All teachers should want to be a SENDCO. Whether for the professional development it brings, for the difference it can make to pupils who otherwise might struggle, or just to step up to a whole-school role, ambitious colleagues should view it as an essential step on their own route to leadership. Why? For plenty of reasons…
The breadth of the role
Especially at secondary, senior colleagues are often thought of as being pastoral or academic in their outlook – rarely both. The SENDCO role needs to involve pastoral care – parent meetings, work with external agencies, interventions to support a child’s emotional wellbeing – but absolutely with a central remit of improving teaching and learning. The SENDCO role may feel like it pushes someone into a professional development corner, but the opportunities and experiences it brings are broad.
The moral objective
I can’t think of any role in school that isn’t worthwhile. However, if you want a role in which you absolutely know you’re doing something worthwhile, you shouldn’t look further than the SENDCO role. National outcomes, by many measures, mean we are not yet getting SEND provision right. Statistically more likely to attend school less, get excluded more and make less progress from their starting points, students with SEND need and deserve a SENDCO who supports them to do well – and supports colleagues to get it right for them. The SENDCO role is a great reason to go to work.
A seat at the top table
The SEND Code of Practice says that a SENDCO is ‘most effective in that role if they are part of the school leadership team’. For some staff, being appointed as SENDCO can mean a fast-track to some of the highest levels of decision-making in a school.
For the career-minded, a Head of Year, Head of Phase or Head of Department role might be the middle-leadership role that begins your journey into school leadership. These provide excellent development in one area of the school. However, the SENDCO role gives you whole-school influence: across all year groups, subjects and phases.
Your own professional development
Typically, after a promotion in school (to Teaching and Learning lead, to a Head of Year/Phase/Department role), your development might involve getting a bit of internal support and a day or two attending a conference each year. Other than that, it’ll be about getting hold of some recommended reading and swotting up on the relevant DfE guidance/OFSTED messages. Compare this to all the learning that comes from being a SENDCO. What other roles come with the (statutory) opportunity to gain a postgraduate certificate, which can go towards a Masters in many cases?
The support around you
Though it’s true there can be a real lack of in-school, SEND-specific line management for SENDCOs, the team of teaching assistants can often be some of the most experienced and supportive colleagues in a school.
You’ll be a better Head
Heads have responsibility for the ‘strategic direction of SEN policy and provision’, ‘ensur(ing) that appropriate resource is provided for students with SEND’. The Headteacher Standards require Heads to ‘hold ambitious expectations for all pupils with additional and special educational needs and disabilities’. If you’re to meet your statutory duty to all pupils, SENDCO experience is a great advantage. If you can make school work for students with SEND, you can make it work for anyone.
We’ll always need SENDCOs
It’s one of only 2 roles that are statutory (that and the role of Headteacher); every school needs one. As research suggests annual SENDCO turnover of 12-14%, there will always be jobs for SENDCOs.
It’s true that I’m offering an idea of what the SENDCO role should be, rather than what it always is in reality. There are SENDCOs who are flying the flag alone, who are pigeon-holed as ‘the SEND person’ and whose professional development no one seems to care too much about. In my book The Lone SENDCO, I try to provide answers to 300 questions that SENDCOs need to know fast, to help to combat this issue where it exists.
However, there is a really pragmatic need both to make the role more desirable for current SENDCOs (protected time to do the role, etc.) and to encourage more people to want to fill the vacancies that exist, and that will continue to exist.
It’s not my experience that a SENDCO vacancy gets lots of applications, whether it’s advertised internally or externally. It’s also not my experience that there are enough colleagues who want to commit their careers to the education of pupils with SEND – ‘career SENDCOs’. We need more people to see this role as good for them to do for a short time – 2-3 years perhaps – in the absence of people going into teaching because of their passion for SEND.
We therefore need to ensure the role is desirable. While ensuring colleagues are in the SENDCO role for long enough to do it well and to bring sustainable improvements to a school, we also need to make sure the SENDCO role is seen as an essential step on the road to school leadership, in the way a Head of Year/Phase/Department role might be seen. Only that way will we have a glut of well-trained, SEND-aware school leaders who can make education work for all students, including those with SEND.