Very few headteachers have had the privilege of being Sencos, nor have they completed the NASENCO. It is a tricky job line-leading what is effectively a specialist leadership position, especially when the person you are line managing and coaching may (although I'm not saying always) know more about the job than you. So this one is for head teachers (and governors). This toolkit is not exhaustive, it is not everything. However, feedback so far tells me it is very useful. Let me know what you think and how and why you use it.
This is not a post about whether we should be using the term 'inclusion'. Please, have that discussion if you have lived and breathed it and really get it (I am personally into 'difference and belonging' at the moment). But let me tell you that there are some settings, some pockets, some professionals that are so far from getting it that I wonder where they've been for the past 50 years. I am most interested, being a solution focused kind of girl, in getting more people in education (especially leadership) to some kind of a level of understanding of the term 'inclusion' that is deeper than the paper some 'inclusion policy' is written on. That would be a most glorious start.
Unfortunately it is one of those terms, like 'whole school approach', that is bandied about but often not really understood at all. It sounds really great. 'Oh yes we have a whole school approach here for autism, we're very inclusive'... beware the white noise of jargon speak.
So this is the most successful way I've found of explaining inclusion. Please plagiarise, RT and go on about it (if you think it's a goer). I am mindful of the dangers of our echo chamber. Ping these girls around...
The Three Sisters: there is a method in gardening and growing called 'companion planting'. If gardeners and farmers cultivate polycultures (what a great word) then the resilience of the crops goes up and they are most likely to succeed. There is a native American legend about three sister spirits that watch over beans, squash and corn in particular. And for those of you that know your vegetables, you'll know how corn grows up, beans grow around and squash meander along the ground. More here [www.reneesgarden.com/blogs/gardening-resources/celebrate-the-three-sisters-corn-beans-and-squash]
The corn supports the beans, the beans add nitrogen, the squash provide shade and minimise water loss - a kind of fruitful mulch for want of a better term!
The companion planting imagery of these three plants, growing and strengthening together in harmony, pulls out all the good things about inclusion:
The role everyone has to play
The value in diversity
The strength in variety
The grower's capacity to build a rich, sustainable crop with some planning - the more time put into the design, the more the plants look after themselves...
And in a practical way it leads me on to talk about learning partners, circle of friends methods (where EVERYONE gains), the importance of careful planning, value of social learning, buddy drilling and ways of cultivating tolerance and celebration of difference... for starters.
In a complex secondary school it is very crucial that department leads understand this. I am a big fan of extra planning time being given to teachers who have complex classes so that they get the design of lessons and tasks right (far more effective than loading the class with add-on TAs... although TAs are also brilliant - hello TAs if you are reading this, you are very valuable too).
For this to become embedded within a school, this idea needs to be communicated with all staff. Don't assume understanding. I am still asked, as a Senco, as an ex-head of department, as an experienced teacher and SLT member of both secondary and primary settings, if I am 'actually a teacher' - never assume anything!
If you are a Senco on SLT (for the record there should be no 'if' but I know there's a long way to go with that as well), get a slot on an SLT meeting to present this. Put it in your handbook, put it on posters, slip it into emails, training sessions, stick in planners, provide a laminated copy for all departments and staffrooms, share it with parents, give it a mention in governors' reports.... It is an image that I have seen illuminate what before was a meaningless word for many. Here's a handy version that works quite well (once you've done the talking!).
I had the pleasure of going to the Driver Youth Trust headquarters in London last night and was delighted to meet Chris Rossiter in person as well as other SEND stalwarts such as the venerable Starlight McKenzie. It was a collaborative discussion regarding SEND governance and was most useful perhaps for reassuring each other that SEND governance is indeed something of a minefield. Most of us were able to share concerns and a desire for clearer frameworks, and this included those of us within the profession or with direct experience as a parent (or both!).
I think there are different types of questions that you can ask as a governor. There are the 'the basics', like 'What was the progress of SEND pupils in comparison to the progress of non-SEND' and 'What training have the team had on autism this year'. These are good questions. However, there are also some niftier questions that will mean you dig a little bit deeper below the surface. I think these are harder to come up with if you are not in the business so here are a few to get you started [Blue-Primary; Green-Secondary; Red-Both]:
1. For the pupils who are the most likely to fail the phonics screening, what support, teaching and intervention is happening for them? [The school will feel drawn to support the borderline passers. But neglecting those with the least facility in literacy is, quite frankly, educational neglect.] Ask this in around December-February for Year 1.
2. What percentage of students in detention have SEND and how does this compare to whole school ratios. [If whole school percentage is 14% SEND register, but detention has regularly 30-50% SEND then some serious questions need to be asked. Is it actually working? The Senco should be monitoring this, so if the figures are unknown then you have done one good thing by asking. And read this.]
3. Which is your least successful intervention and what will you now do differently? [The response might be, 'They're all successful,' but you are asking for a bit more than that. It is actually very ok for some intervention not to be successful; education is not a perfect science. But entry and exit data should be kept on all interventions, at least the Wave 2, group style ones so this should be an answerable question. You will get more out of this than just asking broadly about interventions.]
4. What work has happened so far with the 'Assess Plan Do Review' cycle in Reception? [This should start immediately in Reception (or earlier as part of a transition process) because if you have any pupils within your school with SEND, you want them assessed and supported as quickly as possible. This can happen from day one. The faster records are built up, the faster outside agency support can be accessed for those who are going to need it, and the teacher supported in meeting the child's needs.]
5. What reasonable adjustments are there in the behaviour policy regarding SEND? [I don't want to say much more about this because if I start, I'll never stop. Basically if this question meets with silence or your Senco says, 'the behaviour lead deals with that', then you're onto something. Keep going. And read this.]
6. Can you show me how your action plan for the coming year is data/assessment driven? [In an ideal world, the Senco (and the Head) will know the SEND footprint of the school, and have analysed assessment data such as CATs to inform intervention and support. This should then inform whole school practice. For example, if the incoming Yr 7 has a significant number of students whose reading ages are below e.g. 8, what whole school systematic change and action is being developed to tackle this?]
I could go on but there's 6 for starters. Please add your own below, let me know what you think, and share widely.
I'm on twitter as @thesocialleek. See you there!
Dear potential Senco,
You may not be aware at this point of what being a Senco is all about. But don’t worry, you can learn on the job. We think it’s absolutely fine for the person within the school who will have strategic responsibility for the most vulnerable and complicated learners in the school to, well, make it up as they go along.
Additionally, did you know that you need to be one of the most highly trained members of staff in the school? Yes! You get to do a Level 7 qualification, (probably as you go along, in your own time, while you also work out how to do the job). What an incredible privilege. However, don’t expect to get any status with this; after all, it’s just a piece of paper. The NASENCO award is simply theory and professional expertise with some research practice and leadership thrown in. You can still definitely be put in your place by those who are not as qualified as you on SLT who are paid more.
Speaking of which, the SEND Code of Practice strongly recommends that the Senco should be on the Senior Leadership Team. We can see how this might make sense. However, with us you get to be a strategist, legal advisor, teacher and learning expert, child whisperer, trainer of teachers, mopper of brows and calmer of parents without the stress of SLT. We have decided that we don’t really need you on the Senior Leadership Team. You can just ‘advise us’ as and when and put your feet up the rest of the time.
So luckily this means that we can just pay you as a mainscale teacher. Or maybe we’ll offer you a TLR or SEN point. But don’t get too excited; ultimately the ‘pastoral’ lead (who, by the way has not done any specific training in understanding and supporting students with special educational needs like you will have done by the time you complete your NASENCO award) will tell you what to do. So you can relax a bit, not worry about statutory requirements, malpractice in exams etc and get paid less than you should be. Although you will actually have to worry about the malpractice. And statutory requirements. And legal obligations. #donttelltheunion
Be aware, if you are feeling stressed or concerned at the thought of all this, you might not have the resilience required to do the job. We will suggest to you that your resilience is not quite up to the mark of you ever raise any of these contradictions. Bear this in mind as we don’t want anyone critical coming onto our incredibly inclusive and resilient team.
If you would like to apply for this job, just search Senco on any well known teacher recruitment website.
Finally, if you do find a Senco job advertised as an SLT position on the leadership scale asking for those with previous experience and expertise in this complex area of education, run a mile. The school quite clearly knows what it’s doing.
Teacher: This student seems to have an issue with spellings. Can you help?
Literacy lead: Well what we do is we give them a target card (on red paper so that it's slightly threatening) and their target is to spell better. Then if they meet the target in the day they can get a sticker and be rewarded by going outside at playtime. And if they don't spell better they will get a warning and will have to be held in at break time as a sanction.
Teacher: Erm... I'm not sure if that's going to....
Literacy Lead: It's just about setting clear boundaries. We have a no excuses culture round here.
Happily, this is I hope an unfamiliar tale. For children who find it difficult to spell, we don't just label the child as a 'bad speller'. More importantly, we don't just tell them to spell better and expect them to 'up-their-game'. We put in support, nurture, motivation mechanisms, reminders (which might be a target card on their desk amongst other things), interventions and extra resources. We explore their cognitive profile through psychometric tests, and speech and language screenings, work with parents/carers and try and identify what is affecting their progress.
But what I describe above, is sadly what many schools still do with children who struggle to behave appropriately (i.e. kindly and safely and be in a fit state to learn). In the olden days, by which I mean pre-2014, an area of recognised need within the special educational needs framework, was BESD or SEBD, referring to social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. And come 2014, the B was quite rightly eradicated from the coding. There are lots of reasons for behavioural difficulties - it might be a speech and language need (including EAL which I know isn't SEND but is a significant barrier), emotional, anxiety, interaction... Behaviour is a clear signal for us that something underlying is not quite right.
Children are like beans. Trust me on this one. If we plant runner beans and they fail to thrive, we don't just tell them to grow better. We look at the soil, we look at the environment and we spend a bit of time weighing up what's going on around the plants. We also have support strategies that we can use - we can water more, put in extra support canes, use string to tie up drooping stems, clear foliage around the plants to allow in extra light, and tend the plants regularly and with care. We do not simply tell them to grow better.
Behaviour can be an indication of many things but it is often indicative of emotional distress. For example, if you are having a bad day and are undergoing something of a stress overload, you are more likely to snap at your husband/wife/child/friend or colleague. However, this is not you experiencing an attack of 'snappy-syndrome', rather the snappiness is a result of the underlying emotional strain. Similarly, with children who have underlying anxiety, emotional disorders (and many more), behaviours will emerge due to this underlying need. Whilst it is not an excuse, and we should take responsibility for our actions, it is a reason. And a cure all is not to have a card in our pocket that says on it 'I must be nice'. It might help a little bit as a reminder but it isn't going to solve the problem.
If you are a Senco, you probably know all this. However, you may not have a voice at the table regarding behaviour systems in the school and this should be fought for. Yes - behaviour is out as a definition of a need but behaviour is your remit. More so now than ever. It is evidence of an underlying need and teachers should be coming to you and your team to explore assessments and strategies. If a student is not responding to the environment and needs expert input to access learning that IS your job. Tell your head, tell your governors, tell your heads of year and repeat repeat repeat.
I have found using analogies like the two above have really helped professionals I have worked with. I have seen eyes light up when I have used the spelling example, and, as for gardening analogies, I could write a book (maybe I will). Ever thought about inclusion and companion planting... I digress.
So if there are students with target cards knocking about in your school that say, 'I must focus more in class' (the modern equivalent of 'must do better') alway ask, what assessments have been done? And how is the child being supported to make this change? What is the specific strategy he/she is trying this week? What is the behaviour support or counselling that is happening alongside this target? Dig deep my friends and your troubled beans will grow.
Following on from my previous post about succession planning and Sencos, I have been discovering at speed that there are mainstream schools out there that do not have Sencos, let along full time ones, championing the inclusion agenda within schools on a day to day basis (which is how I think it should be done).
First of all, let's talk about compliance. The Code of Practice clearly states that all schools must have a Senco who will ideally be on SLT. This is because all children have a right to access appropriate support, a curriculum to meet their needs, and provision to enable them to access learning and make progress. SEND is complex and it is right and proper that we have a specialist trained within the work place who is on hand for leaders and teachers to advise and manage provision. This is what the Senco does. They are very necessary and would be, if in good supply, a fantastic specialist layer to the profession as a whole. One of the Senco's responsibilities is to be a mentor to teachers, guiding and researching for the teachers within a school - don't just take my word for it, google senco and mentor.
Secondly, and unsurprisingly, given the above, Sencos have to be qualified teachers. Somebody in a meeting recently pontificated about this. 'Why is it that Sencos, above all others, have to be qualified. How strange?...' It may seem something of an anomaly, especially given our (worryingly) fluid and multi-farious qualification route-map. It is not even a requirement that head teachers have to have QTS.
There is good reason. It is, in the first instance, made explicit, I believe, due to the fact that historically, SEND has fallen at the door of teaching assistants (many of whom have worked heroically and brilliantly within their schools) or other support staff e.g. a pastoral team member. However, quite rightly, it has too late been concluded that the educational provsion for the most vulnerable students should be led by the most qualified - hence the requirement for QTS. It is a means of driving this point home - Sencos have to be the best, leading from the front; not the ones who pick up the pieces.
Additionally, returning to the idea of the Senco being a mentor and advisor for teachers, I personally would find it pretty rich as a teacher, being told how to do things by someone who hadn't cut their teeth on the shop floor. If Sencos are to be specialists within their settings, they should be qualified to the hilt and more. Many, thankfully, are.
If your school does not have a qualified teacher as a Senco then it is not compliant. Many people surprisingly do not know. Now you do.
More on SEND, compliance and Code of Practice here.
For more on what a Senco should be doing, try this.
Somebody (who is very excellent who works for a third sector organisation) recently asked me, "Where did you come from?" I think I'd impressed with my knowledge of sensory needs (and how it's something to consider when looking at provision for a child with autism). Now I have no doubt that there are some of you shouting with great indignation, "How can you not know that?!!?!" I feel your pain. Lots of people don't know lots of things. But it got me thinking, how do I know and how did I get to know my stuff? And the short answer is, by chance.
Obviously it is not chance that I know things about autism. It's part of my job to be up to date and I'm a natural forager for knowledge and information. However, the bigger question is how did I get to be doing the job I am doing? Whilst there is the National Senco Award for trainees it is often completed by those already in post who have been begged to do so by a desperate SLT to take on the role. I would be interested to know of any schools, experienced Sencos and/or leadership teams who have made a deliberate effort to train up someone with Senco potential. We in the role all know it is very nearly an impossible job. In fact, it's practically superhuman and I would put it alongside being a Head in its complexity, position amongst other teaching staff, and in its statutory responsibilities. But where is the preparation?
I fell into it. I was initially wary, not least because of colleagues mouthing 'poisoned chalice' at me across the staffroom. I absolutely love it now but that is beside the point. I would like to pass the baton on to someone better than me, someone who already knows something about something. Larger schools may have the luxury of creating assistant Senco roles but if this isn't possible, how does one identify and support someone with leadership experience and potential: who has a knack for both teaching and learning and pastoral; who can take a battering from frustrated parents and still come up for air; who thinks paperwork isn't always a bad thing; who can be a coach and mentor to experienced and overworked staff; who can adopt the manner of a rhinoceros when dealing with ADHD diagnosis pathways; who can champion the needs of the most vulnerable and complex (and wonderful) children. If you are a Senco, where did you come from and who will be your heir? Quite frankly, I think it's too important to leave to chance.