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Leading Without Limits: The Role of the SENCO

In my daily work as a consultant, I have the privilege of working alongside some extremely effective SENCos and other school leaders with responsibility for special educational needs. The role of the SENCo has changed significantly, certainly since my first appointment (a number of years ago!) and the strategic responsibilities of leading SEN have never been so important.

What brings me to this conclusion? Within maintained schools, academies and free schools there are two key, statutory leadership roles; one is the SENCo and the other is the Headteacher. Only one of these roles requires the post holder to have QTS – and it’s not the latter!  A newly appointed SENCo must also achieve a National Award in Special Educational Needs Coordination within three years of appointment. To me, this is a clear indication of the significance of this role; after all, we are talking about advocating for some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

The SEND Code of Practice notes that because the SENCo has an important role to play in determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision, they will be most effective if they are part of the school leadership team. Clearly not all SENCos are part of SLT. However, in my experience where they’re not, this often limits their capacity to influence other colleagues across the school or to have a significant impact on outcomes. The most effective SENCos are given the opportunity to lead without these limitations.

What might effective leadership include for the SENCo?

I often find myself inspired by Dame Alison Peacock, former Headteacher of The Wroxham School and now CEO for the Chartered College for Teaching. In her book, Assessment for Learning without Limits, Dame Alison outlines the steps she took to transform Wroxham into the outstanding school it is today. They looked like this*:

    1. 1. Empower teachers’ agency through professional learning
    2. 2. Enable pedagogy that finds a way through for every learner (child and adult)
    3. 3. Offer an irresistible curriculum
    4. 4. Engage in dialogue that informs future learning and assessment where no one is labelled or limited.
    5. 5. Build an inclusive culture of trust, partnership and listening.

 

What struck me when I first read this were, the parallels between leadership of whole-school improvement and leadership of SEN. As effective leaders of SEN, for example:

  1. 1. We prioritise the development of positive, trusting relationships with learners, parents and other professionals in order to form genuine partnerships and work together towards meeting outcomes.
  2. 2. Through professional development, we empower our colleagues to take responsibility for learners with SEN by up-skilling them to remove barriers to learning.
  3. 3. We promote inclusive high-quality teaching as the first step towards meeting the needs of learners with or without SEN.
  4. 4. We support the implementation of a more personalised and relevant approach to the curriculum for identified learners, based on their individual needs.
  5. 5. We model high expectations and aspirations for all learners and challenge limiting assumptions about children’s capacity to learn.

 

(Fair enough, there is a tendency to over-use labels in SEN, but that’s a discussion point for another time.)

To reiterate; the parallels between effective whole-school leadership and leadership of SEN are clear. The role of the SENCo is one which contributes significantly to whole-school improvement. That’s not to say, of course, that SENCos or other senior leaders are wholly responsible for those with SEN. Every teacher is a teacher of learners with SEN and they are accountable for their progress. The SENCo is there not only to act as an advocate for those children and young people but because they are key to developing the whole-school processes and practice upon which inclusive teaching and learning can be built. Crucially, they are instrumental in leading the development of a whole-school culture and ethos where every child still matters.

 

References:

*Alison Peacock (2016). Assessment for Learning without Limits, pg.5

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