SENCO: Whole School Role Or Hidden Gem?

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Helen Woodley

Helen Woodley is a primary trained SENDCo currently working in a large KS1-4 Pupil Referral Unit in the North East of England. She spent 3 years studying Theology in Durham; Helen has worked in a wide variety of special school settings, including all age schools....
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Should all SENCOs be an integral part of the senior leadership team (SLT)?

The new SEND Code of Practice in 2014 aims to look at the way that SEN is viewed in schools, but also to raise the profile of the SENCO, along with the introduction of a SENCO qualification. There is one important point added:

The SENCO has an important role to play with the headteacher and governing body, in determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision in the school. They will be most effective in that role if they are part of the school leadership team.

(see The role of the SENCO in school, 6.87, page 108) 

The problem for me, is that it did not go far enough. Instead of saying that a SENCO must be part of the SLT, it says ‘if and that small word makes a world of difference.

In her book The Perfect SENCO, Natalie Packer draws attention to the hugely significant role a SENCO performs in a school,

“Over recent years, however, the job of the SENCO has become more strategic and will now include provision mapping, working in partnership with parents, supporting other colleagues, commissioning services, demonstrating pupil progress and ensuring value for money. In essence, it’s a role which contributes significantly to whole-school improvement.”

In my role I work with a variety of SENCOs whose schools have placed a young person with us to prevent a permanent exclusion. In the vast majority of cases, schools have either made a request for an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) or are doing so during the course of the placement. I step in and work alongside them to see how our supporting evidence can fit in with their request and to work with them in navigating the SEN system which, for many, is frustrating and baffling.

The range of different SENCO roles I see is vast but they can be drawn into two distinct groups: the SEC on the SLT and the SENCO not on the SLT.


The SENCOs who are on the SLT have a varied role. In primaries they are often the Deputy Head, or Assistant Head if the school is large enough, although there are still primary schools where the Head is the SENCO. In secondary schools the SENCO on the SLT is an Assistant or Deputy Head and tend to have either a distinct SEN role or one that merges SEN with Safeguarding.

These SENCOs have their fingers in the whole school pie. They know not only what is happening within their department, but also how their SEN role fits in with every other piece from budgets to recruitment. They can keep the focus of the rest of the SLT on SEN issues as needed and have the chance to truly make every teacher a teacher of SEN.

The Traditional SENCO

Yet on the other side of the room are the more traditional SENCOs of the past, SENCOs like my mother was, who have a job title and an expectation of what they need to do but no strategic influence. In primary they tend to be a Key Stage leader in a middle management role who has the SENCO responsibility added on to an already bulging job. In secondary they are the person that you often find hidden away at the end if the school or, in some cases, in a separate building that many staff do not even know exists.

Needs Must

My experience of SENCOs on the SLT is that they fare better in their job than those who are not. They get a chance to make an impact for not only SEN learners but across all teaching and learning as so many SEN strategies are simply good practice at a QFT level.

The other type of SENCO has a harder and more frustrating existence. One I worked with did not even know that the SLT had decided that a pupil on a placement with us needed an EHCP request yet the SENCO was suddenly expected to pick up the pieces and get things sorted!

A SENCO must be on the SLT. If SEN is to be truly taken seriously for learners at every level from those supported at QFT right the way up to those who have an EHCP, then the SENCO needs to know how their role fits in with the whole school.

The need to have a say in teaching and learning, to monitor books and marking, to observe colleagues teach. The role of the SENCO is not about ticking a box to say that you have one, being able to point to a lovely page on the website about your ‘local offer’, or dragging the SENCO out to meet Ofsted and then put them pack in their cupboard until you need them again.

School leaders need their SENCO every single day.

So, if you are a SENCO, what type are you? If you are a school leader, how do you use yours?

One thought on “SENCO: Whole School Role Or Hidden Gem?

  1. A very interesting read. My SENCO and I have just been discussing this same topic just a couple of days ago. I am a literacy specialist teacher with a dyslexia AMBDA qual and access arrangements assessor and Irlen screener. I am looking into SENDCO training for next academic year.

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