A What? A SENCO?

Claire Walley
January 16, 2024

You may have come across the term ‘SENCO’ or ‘SENDCO’ in teacher training, as a parent or as a professional. This sometimes-allusive acronym represents one of the most rewarding, yet challenging roles within a school. As a SENCO for over a decade I want to bring some insight into what the role involves, the highs and the lows. And help others understand why your SENCO may not be responding to your emails as quickly as you want!

So firstly, what does it mean? SENCO stands for Special Educational Needs Coordinator and comes in many acromial forms – SENCO, SENDCO, SENDco, I was once referred to as DAN in one school – Director of Additional Needs! Wordplay aside, what is the role of a SENCO in school? SENCOs are responsible for the strategic management of the education of the children with special educational needs (SEN) in their school. This means they are responsible for all their paperwork, dealings with outside agencies, funding, teaching assistants, provision and interventions, timetabling, progress in lessons, exam results and general wellbeing. This is not an exhaustive list; many SENCOs are responsible for much more within their schools.

This means that they are responsible for a lot of things that they are not directly delivering on a day-to-day basis, rather overseeing it. As you can imagine the need for strategy is key with this role. As you need to be able to have a deep understanding of a child’s performance, wellbeing, and experience day to day by empowering others (support staff, teachers etc) to do it for themselves. This is no mean feat. The most successful SENCOs I have seen are the ones who are able to work strategically, focussing on the inclusive mindset of a school body (including students), not ones that micromanage or try to do everything themselves – because simply they cannot. As well as the responsibilities listed about, often SENCOs will have a teaching timetable and often be on the School Leadership Team (SLT) too – so will have added pressures on their time. Teacher training courses offer one day of SEN training, so to jump from teacher to SENCO is quite a leap. All SENCOs are required to complete the National SENCO Award, a yearlong post graduate qualification within three years of starting their role. This however focusses on the pedagogy of SEN, rather than the day to day of working with police and social services for example, calming a child who is overwhelmed or arguing a child’s cause who is up for exclusion. The SENCO role can be an isolating one, as no one else in the school is experiencing the same ‘job description’. Staff, sometimes annoyingly, have some understanding of the role and it’s reach but none have a full understanding – often their ‘pockets of knowledge’ are to do with their own gain rather than the strategic management of SEN across the school.

Although this all seems to have a negative slant, I think it is important to offer a realistic representation of the demands of the job. However, being a SENCO is an extremely rewarding job. The breadth and depth of experience and knowledge a SENCO has is huge. You are able to work with professionals outside of education to develop a child holistically – planning their future, rather than seeing a fragment of it in a classroom. It is a role that requires intelligence, creativity and each day is different. The impact of the role on the student body is huge, if planned and executed well. Where else in teaching would you be able to work towards developing a mindset of every person in the building. Teaching often functions in microcosms – but as a SENCO you are not just a piece of the puzzle, you are putting the puzzle together!

As you can see the role comes with a big responsibility, and pulls on your time, people skills and organisation. However, there are things you can put in place that will make those draws less so and hopefully lead you to success:

  1. Organisation – Organisation is key. Best case scenario ask for an admin assistant. Worst case, do it yourself. You need to keep electronic and paper copies of any paperwork linked to your students. Use an online diary to plan meetings and offer space for staff, students, and parents to meet with you. This will make your life, and your reputation as a reliable support person strong.
  2. Communication – Ensure that all parents, students, and staff know who you are and what you do – a lot. Respond to all communications within 24 hours and always send a holding email if you cannot answer an enquiry. People need to trust you. The first step in the process is to be reachable.
  3. Be a face, not a name – Make sure you are visible around the school, in classes, at breaks and with parents.
  4. Talk about SEN… a lot – Share weekly newsletters or updates about SEN, have corridor conversations about an article you have read, do assemblies on different needs. The only way you are going to make a school inclusive, is to ‘upskill’ the people in it. This does not mean huge training programmes instead think about how you can make a buzz about the SEN in school.
  5. Relationships – As SENCO you will be supporting some vulnerable people at their stressful times. They need to be able to trust in you and see you as a human, not an acronym. Some of the relationships you form with parents and students will become lifelong. Think about holding coffee mornings, offering a ‘space to talk’ for parents, students, and teachers. But most importantly see your role as relationship builder – not the person who has to palm off the ‘tricky parents’. Forming solid working relationships will pay off.

The SEN Expert offers mentoring for new and existing SENCOs – if you are looking for support to be the best in your role or are new to it and need a helping hand visit our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk.

The SEN Expert offers a range of services for young people, families and schools. We offer support for parents to help navigate the complex world of Special Educational Needs. We will work with you closely to ensure the best for your child.

The SEN Expert was set up by Claire in 2021 following a successful career spanning 12 years in school improvement, special educational needs, safeguarding and the arts.

Claire has worked as a Deputy Headteacher, Assistant Headteacher, Consultant and SENCO in both state and private schools in inner city London, the Southwest, the Midlands and the USA.

Throughout her career, Claire has ensured solid outcomes for the young people she has worked with. Be that a set of good exam grades, a placement in specialist setting or getting a part time job.

Claire is a working mother, and understands the challenges parents face trying to ensure their children are happy and successful. We aim to provide young people with a creative route to the personal and professional adult life they deserve.

Claire sits outside a café with a laptop

SEN consultancy
with a difference.

We offer support for families, children, and schools to navigate the complex world of SEN.

Check out our full list of services at our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @senexpert for daily advice on special educational needs.

The SEN Expert is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 13523478.