SENDCOs: raising the profile of these unsung heroes

This post goes out to all those SENCOs who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that children on the SEND register have everything they need to access their education. I see you.
SENDCOs: raising the profile of these unsung heroes
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There are many factors which derail us from fulfilling our core purposes and make, what should be a rewarding and satisfying job feel, more often than not, like wading through treacle.

Do you suffer from any of these symptoms in your role?

  • Your headteacher and SLT having no clue what you do.
  • Your colleagues in class can’t understand why on earth you are so busy.
  • Parents of children can’t understand why their child isn’t getting help despite a diagnosis.
  • Parents of children with EHCPs can’t understand why there is not an adult velcroed to their child now they have this ‘golden ticket’.
  • Your post pandemic SEND register has got larger.
  • Pupil wellbeing is at an all time low with no SEMH specific support available.
  • Your LEA writes ridiculous statements on EHCPs.
  • Your LEA appears to think mainstream is suitable for everyone.
  • You haven’t been able to get hold of an educational psychologist for 6 months.
  • Regardless of how much you work at home, your work is never done.

I have thought long and hard this half term to consider ways of raising our profile and the understanding of our role. I’ve come up with these ideas, which I hope will be able to support you in standing your ground in those difficult work life balance conversations.

Transparency

In order for colleagues to start to appreciate how much is on your plate, make a list of the tasks that you complete on a daily, weekly, half termly, termly, yearly and ad hoc basis. Remember to add in that currently, 'Maisie is spending a significant amount of time with you due to difficulties in class' and that 'Ethan screams the place down for 45 minutes every morning' and that 'Mrs Cook is on the phone to you for at least an hour a week with concerns about provision for Jacob'. All these extras, result in you being further behind with your workload than you were to start with. Also write an approximate time for things such as an EHCP application. I have heard of staff been told before that they should be able to, ‘bang one out in an hour’ (seriously???). You’ll be surprised how long that list gets once you get going. When complete, share it with everyone (Thanks to an unnamed ex colleague for coming up with this one).

Timetabling

My day seems so haphazard and un-strategic at times, that if I had to explain to someone what had actually happened, I would struggle. I might finish a third of a job before something happens that I’m needed for. As a profession, we appear to do a lot of firefighting and less fire prevention. To combat this, I print out a timetable on a Monday with what I plan to do for the week then annotate it with what actually happened, include a lack of lunchbreak (or any break) if this applies to you. Submit this to your head at the end of your week to evidence what you’ve done. If they consider that there is some better way of spending your time, then be open to hearing it. This is not the same as being micro-managed as if you have chosen to do it, it is not expected. If you are in a situation where you are being micromanaged, remember too write down all what you are not doing but you need to. As well as, how much time is spend on you being accountable as opposed to actually doing your job.

Seek support

It is tempting to ‘just get on with it’ as your day job leaks into evenings and weekends and when that EHCP application goes unwritten, it is an individual child that ultimately suffers which does not sit well with our naturally empathetic souls. SENCO guilt to me has been worse than class teacher guilt as things that remain undone have a direct impact on individual children. The perfectionist in me struggles to balance the tidal wave of expectations and paperwork but historically, I’ve not been good at asking for help. In the same vein as not being able to complain about the government unless you actually voted, don’t complain about workload unless you have actually voiced your concerns to the right people (of course if then nothing happens, moan away and consider your position). Asking for help alongside the timetabling exercise in point 2 is even better. It’s clear from your timetable that something has to give and you can pass this decision up the chain so that your head can tell you where they think you should focus, delegate or even get you some admin support (if you’re lucky).

Networking

It’s a lonely job when you are the only one. Take any opportunities you can to build a network. There are oodles of groups on Facebook where you can go to ask questions and get support – I created an Essex specific one for local issues if any of you out there are Essex based (SENCOs and Aspiring SENCOs Essex) see if you can network with the school up the road or create your own cluster. There are so many common threads for SENCO grievances, it’s much better to grumble and ask advice of people that actually understand it.

Parental communication

If there’s one piece of advice I’d offer a new SENCO it would be to get in first with parental communication (this is not to say I have always managed this!). I hear so many parents on forums saying that the SENCO hasn’t got back to them and I know how easily and quickly a disgruntled parent can go over your head. Also this year, after home schooling parents are so much more aware of the difficulties their children are facing. Try and make a half termly phone call to all of your one plan children. I made some excellent parental relations over lockdown and I’ve tried hard to keep them. I’ve also noticed an increase in parental gratitude as a result and in a job role where thanks can be scarce, an extra thank you goes a long way!

Research into SENCO workload:

In September 2018, the National Education Union (NEU), nasen and Bath Spa University conducted a joint research project exploring the workload of Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO) in schools. The National SENCO Workload Survey received over 1900 responses and led to the publication of the report, It’s about time: The impact of SENCO workload on the professional and the school (Curran et al., 2018).

The research team undertook a review of the survey in October 2019, with the aim of exploring whether the report had impacted on SENCOs and, as a consequence, outcomes for children with additional needs. The review also explored the current issues and priorities SENCOs, and others, have identified in relation to the development of Special Educational Needs (SEN) in their settings. The review received over 1800 responses. This report sets out the key findings, and related recommendations, from the review.

https://www.bathspa.ac.uk/media/bathspaacuk/education-/research/senco-workload/National-SENCO-Workload-Survey-Report-Jan-2020.pd 

Training

Also, point out regularly that you are a generalist when it comes to niche SEND needs. You cannot be expected to have all the answers to every rare condition that comes to light. You need support and training as well. We have specialist teachers in Essex for some areas but other areas have very little support. Request training if needed for specific needs and include other adults who work with the child. If staff are well trained, they will need you less.

Class Teacher’s responsibility

All too often it is left to the SENCO to be a miracle worker for what is actually the class teacher’s remit. Raise your profile in staff meetings by using the code of practice to highlight that ‘Every teacher is a teacher of SEND’, as well as all the other things that should be addressed in class (i.e. high quality teaching). We have an initial concern form with the idea being that I don’t even go and observe the child unless the class teacher has shown me what teaching strategies they have employed (realistically, I am a bit kinder than that). These days, brain breaks, safe spaces, now and next boards, word mats etc. should be standard practise as should scaffolding and differentiation.

Working in your own time

Yes we all do it and I have often been guilty of working till midnight and on my days off in order to try and keep on top of my workload. This is been at the detriment of spending time with my family. Yes, you will look super efficient but you’ll also end up with more work to do as you are clearly keeping up. Yes, do odds and ends at home if you wish to but set some healthy boundaries. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of a self fulfilling prophecy situation, whereby your level of productivity is assumed based on what you have previously produced. On your transparency timetable, remember to include what is done from home and how many hours something has taken you. Share this information and then reduce what is done at home. No line manager who actually cares about your wellbeing would want you to work all night and it’s about time we held the profession accountable for these unwritten assumptions of what our capacity is. This goes for other educators as well.

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It is extremely easy to get overwhelmed in this role. Even if you have successfully ridden the wave for some time, there may come a point that for some reason, you start to go under it. If your workload is unsustainable and unreasonable and no one is helping you to reduce it, please reflect on whether it is the right school for you.

I hope these ideas will go some way to making the profile and understanding of your job more evident within your setting.

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Go to the profile of Jackie Jones
over 1 year ago

That checklist of symptoms is spot on. Made me chuckle and warmed my heart to know there are others out there that are their own SENDCo islands too. 

Just keep swimming, fellow swans! 

Go to the profile of Lynn How
over 1 year ago

Thanks Jackie!