but because they are key to developing the whole-school processes and practice upon which inclusive teaching and learning can be built (Leading without limits – The role of the SENCO).
In order to work towards this improved whole school inclusive practice, Cowne (2003) discussed the importance of communication between the SENCO and potentially hesitant or unwilling teachers.
It is only when those with detailed knowledge of individual differences and learning styles the SENCO meet with those who plan and deliver lessons the class teachers and Teaching Assistants, that changes to teaching will occur (p.31).
It is through this regular communication that effective practice can be modelled and, in turn, improved provision, teaching and learning for children and young people with SEN, can be achieved. This is further supported by Cheminais’ description of an effective SEN leader as:
…a confident modeller of good practice…inspirational, yet convincing, in empowering others to take responsibility for SEN provision…driven by a commitment to improving the life chances of SEND pupils (p.18).
In my setting, this has historically been a stumbling block, due to the tendency of some staff to rely on Teaching Assistants to teach those with SEN, allowing the class teachers to focus on the needs of the majority, specifically those set to achieve age-related expectations. In their defence, whilst eluding their duty and statutory responsibility to provide quality teaching for all pupils, this is often pressured by the expectations placed on them to meet certain standards and achieve set statistical targets. The confidence to challenge this complacency or lack of understanding, will come from the experience, past successes and extensive knowledge of the SENCO, allowing staff to have faith in your advice, recognising that there is pedagogy and weighting to support the guidance and expectations being given.
Another key element of SEN leadership lies in the ability to create and facilitate strong partnerships and communication between pupils, parents, staff and external agencies. The SEN Code of Practice (2015) places the responsibility on the SENCO to ‘ensure that children, their parents and young people are involved in discussions and decisions about their individual support and about local provision’ (p.20). These positive relationships should be based on mutual respect, an aura of approachability, trust that next steps will be actioned and, above all, faith that the child’s needs are at the heart of everything. With these qualities in place, barriers to learning can be reduced and ultimately removed, and therefore progress be maximised, whether that be social and academic progress for pupils, development of staff skills, confidence and expertise, or levels of parent support and engagement in their child’s learning.
Certainly within my setting, and undoubtedly in others, positive relationships with parents can sometimes be a challenge, due to; parents’ lack of understanding of their child’s needs and genuine and realistic ways in which to support these; ignorance surrounding processes and the roles and potential restrictions of certain external agencies; their strong opinions and desire for things to progress quickly, sometimes coming across aggressively or rigidly and a possible unwillingness to accept help and advice, perhaps taking it as criticism, rather than support. It is essential throughout any challenge or conflict, that the SENCO remains professional and always keeps the child’s needs at the centre of the situation.
Within the role of SENCO lies the responsibility of effectively managing and deploying support staff, in order to maximise the effectiveness of provision for SEN pupils. This may be through providing training, upskilling staff by acquiring new knowledge, and through timetabling of staff to ensure adequate, suitable and high quality support is in place, ensuring that the most suitable support staff are employed in order to maximise effectiveness of the workforce within school. This aspect of the role requires the SENCO to have an excellent working knowledge of all the children’s needs, as well as recognising and valuing the strengths and experience of each member of staff, matching these up to create the best possible partnerships. A regular intake of children with Early Health Care Plans, also demands that the SENCO, in conjunction with the Senior Leadership Team, recruit staff with skills and experience that are best matched to an individual’s, group’s or the school’s needs. This is an extensive process and requires vigilance, a critical eye and the ability to ask appropriate questions to entice the necessary information required to find the best candidate.
The role of SENCO is ever changing and growing, due to; the evolving and increasing needs and numbers of pupils with SEN; the external pressures and accountabilities placed on professionals; the limitations of availability and the increased thresholds and restrictions of external agencies; the pressures of financial implications and the constant need, as previously discussed, to balance the increasing and unavoidable office based tasks, with the main purpose of the role, to drive whole-school improvements for the provision and learning of children with SEN. As such, the SENCO needs to be constantly evolving as well, ensuring that their knowledge is constantly updated and that the pressures placed on them, do not dampen the essential qualities that are required to fulfil the role to the absolute best of their ability, ensuring children and young people are continually provided with the best possible opportunities, education, care and commitment that they deserve.
In conclusion, Cowne (2003) states that:
Everyone looks to the SENCO for support, advice and even counselling. How much of this less formal work any particular SENCO can do, depends on a number of factors. The first of these factors is the SENCO’s own feeling of confidence. This will be stronger when based on a feeling of competence built up through knowledge and skills gained from experience and training. It takes time to acquire this confidence and competence so as to be in a position to support others and act as a change agent in a school (p.74).
Buck, A. (2017). Leadership Matters – How leaders at all levels can create great schools. John Catt Educational Limited.
Cheminais, R. (2013). Promoting and delivering school-to-school support for Special Educational Needs. Routledge.
Cowne, E. (2003). The SENCO Handbook – Working within a whole school approach. David Fulton Publishers Ltd.
Department for Education & Department of Health. (2015).Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-code-of-practice-0-to-25Hallet, F. & Hallet, G. (2010). Transforming The Role Of The SENCO: Achieving The National Award For SEN Coordination. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
OFSTED (2010). The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review: A Statement is not Enough (2010). Retrieved from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/1145/1/Special%20education%20needs%20and%20disability%20review.pdfPacker, N. (2017). Leading without limits- The role of the SENCO. Retrieved from https://www.leadershipmatters.org.uk/articles/leading-without-limits-the-role-of-the-senco/Tissot, C. (2013). The role of SENCOs as leaders. British Journal of Special Educational Needs. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.