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Learning how to SENCO

When the role of SENCO needed filling, Penny didn’t think she would be the best fit.

She took on the role and fell in love with it.

Here, she offers advice for SENCOs and how the rest of the school community can best support them.

Special Educational Needs coordinator is not a role I ever envisaged having in school. It’s not that I’m not passionate about inclusion, because I wholeheartedly am! It’s more that it’s a formidable role that I knew very little about and I felt that there were people better qualified and more able to do it than myself. In fact, when our SENCO left to move to another school, as a Senior Leadership Team, we weren’t in a position to employ someone new to take it on, so I asked several members of staff if they would be prepared to do it. None of them wanted to, so when the Head asked me, I agreed. 
It’s been a steep learning curve, learning on the job, being supported by the Local Authority and by colleagues in my own and other schools, but I’ve grown to love it. It’s scary at times, paperwork heavy, and takes a lot of organisation, but the impact of my role on the children is enormous. I’m constantly striving to do better and that will always continue, so here are just a few things I’ve learnt so far about the role: 


Teamwork is key. 


Being the SENCO is not the same as being in a classroom with the children every day. I don’t know them as well as their teachers (of course) but that’s why every member of staff in a school is important when it comes to the special educational needs of the children. It’s a team effort. One of my colleagues has previously been a SENCO in another school, so she is invaluable to me and we have many discussions about interventions and referrals. Teachers and Teaching Assistants know the children better than anyone and will be an important source of information for you. Make use of the skills and knowledge of the people you work with and don’t think that you have to have all the answers. It’s a constantly evolving role and needs a coordinator who likes to learn and develop. 


Make yourself an “expert”


To be an “expert” in anything, particularly special needs which is such a vast area, probably isn’t very realistic, but you have to WANT to be as good as possible. And you need to be prepared to work for it. Once I consciously decided to throw myself into the role and I started to understand more about the expectations and what was required, my passion for it grew and I started to want to know more about everything. Attend courses. Sign up for seminars. Read books about SEND. Learn as much as you can about different needs and conditions so that you are confident in what you are doing. This way, you can better understand the students in your care and will be better equipped to meet their needs. 


Work with parents


Parents and carers are a crucial part of the SEND process and you need to foster good relationships with them at every opportunity. They want the very best for their children and that’s exactly what we want too, so work together and make sure that their opinions and views are heard and valued in the same way that we ensure the child’s voice is heard and taken into consideration. 


Time management 


Make the most of every second of time you have. Some people might be a full-time SENCO, some might work part-time or be a class teacher as well. Whatever time you have in the role, make sure you use it wisely. Prioritise what is most important and what needs to be completed for specific deadlines. Make use of admin support if you can and delegate any tasks that you are able to. Remember that being a SENCO is a lot of paperwork, but try to make time to actually work with the children and get to know their needs. You can’t write referrals and EHCP applications if you don’t know the child you are writing about. 


Don’t beat yourself up 


Remember that you won’t be able to do everything! You’ll have a to-do list and it will grow every day instead of getting shorter. You can do as much as possible, but you still need to have a work-life balance and learn to ‘switch-off’ when you go home. It’s difficult because we care about our pupils and we want to do the very best for them, but remember that what you do really does make a difference! 


SEND is important for all 


I’m lucky in the fact that I have amazing colleagues who understand what I’m doing and we can have honest conversations about children and staff concerns. We work together. My Head, SLT, and Governors all place huge importance on SEND development in the school and this is crucial. Make sure you get your school community on board and that they understand what SEND is all about. You will achieve far greater outcomes if everyone shares the same enthusiasm for it and helps to drive things forward. 


So, for any aspiring SENCOs, don’t be put off by what people say! Yes, it’s difficult, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding role that makes a huge difference to so many children. No two days are the same and I’d recommend it to anyone with a passion for inclusion.

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The author

Penny Whelan

Penny Whelan is a Primary Assistant Headteacher and SENCO in Bedfordshire. She began her teaching career in 2007 after studying a Psychology Degree at the University of Sussex and going on to do a PGCE at the Shire Foundation Initial Teacher Training Centre. Penny works part time and is also EAL coordinator, an SLE, Coach and the Operations Manager for the Schools Linking Network in her Local Authority. She is passionate about SEND, inclusion, diversity and community cohesion.

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