Starting as a SENDCO in September? Find 10 hours to do these 10 things before you break up for the summer

If you’re embarking on your first SENDCO role in September, you will not get to the summer holidays with total readiness. But if you can find 10 hours to do these 10 tasks, in no particular order, you’ll give yourself the best headstart possible.

  1. Look at your current SEND register (1 hour)

Work out who you need to make a particular effort to get to know once you’re in the role. Make a list of these students and make them your priority for seeing in class and reading up on from September.

2. Make a realistic reading list and begin to read it (2 hours)

Don’t feel you need to read everything out there (and there is a lot!). My top 3 in your position:

  1. The SEN Information Report of your school, available on your school’s website
  2. Natalie Packer’s book The Perfect SENCO or my own book The Lone SENDCO
  3. SEN Code of Practice, Chapter 6 (referring specifically to the duty on schools)

There are also some gems of recommendations on Twitter if you follow @NataliePacker, @sendcosolutions, @sencochat to name but 3.

3. Enrol on a NASENCO Award (1 hour)

Look at local University providers as well as distance learning providers. If you’re really not sure, put the feelers out on Twitter or Facebook for local recommendations, or ask SENDCOs in your local schools where they did their course. You don’t need to start on the course immediately; consider whether you want the professional learning support immediately or would rather settle into the role first.

4. Have a handover (2 hours)

The current SENDCO is the most important person for you to get feedback from but there are advantages also to casting the net wide here. Consider the benefits of asking for 20 minutes of the time of an experienced TA, with a senior leader or with an NQT for their experience of SEND provision in your school. These types of handover (if that’s the right word) can be just as useful as speaking to the outgoing SENDCO.

In your conversation with the outgoing SENDCO, you’ll know instinctively what you feel you need more information on. It might be the inside-info about particular children and families; the interventions overview; priorities for this year and whether progress was made with those priorities; who you can lean on for support within the school; key external contacts and key dates throughout the year. Use the information from this conversation to begin identifying priorities for next year.

5. Make a list of your stakeholders (30 minutes)

Gain reassurance that the job is doable by writing down who can provide you with some support along the way (using the outgoing SENDCO to support you in formulating the list):

  • Who can you work with when pastorally supporting children and families?
  • Who can you look to for some administrative support when you need it, even if it is from within your own TA team?
  • Who is going to be your advocate on SLT?
  • Which teachers can you go to when you want to see excellent practice in school?
  • Which parents/carers will give you a sense of how families are feeling about the support being given in school?
  • Which children and young people will be good indicators of whether pupils with SEND are thriving in your school?
  • Which SENDCOs in other local schools can you go to for advice when you need it?
  • What can you get from online communities (Whole School SEND Community of Practice; the Facebook group ‘SENCO/SENDCO Support (Professionals)’ or ‘SENsible SENCO’; the Twitter community)?
  • Who can help you wade through data to understand the SEND context of your school better?

6. Invite feedback (1 hour)

There is never a better time than when you’re new to be honest about your naivety. Find a way to invite opinions from anyone who has them about the quality of the SEND provision in your school. This might be through creating a staff or parent survey, or simply putting a notice in your staff/parent bulletin inviting people to get in touch.

7. Prevent information being lost (1 hour)

Look at how information about pupils is currently shared with teaching staff – most likely through a 1-page summary of need, sometimes called a pupil profile or pupil passport. Ask for as many people as possible to suggest edits to these documents, for the children they have worked with this year.

This way, you’ll capture the bits of information that will really help the staff working with these pupils from September (things that motivate a particular child, strategies that have worked for that child, etc.).

8. Get your head around some data (90 minutes)

You may or may not be a SENDCO, or a person, who is naturally inclined towards data. There are clear reasons why it’s important to use data, and the larger your school environment, the more important this becomes. I would strongly encourage you to think about who else can make this bit of your job manageable, be it a data manager; an administrator; even the Headteacher. For specific bits of data, perhaps the attendance lead has already got the information you need? Or the behaviour lead has already reported to Governors about the behaviour of various groups, including those with SEND? Although you could lose your life in data – there is always another spreadsheet you could create for yourself that would tell you something new – the main bits you’ll need can be split into 5 categories:

  1. SEN context (how many EHCPs, most prevalent need type, etc.)
  2. Attendance
  3. Behaviour (including exclusions)
  4. Academic outcomes
  5. Data gathered from interventions

Get as much information as you can about this before the summer break, so you can get a clearer idea of what you’ll be trying to drive next year.

9. Embrace your unreadiness (no time limit on this!)

You might feel unready for the role for a range of reasons. You might feel inexperienced as a teacher of children with SEND. You might be new to having a whole-school responsibility, feel inadequate about your SEND knowledge or lack confidence about supporting colleagues to improve their practice. The only reassurance I can offer is that all these things were true for me.

Often it’s not a specialist in the role; it needs to be someone with an inclusive approach, with empathy and with a willingness to learn.

10. Look forward to becoming a SENDCO (all the time!)

I used to be a Head of Year in a secondary school and found myself issuing sanctions for much of my time. I began to avoid the staff room to avoid colleagues wanting to vent about the behaviour of children in my year group. I then became a SENDCO; I became the person people come to when a child needs support, not when they need a telling off. It’s a privileged role. I hope you enjoy it.

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