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The role of the special educational needs and disabilities co-ordinator (SENDCo) has changed dramatically in my opinion since taking on this role in September 2018. As I meet other professionals on various courses, I am meeting individuals who, although we share the same job titles, have differing experiences and struggles to me. I feel that I am quite well supported within my school, which I hope in time will assist me on my journey of driving improvement of outcomes for our pupils with SEND.
I am quite fortunate that I have become a member of my school’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT), as I am aware that some SENDCos are not part of theirs. Although there is no legislation that insists SENDCos are part of SLT, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Code of Practice (CoP) (DfE, 2015, 6.87) uses the phrasing “…They (SENCos) will be most effective in that role if they are part of the school leadership team”. The leadership of SEND, although it is driven by the SENDCo, needs to be adopted by all who come into contact with our pupils who have SEND. Radcliffe (2012, cited in Buck, 2017) in confirming this notion that “…when you are leading SEND in a school: you cannot do the job alone”. Morewood et al. (2016) also endorses this notion that: ‘The SENCo should not be an isolated figure, but a key in-house consultant’ (p.17).
In order to drive change in the school, being part of SLT does help with the ‘status’ that is needed in order to implement change. Although I agree with this to an extent, I do believe that you also need to be an individual that has strong leadership, interpersonal skills and status within the staffing. I do feel that, however because I have been a member of staff that has been at my current school for a number of years, I have built a rapport with the staff and they feel not only able to approach me, but also that I can support them too.
As I reflect on how the National Award for SEN Co-ordination (the associated course being referred to as the ‘Course’) has been challenging not only the views of staff who I work with, but also my own, I am becoming increasingly conscious of the term ‘Strategic’ that is now associated with the role of the SENDCo. Again, this may have been due to my naivety before becoming SENDCo, but I never really appreciated how strategic you do have to be, especially when you are also class-based like me. This has caused some issues with other professionals who can become agitated when they cannot reach me straight away due to the fact that I am teaching at that moment. Members of staff who did not realise that in order to be a SENDCo, you are required to undertake the Course, have begun to show me a new level of respect, which will then lead to everyone being committed to achieving the vision of what inclusion should look like in our school (Packer, 2013, p.2).
Differentiation is described differently in the various literatures that have been read. Heacox (2002) defines it as ‘changing the pace, level or kind of instruction you provide in response to individual learners’ needs, styles or interests’. This can be seen to be a common thread in various pieces of literature. It is written in The SEND CoP (DfE, 2015) that the first step in responding to a child that has SEND, is ‘High Quality Teaching, differentiated for individual pupils’. (DfE, 2015, 1.24, 6.37, 7.4).
With the ever-increasing demand forced not only on teachers, but children too by the National Curriculum, it becomes increasingly hard to match the level of curriculum content to the child’s capabilities with a curriculum that has become rigid and restrictive, with the introduction of mastery and within a culture where if children have not reached age-related expectation, then they have failed. This then gives practitioners the question; do you reduce the demands of curriculum, knowing that the children who are not age-related in your class will always be behind their peers as the attainment gap increases?
Stradling and Saunders (1993, p.129) argued that there are three questions we need to ask ourselves in regards to differentiation and policy: can the differences in children’s attainment be met by grouping? Will a different curriculum need to be taught to different children? Or can differentiation be achieved by teaching the same curriculum but changing the approaches to delivering it? From experience, setting or streaming seems to be the ‘norm’ in most settings and up until last year, so did my school. This year though, with the introduction of White Rose Maths and whole class guided reading, we have adopted more of the last point that Stradling and Saunders (1993) discussed. We have often experienced in the past that children with SEND tend to be in the lower attaining sets, which can have the added distraction of children who have behavioural difficulties. Education Endowment Fund (2018) found that within-class attainment grouping had its benefits as it could encourage collaborative learning, however it also identified that it can have a negative impact on children’s confidence as they perceive ‘moving up’ tables to be linked with effort, rather than ability. We also noted that children’s aspirations and self-esteem would be lower than their peers; this is similar to the findings that Dunne et al (2007, p.25) established. Although there will be times where setting would be more beneficial for lower attainers, my school have tried to minimise this to key cohorts where there are large numbers of lower attainers (most of which are children with SEND) that do require a differentiated curriculum.
Having reflected on the literature findings, as I develop my strategic role and as more research on mastery and outcomes for children becomes published, it will be beneficial for members of SLT such as the Maths co-ordinator to be made aware of the research and to decide whether this approach to differentiation is best suited to the needs of our children, especially those who have SEND.
My school have moved away from using ‘traditional ‘Individual Educational Plans (IEPs) since I have been there. Having discussions prior to writing this assignment with colleagues from my setting, it is clear that this was a welcomed decision. This feeling is due to several reasons; one is that it was felt that writing IEPs was the responsibility of the SENDCo. The deputy head at my current school was SENDCo in her previous school and regaled me with stories of her spending entire weekends writing IEP targets for children she did not directly work with. Another reason, which was discussed in the Green Paper (DfE 2011), was that schools could end up with an unmanageable number of children in need of School Action/School Action Plus plans. In the SEND CoP (DfE, 2015) the term IEP was no longer mentioned as it was in the 2001 edition (Peterson & Devi, 2017). A reform of the SEND CoP introduced the graduated approach, which through a cycle of stages: assess, plan, do and review, a teacher should be able to deliver a personalised approach to teaching children with SEND. Due to the cyclical nature of this approach, the teacher develops a greater understanding of how best to support their pupils.
At my school we currently use individual pupil profiles (IPPs) and very recently, begun using Provision Tracker. We have found IPPs an extremely powerful tool, as they can be personal and allow not only the school, but parents/carers and the children to contribute to it. Miner & Bates (1997, cited in Keyes, M. And Owens-Johnson, L., 2003) found that outcomes for children increase and relationships between families and schools are improved. We have found that this is the case in school. In our recent Ofsted report, inspectors found that “Parents are appreciative of the good levels of care, guidance and support for their children”. (Ofsted, 2018).
One weakness that was found by Ofsted (2018) was that the impact of provision was to be developed and we have addressed this by using an online resource called Provision Tracker. Schools are able to become more flexible in their approach to how they document the range of provision that is available to children in their school. Bartram (2018) describes provision maps as “a strategic management approach which provides an ‘at a glance’ way of showing all the provision that the school makes which is additional to and different from that which is offered through the school’s differentiated curriculum”. Using Provision Tracker will enable me to monitor and evaluate which provisions are the most effective in terms of costing, staffing and progress, collect information which may support the application of an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and ensure all children receive their legal entitlement. Using this online resource also allows me to put the responsibility back onto the class teachers, as it is their duty to be held to account for the progress of all of their children, as Ofsted expects teachers to “demonstrate that they have an understanding of the impact of intervention on progress”. (NASEN, 2014).
Working with parents is crucial in any part of a child’s schooling. It is particularly good practice and it clearly states in the SEND CoP that “…their parents or carers will be fully involved in decisions about their support and what they want to achieve.” (DfE, 2015, p.11). The implementation of the SEND CoP really empowered the parent, carer, child and young person to become not only involved in their child’s schooling, but actively participates in the decision making and making informed choices. This is something that I feel, some parents are still either not realising they are able to do this, or that they feel not entirely informed enough to make choices. For example, this half term during a meeting with a carer who has a child with an EHCP asked that, if she disagreed with what a Physical Difficulty Support Service (PDSS) teacher was saying, what could she do. I informed her that her thoughts, feelings and those of the child are the most important and that we know the child best and we are the most equipped at making these choices.
In our most recent Ofsted report, parents of children who received extra provision were happy with the level of care, guidance and support that is offered. I am lucky to have inherited high-quality inclusion practices that, at the moment I am continuing to implement until I become more confident in my role. Some strategies that I have sustained: coffee mornings, parents’ evening drop-ins, parent workshops and obviously review meetings. One obstacle that my parents have been faced with is that I am class-based. The previous SENDCo was more flexible for informal chats etc, so I am fortunate that I have the support of the deputy head teacher and Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) and will be around to talk to parents if I am occupied.
Other strategies that are adopted by my school and are normally quite well received by all parents are parent workshops. There is a curriculum focus for each one and the workshop aims to inform parents and then upskill them in supporting their child. Examples of some foci are: phonics, times tables, calculation, Lexia, comprehension and Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation (SPaG). This has sometimes been an eye-opening experience for some parents who were either in denial about their child’s difficulties or the realisation that the work their child’s peers are doing is more challenging and has then led to supportive discussions. Our Year one parents are invited into class for weekly shared reading. This has been a popular with lots of parents and built relationships with members of staff. Although these strategies have been successful; parents did show their dissatisfaction with other means of communication and this has become a priority for school development.
“The expectation that school will place not only parents but also their child right at the heart of the processes and decisions that will affect their lives is a central message in the Children and Families Bill”. (Packer, 2013, p109). The intention of all that are involved with children and young people, not just with SEND, is that they become functioning, healthy members of society who are employed and can look after their selves. So surely listening to the views of the child is just as important as the views of the adults? It is up to the adults who are involved in the review process to take into account the outcomes the child or young person would like to achieve and create a pathway in order for the child to achieve this in its entirety or as close as possible. Cheminais (2010, p.102) argues that children with SEND will only receive what support adults think the child needs, which may not be appropriate. Packer (2013, p.109) clarifies this by explaining that involving children shifts the responsibility of their learning towards them, encourages children to monitor and assess their learning and in my own experience, it allows the child to feel like they are being taken seriously
I have tried, during my years as a class teacher to endeavour to consider children’s views where possible. I have had experience, not only in my career, but schooling too of not being listened to and this is, as I have found out just as important to SEND practice. The HLTA who is employed by the school has a SEND specialism and will carry out numerous interventions. She will regularly collect children’s views in various forms such as: questionnaires, pictures, discussions etc and use these to feed into evaluations. Some tools that were introduced on the course during a session have also been used to gather a child’s views. For example, a child in my class, who is awaiting an appointment to be seen by a professional, is having anger issues at home so using the ‘good day/bad day’ sheet and helping them plan a way forward has enabled the child to become more communicative.
We do find, however that a lot of our children who have SEND do not always actively take part in different aspects of school life. This is an issue that SLT are trying to address by regularly consulting parents and children, but this has yet to improve. One concern of mine is that where after school clubs are run by external providers, the members of staff that are employed may not have sufficient training to accommodate children with SEND and this is becoming a priority of mine for the coming term. Where possible, we strive to be as inclusive as possible and make reasonable adjustments for trips etc. For example, a child who had cerebral palsy was able to take part in a week long residential in Wales and participated in a hike in the mountains as it was shorter than other groups and her group was picked up in a minibus sooner than the other groups. This was important to this child as she was very independent and liked to ‘be like everyone else’.
This assignment coincides with a time where during our school calendar we will be begin to review provision that is currently taking place in our school and when performance management of our teaching assistants (TAs) is being completed. The SEND CoP (DfE, 2015) illustrates the importance of provision mapping, as a way of monitoring and evaluating provision. It is ‘an efficient way of showing all the provision that the school makes which is additional to and different from that which is offered through the school’s curriculum’ (6.76). It is a tool which empowers the SENDCo in becoming a strategic practitioner by being robust in the assessment, auditing, monitoring and evaluating the impact of these provisions and how they in turn impact on school improvement.
We have fairly recently purchased Provision Tracker, which is a website that allows school leaders, teachers, TAs and SENDCos to track provision and allowing these stakeholders to input data such as: starting points, end points, attendance, evidence towards targets, whilst allowing members of staff with more seniority the permission to view the value for money for each provision. Until the implementation of Provision Tracker, our previous SENDCo would compare data from several sources which would range from Learning Ladders and Salford Reading Scores to Boxall Profiles. The Provision Maps would be separate per year group and be on a Microsoft Excel or Word document, and although there is no clear guidance on how Provision should be mapped, this way was extremely time consuming, not very consistent across key stages or year groups and not very visual.
Some challenges that I am anticipating with the implementation of Provision Tracker are going to be: time, training, computer-literacy, access to computers, accountability and ownership. Training, accountability and ownership are hurdles I am planning on tackling in the New Year. Becoming SENDCo has really enlightened me with understanding that tasks I always assumed belonged to the SENDCo, actually are the responsibility of the class teacher, which relates to teacher standard five “Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils” (DfE, 2012).
I think this first term’s provision has not been as successful as it has been in the past, due to the fact that the members of staff have been given so many prescribed ways of teaching this year, it feels as though our members of staff are not confidently making decisions and using their own initiative, where in the past our previous SENDCo would provide to each teacher the intervention that was needed. I want to empower the members of staff who work with the children to make the decision, which will affect the children in their care, as mentioned in NASEN (2014) “Ofsted expects teachers to demonstrate that they have an understanding of the impact of intervention on progress”, but I feel that I need to direct certain year groups or teachers who have children with different needs to run particular interventions.
Tissot’s (2013) article resonated with me about how I feel about my new role. Tissot identified several key issues that constantly cause me distress as I start to unravel my job title. I often question whether the role of SENDCo can be carried out effectively with a reduction in budget, the roles, leadership status and being class based like I am. The three job descriptions are also an interesting point of discussion. The removal of paperwork, liaising with parents and implementing policy, then reintroducing these points highlights the day to day functioning role of a SENDCo.
Reduction of budget has a detrimental impact, not only on the children who have educational needs, but the needs of all children and the duties imposed on teachers and TAs. Working in a school that has had to make TAs redundant and cut back on resources, it really does worry me that soon teachers will be faced with the impossible task of trying to meet the needs of thirty children with the ever increasing complex needs with no support of the expertise of a TA. I am interested in the impact of TAs and how they are used in class, but with the findings that The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff (DISS) concluded that children who received more support, made less progress (Blatchford et al, 2009), it is understandable as to why TAs are a resource that head teachers are sacrificing. Looking at the recommendations that are provided by Russell, Webster and Blatchford (2013), there are arguments that suggest that TAs can have a positive impact on children’s progress and hopefully, with time and support from SLT, I would like to develop this further in my school with the remaining TAs we have and change the mindset of not only the TAs, but the teachers too.
Reflecting on my role at this moment in time, and what has been asked of me already; time and availability are the constraints that affecting me currently. The head teacher was used to working with a SENDCo who was extremely skilled, experienced, non-class based and would often complete tasks at home in their own time (Cole, 2005). I know that the head teacher is understanding to an extent and knows that she needs to support me in tasks such as data analysis and performance management of TAs, but with Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) looming, the pressure is ever-present and I have to be the agent of change (Pearson, Mitchell & Rapti, 2014) and demonstrate that I understand what SEND looks like in my school.
Bureaucratic tasks are time –consuming and required if statutory assessment is to be requested (Gross, 2013). It can often be difficult to contact professionals within the time that is given to complete my SENDCo duties and will often return to my desk on days when I am back in class to telephone messages and emails to return. With the introduction of Provision Tracker however, mapping and evaluating provision should not take as much time as previous, especially when my plan is to train staff to input their data.
At the moment, I am part of the leadership team and I feel this gives me increased status when implementing change. I am unsure of how existing staff members/children/parents will perceive me but this will become more apparent as my role develops. As I am a part of SLT, I am able to add to the CPD schedule for the whole school (NASEN, 2015). This however can be dominated by Reading and Maths (due to our latest Ofsted), but SEND provision is a necessity too. I have noticed an increasing number of conversations with members of staff who will ask me questions that include “as you are on SLT”, which I see as a positive, as they see me as a senior member of the team. I have yet to see what budget is available to me; the deputy head is overseeing this until I am more established in my role. Also, our school is in a period of change, where three of the five members of SLT are new, so in order for any of us to carry out monitoring etc, we require the assistance of the deputy head or head teacher (which is similar to some of the findings Tissot & (Pearson, Mitchell & Rapti found in terms of ages and experiences of members of staff). Packer (2013) explores several initiatives that the SENDCo can implement through Continuous Professional Development (CPD); joint planning, peer modelling and co-teaching, again this would require not only time on my part when I am out of class (and not meeting with professionals or parents), time for the deputy head or head teacher to be available but releasing members of staff to work with me. This will have its own implications in terms of costs and staffing. I have been a part of some book scrutiny’s, but hopefully next term, once I start doing some monitoring of my own, I will feel confident in understanding how SEND support looks in my school.
I do feel though, now I have completed one term, the role is becoming more rewarding and satisfying. I am beginning to use my time more effectively and efficiently; performing minor tasks during assembly times or break times etc. I do believe I am at an advantage to other SENDCos as; I am on SLT, I have release time and I have a ‘budget’; however my role is still a little unclear and will remain unclear until the role of a SENDCo is defined clearly in policy (Cole 2005). Rosen-Webb (2011) explained the role in a way that resonated with me “As co-ordinator, the SENCo role was not designated as leader or manager; yet it has evolved as a role that straddles the divide (or perhaps the ‘join’) between leadership and management.” I hope that I can do this within my school.
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