Published: 19 June 2020
By Sarah Martin-Denham, Programme Leader: PgCert National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination
In the time I have been working with Special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) at the University, I have found each and every current and aspiring SENCO to be wholeheartedly empathetic, committed and extremely hardworking. They are the reason I signed up to write the SENCO handbook with Steve Watts; to support SENCOs in leading this very challenging but rewarding role and to make a difference to SENCOs lives and the children and families they advocate and support day after day. We are now in our seventh year of the National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination (NASENCO) Postgraduate Certificate, and the course just keeps getting better. This is testament to the dedication of the team and the passion for learning from the SENCO community.
Why be a SENCO?
The SENCO role should place you at the heart of the school leadership team, to ensure legal and regulatory compliance and to ensure commitment to children’s rights and needs. Here are some thoughts from our SENCOs on why they enjoy being in this role:
Being a SENCO means you are making a difference to the lives and education of the neediest children every day. I love being a SENCO and how the role lets me really get to know the children in our school and be able to make a meaningful impact on their day to day lives and their progress in school. I am proud to know that I am changing their futures for their better, preparing them not only for secondary school and further education but also for life beyond the education system. The NASENCO course was vital in preparing me for this work as it gave me the knowledge of the legal requirements of the role as well as developing my understanding of a huge range of special needs and disabilities. I also made links with other SENCOs which have been so important to my role, allowing me to share practice and adopt ideas. The support from the course leaders was amazing and even though I completed my course several years ago I am still in touch with them and am able to access other training through the University which has helped me to continue my growth and experience in this role.
I feel honoured to be a SENCO because I have the power and influence to improve the lives and outcomes of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). I have learned over 18 years of being a SENCO that our children who are identified as being SEND in general are more resilient and successful in life because they have to work harder than most to achieve anything. I am always emotional when a parent thanks me for ‘helping their child’ as it means so much. Why be a SENCO? Because that child who finds everything so hard needs you to make it easier for them and if you fight for them, you can affect the whole of their life for the better.I didn’t personally study the NASENCO award but I have supported a SENCO who did and worked with Sarah for some of her research, so I’m aware of the work that she does. The NASENCO award is invaluable to any new SENCO taking up the post, I wish I’d had the opportunity to do this as it would have helped enormously.
What are the benefits of studying the NASENCO award at the University of Sunderland?
John, SENCO and Headteacher
Having graduated as a SENCO two years ago, the benefits of studying the NASENCO award are ongoing and increasing. There is an academic rigour to the course which is reason alone to enrol on the course. However, I found the inspirational leadership and personal support of the course leaders to be force multipliers in my professional life as a SENCO and an executive school leader, providing time and incisive thought in helping SENCOs serve our most vulnerable students with increased expertise and commitment. When joining the course, you are joining an ever-increasing community of professionals who maintain contact beyond graduation to provide support to keep forging ahead in making a difference to young people and family's lives.
I completed the NASENCO award in 2015. I work in a Secondary school and found the course to be highly informative and supportive. I completed the course the year before I took up the role of SENCO. The course provided up-to-date information, the opportunity to reflect on current practice and access to a wide range of suggested reading materials to explore and develop my understanding of SEND and the role of the SENCO. The portfolio gave me the opportunity to reflect on the current provision my school had in place and through supportive questioning and dialogue from other students on the course and the course leaders, I was able to develop my practice of being a SENCO and therefore have a positive impact on the provisions in place at school. Since completing the course I have received ongoing support through the University of Sunderland SENCO network meetings, which are a great resource for sharing information and keeping in contact with others doing the same demanding job. In a job that can at times feel quite isolated, the face-to-face aspects of the course provided me with invaluable learning opportunities and open discussions on some complex topics.
Dominick, SENCO and Deputy Headteacher
I thoroughly enjoyed the NASENCO course and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone wishing to develop their knowledge and understanding of SEND. It has been by far the most valuable, interesting and rewarding CPD I have completed in my career. It builds on your existing knowledge and both the assignments and portfolio involve work that you already do. I found the process of writing and researching the work-based project and critical analysis assignment of great value to me personally, professionally and to my school. OFSTED were interested in what projects I had done, which developed our evidence file and helped my confidence during our last inspection. Although it had been 15 years since I had last written an academic assignment, the course leaders were phenomenally supportive and went out their way to help me juggle my work commitments, having a young family and my academic studies. The skills I developed have helped hone my leadership skills and above all ensured that I make time to reflect on my own practice to improve the outcomes for my students. The facilities and resources available at the University of Sunderland are outstanding and with course content online and the course leaders only an email away, it made studying late at nights and weekends that much easier. The SENCO Handbook by Sarah and Steve is a must buy and was my ‘go to’ resource when writing my assignments.
A typical day in the life of a SENCO
Claire shares with us what a typical work day looks like for her as a SENCO:
I am not sure that ‘typical day’ sums up the role of being a SENCO as one of the challenges of being a SENCO is the diverse role we find ourselves in with daily challenges.
I usually get into school for about 7.30am and catch up with any emails impacting on the daily running of the school; this could be informing staff of external visitors coming to observe students, planning changing of staffing for interventions due to absences, school events, trips, etc. I also use this time to check what meetings are happening that day and make sure I have all the relevant resources for the meetings. After 8am, students will start to enter to building and will come and see me if they need to discuss anything.
At 8.40am, as the students enter school and go into registration I will see any students that have had concerns raised about or have issues that need sorting from the previous day that have been brought to my attention, or pass on any messages or information to students as required. Where possible I also use this time to see students to congratulate them on any achievements they have had.
I normally teach up to half of the school day. When not teaching my day can include meeting with parents for SEN reviews, multi-agency meetings with external agencies, meeting with children and going into classrooms to support individual students. My focus is keeping the student at the centre of all the work I do and taking the student voice into account.
During break time, I run a quiet room where a few of our more vulnerable students attend. I find this time valuable, as students can sometimes feel more comfortable sharing their concerns in the supportive environment of an informal and unstructured space.
At 3pm when the students have left for the day, I sometimes provide training for colleagues and start the task of catching up with the many emails that have arrived that day, running meetings where parents cannot attend during school time and contacting parents that have made phone calls during the day.
I rarely get time to complete paperwork such as EHCP applications, information for external reviews or letters to parents during school time, as I believe this time is more valuable being available to speak to students and the support provided around them.
One of the rewarding aspects of being a SENCO is the diversity the role brings, and never having two days the same.