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SENDCOs: 12 questions you’ll want to rehearse before OFSTED arrive

OFSTED last week announced that they’ll visit every school in England by summer 2025. SENDCOs will always be on the radar of a full (Section 5) OFSTED inspection, so what might inspectors ask you?

The following 12 questions link directly to all the references to SEND within the OFSTED Education Inspection Framework (EIF). Try out your answers to some of these with your line manager or a supportive colleague, so you can be as prepared as possible for the OFSTED call:

•How does your curriculum meet the needs of learners with SEND?

•What does the data say about how students with SEND are doing in your school (attendance, behaviour, progress/attainment)? What do you do with the data you collect about pupils?

•Are pupil outcomes improving as a result of the provision being made for them (including in terms of their SEND needs)?

•What steps are taken to ensure that minimal lesson time is lost for students with SEND?

•How do you identify and assess SEND in your school? How are parents involved in this process?

•What are you doing to address gaps in reading?

•How do you train and support teachers to be able to meet the needs of students with SEND?

•How do you prepare students to prepare for adulthood as they go through your school and eventually leave your school?

•How do you know that students with SEND are involved in school life?

•How do you know that learners with SEND in off-site provision are educated suitably and safely?

•How do you track the progress of students with SEND?

•Tell me about a child for whom a multiagency approach has been necessary.

It’s not possible for me to suggest answers to all of these in a blogpost. I do cover many of these topics in my book The Lone SENDCO: questions and answers for the busy SENDCO, which answers over 300 questions and covers OFSTED amongst many other topics.

That said, I’ve pasted the sections of the OFSTED EIF below, where they relate to SEND (my bold type), so you can see for yourself what they’ll be looking for evidence of. Look particularly at 353, which has the most direct relevance to SEND provision:

112. Inspectors will evaluate evidence of the impact of the curriculum, including on the most disadvantaged pupils. This includes pupils with SEND.

194. Before making the final judgement on overall effectiveness, inspectors will always consider the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the school, and evaluate the extent to which the school’s education provision meets different pupils’ needs, including pupils with SEND.

195. Inspectors will take a rounded view of the quality of education that a school provides to all its pupils, including the most disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND.

198. There is high academic/vocational/technical ambition for all pupils, and the school does not offer disadvantaged pupils or pupils with SEND a reduced curriculum.

219. Disadvantaged pupils and pupils with SEND acquire the knowledge and cultural capital they need to succeed in life.

237. Inspectors will evaluate the experience of particular individuals and groups, such as pupils for whom referrals have been made to the local authority, pupils with SEND, children looked after, those with medical needs and those with mental health needs. In order to do this, inspectors will look at the experience of a small sample of these pupils and consider the way the school is working with the multi-agency group to ensure that the child receives the support they need. For pupils with SEND, this will include ensuring that appropriate reasonable adjustments are made in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 and the SEND code of practice.

277. Inspectors must evaluate how well a school continues to take responsibility for its pupils who attend alternative or off-site provision. Inspectors need to be assured that leaders have ensured that the alternative provision is a suitable and safe placement that will meet pupils’ academic/vocational/technical needs, pastoral needs and, if appropriate, SEND needs.

353. All parts of the EIF apply to schools’ provision for pupils with SEND. However, as with all provision, SEND provision has some specific factors that should be taken into account. Inspectors will gather and evaluate evidence about:

  • whether leaders are ambitious for all pupils with SEND
  • how well leaders identify, assess and meet the needs of pupils with SEND, including when pupils with SEND are self-isolating and/or receiving remote education
  • how well leaders develop and adapt the curriculum so that it is coherently sequenced to all pupils’ needs, starting points and aspirations for the future
  • how successfully leaders involve parents, carers and, as necessary, other professionals/specialist services in deciding how best to support pupils with SEND, including agreeing the approach to remote education
  • how well leaders include pupils with SEND in all aspects of school life
  • how well the school assesses learning and development of pupils with SEND, and whether pupils’ outcomes are improving as a result of the different or additional provision being made for them, including any reasonable adjustments in remote education provision. This covers outcomes in:
    • communication and interaction
    • cognition and learning
    • physical health and development
    • social, emotional and mental health
  • how well pupils with SEND are prepared for their next steps in education, employment and training, and their adult lives, including: further/higher education and employment, independent living, participating in society and being as healthy as possible in adult life

354. Because of the often vastly different types of pupils’ needs, inspectors will not compare the outcomes achieved by pupils with SEND with those achieved by other pupils with SEND in the school, locally or nationally.

355. Pupils with SEND often have significant and complex vulnerabilities and can face additional safeguarding challenges. Inspectors will evaluate the ways in which leaders have made appropriate and effective safeguarding arrangements that reflect these additional vulnerabilities.

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Seeing without observing: how to be a visible SENDCO without adding to school scrutiny

As a SENDCO, you need to know what is going on in class. You need to make sure students are receiving quality-first teaching. You need to be able to diagnose where this isn’t happening so you can support teachers to develop their practice.

You also need to do this without creating a culture of fear. Staff need to feel supported and open to change, not in fear of high-stakes observations at every turn.

To have eyes and ears on teaching and learning, without adding to the observation cycle, try some of the following:

Offer to model a strategy. Rather than criticising poor practice around (i.e.) vocabulary teaching, offer to model how vocab can be taught. A teacher seeing how you teach vocab – in context, with a carefully selected image and with opportunities for practice – will help develop colleagues’ practice without you having to highlight and correct poor practice.

Support a child in class. If you can spare an hour, this can be a great way to learn more about a child’s needs and strengths. It also allows you to see the universal and targeted provision in class and can be the catalyst for a supportive follow-up conversation with a member of staff.

See the child, not the adult. Focus your learning walks on what the child is doing, rather than what the adult is doing. For this to be genuine, any follow-up/feedback will need to reinforce this message (‘I was pleased to see our year 7s with EHCPs all engaged in their learning and receiving help to give full sentence answers’, etc.)

Hold a staff surgery. This will allow adults to come to you with what they’re finding difficult, rather than finding they are being ‘caught out’.

Get in on formal processes. Rather than creating your own formal observations that add to the levels of scrutiny in a school, get involved in whatever processes already exist – performance management observations, targeted learning walks, etc. This will also ensure that any feedback you have is integral to these processes, rather than feeling like an add-on. This will be particularly valuable where a teacher has identified SEND practice as something they are keen to develop.

Focus on the positives. People don’t mind their practice being highlighted if the feedback is positive! Whenever you see something good, offer public shout-outs in briefings or bulletins, where appropriate. CC’ing in a line manager, where praise is being given, also helps to spread positive messages.

Take the long way back to your office. By walking down a corridor you get to less frequently, you may stumble across something that becomes an excellent source of information about a child’s engagement or an adult in need of support.

Ask for volunteers. Some staff may be very happy for you to drop in frequently, to provide some coaching or feedback.

Get regular feedback from your TAs. As people likely to spend most of their day in class, ask Teaching Assistants to guide you to the teachers you can support or the areas of training you can provide.

Listen to pupils. Whether done formally or informally, students can give you an excellent steer of what is going on in classrooms, for you to then follow up accordingly in one of the ways set out above.

By implementing some of the steps above, you can maintain an excellent understanding of what is going on in classrooms, without providing additional and unwanted scrutiny for colleagues.

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New to the SENDCO role/new to a school? Try to tick off these things by the end of September

The first term as SENDCO can feel overwhelming. It may be your first whole-school role, your first SEND-specific role, or a role that you’re trying to carry out alongside several others. It can be hard to know where to start; it can be hard to ever take stock and recognise successes.

Rather than try to master everything in the first month, this list gives 10 ideas for things to try and tick off by September 30th. Each should be manageable alongside teaching and other responsibilities; it should be broad enough to cover many elements of the role, without expecting you to master everything in just over 4 weeks.

  1. Read the Section Fs of all your EHCPs

This is statutory provision, which you must make ‘best endeavours’ to provide. You need to have read it and have plans to implement it. You might want to separate the provision into the following, to make this a manageable task:

  • Classroom strategies that teachers need to implement
  • Bespoke interventions that someone will need to deliver immediately (and others to begin once the new term is underway and new routines are embedded)
  • Strategies to implement if things aren’t going well (i.e. how to support when a child is struggling to cope in class, etc.)

You’ll need to find ways to share this information with relevant staff, where needed.

2. Communicate with all parents

The Code of Practice tells us we must meet with all parents of children with SEND at 3 points in the year (see 6.65 for the exact wording of this expectation). Though you’ll be unlikely to sit down with every parent/carer before the end of September, consider how you can communicate with all by this deadline.

This might just be a group text/email, letting them know how they can contact you (i.e. how they can book a parent meeting or which days you’re on the gate at the beginning of the day). This will be vital for some parents in reassuring them that their voice will be heard.

3. Drop into some classes every week

If you’re not dropping in and out of classes regularly, you’re making assumptions about the quality of teaching and learning. In as informal a manner as works for your setting, make sure you see for yourself what is going on for students with SEND in classrooms.

4. Drop in on every TA

This is less likely to be a formal observation, and more likely to be a way for you just to ensure that your expectations are being met. You might be looking at how the recommendations from the EEF’s Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants Guidance Report are being implemented in the classroom, for example.

5. Sit down with every TA

Make sure the people you are directly line managing have a chance to share with you their hopes (and any worries) for the year ahead. Make sure you have been clear about what success looks like in your eyes, and be open to feedback about how the wider SEND provision can be developed at your school.

6. Read something brief about every child on your SEND register

It’s very easy to have a sharp focus on students with EHCPs, at the expense of those who should receive SEN Support. Become informed (or refresh your knowledge) about all students with SEND, perhaps by reading each child’s 1-page profile. This can be achieved by the end of September by focusing on 1 or 2 year groups per week.

7. Know what interventions you’re currently able to offer and get data to suggest who should begin on what

Write down the intervention offer you can currently provide. This may simply be the same interventions you ran last year; it may be a more comprehensive process of being informed by research and resourcing your department accordingly. It will need to take into account your statutory duty (see point 1, above).

For each intervention, make a note of what ‘assessment’ looks like, i.e. what evidence you have of where the child is now and that this particular intervention is appropriate for them, be it social skills, spelling or a sensory circuit.

8. Communicate with all new staff and trainee teachers

Make sure that all staff (particularly new staff) know who you are, how to contact you and how to find out information about the students they are teaching. You might even provide some training yourself, or some links to sources of further information (strategies, additional resources, etc.)

9. Find some time to learn

You don’t ever need to know ‘everything’. But try to prioritise some time to formally develop your knowledge further, be it through reading a chapter of David Bartram’s Great Expectations, through watching the condition-specific videos on the SEND Gateway website or through studying Chapter 6 of the SEND Code of Practice.

10. Articulate your priorities

Try to spend the month working out what needs improving. Cast the net wide to see what others think needs improving (colleagues in your department, colleagues at senior leadership level, parents or even students). Articulate this as a handful of priorities and share these with your line manager and/or the Principal. Try to also articulate what support you need in order to make progress with these priorities.

The list above will need to be considered within the context in which you are working; there will be school-specific things that just can’t wait. But I hope that, by using the above as a guide, you will be able to end September with a sense of accomplishment at all you’ve achieved in the first month.

Finally, if you look at this at the end of September and realise you haven’t ticked them all off, please forgive yourself. These are just my thoughts; I’ve almost certainly never been to your school to see your context. In addition, the SENDCO role can sometimes be very hard to plan for; very hard to remain strategic in. Allow yourself the freedom to roll things over from one month to the next, where needed.

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The Spring term SENDCO

It’s a strange time of year. Too late to set an initiative up for the academic year; too early to write something off until next academic year. Here’s 7 things to be considering as you embark on the Spring term as a SENDCO.

  1. Recall your successes

Think back to the Autumn term and all that went well. Remember an individual success story, a parent meeting with a positive outcome, a training delivered or some useful feedback to a teacher. Be proud of what went well.

2. Revisit your development plan

I write in The Lone SENDCO about how a SENDCO might create a development plan, in which they outline their priorities.

Presuming you did write a development plan in September, have a look back on the priorities you set yourself at the beginning of the year. Now is the perfect time to begin working on a priority that you haven’t been able to focus on so far. It’s also a good time to acknowledge the progress made in some areas already. Keep your development plan as a live document – make notes on it of the things you have already achieved and the things you would like to achieve this term. Discuss this with your line manager in school, so the priorities become shared with others in school.

3. Reflect on your statutory compliance

Make sure you’re compliant with the Code of Practice. As a quick (but not exhaustive) checklist –

  1. Are your annual reviews of EHCPs all calendared, with invitations sent for any coming up this term?
  2. Are you (the school, not necessarily yourself) on track to have at least 3 parent meetings for all children on the SEND register about their child’s needs and progress?
  3. Are parents informed whenever their child is in an intervention/comes on or off the SEND register?
  4. Are you providing all the interventions listed in Section F of the EHCPs?
  5. Do you have an assess-plan-do-review process in place in some form?

4. Book in some self-evaluation

You might choose to use the excellent self-review guides from Whole School SEND. You might ask senior leaders in your school. You might decide to have a review where parents are the primary stakeholders giving you feedback about your provision. However you do it, make sure there is a chance to gather some feedback, and reflect yourself, on where your provision is at the moment.

5. Write down your stakeholders

If you’re aiming for SEND to be a whole-school issue, consider how widely this is happening in practice. Which groups of colleagues would consider themselves stakeholders in your SEND provision? Would your Governors, senior leaders, middle leaders, pastoral staff, support staff, parents and pupils consider themselves stakeholders in your SEND provision? Pick one or two of these groups to get more invested in SEND provision this term. What can you do this term to increase the amount of people who consider themselves accountable for SEND outcomes (in the broadest sense) in your setting?

6. Gear up for exams

We don’t currently know which sets of exams will take place in the summer. But this is the time of year to be reflecting on our preparedness for exams, should they happen. Are you compliant in terms of exam access arrangements (especially urgent for secondary)? Where revision sessions are scheduled, have students on the SEND register been included? Can they access these sessions or is some work needed, either to work with the teacher to adapt what they’re doing or to provide additional/different sessions? With the potential for Teacher Assessed Grades to be used again this summer, is there evidence of student attainment being collected now? Does this evidence support students with SEND to show all that they know and can do, with exam access arrangements in place where appropriate?

7. Don’t forget transition

For students leaving your school in the summer, is their next school known? Where they have an ECHP, have you invited the next setting to this term’s annual review? Where they are finishing year 11 or 13, what support can you or colleagues give in terms of applications?

For students arriving in your school in September (where this is known), would they benefit from a lengthy transition programme? Would a monthly visit, starting in the Spring term, be an appropriate lead-in for them joining your setting?

With so much currently unknown, the list above doesn’t even mention the complications this term brought about by COVID. The balance between focusing on the COVID-response and driving provision is a difficult one at the moment for all school leaders. As the SENDCO, keeping your eye on your priorities and on your statutory compliance should ensure your provision can continue to improve, even in challenging times.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lone-SENDCO-Questions-answers-busy/dp/1913622584

Supporting the needs of learners with SEND through remote teaching

A few tips follow on how teachers might support students with SEND through their whole-class teaching, while it is through a screen. SENDCOs may want to share some of these strategies in their communication with all teachers or adapt them for individual children. Although these tips are aimed to support the most learners possible, SENDCOs should still consider if individual workpacks, a place in keyworker school or separate 1-1 lessons with a teacher/TA will be more meaningful for children with more complex needs.

Remind students how to learn. Encourage clear desks, no mobile phones in sight and a distraction-free room. Pupils may take this advice or it might provide motivation for a parent in the room to make these changes for their child.

Provide consistency. Start by showing students a bullet pointed list or a flowchart of how the session will run.

Pre-teach vocab. Your first slide might be 3 words that students will come across in their learning, which you have prioritised for their long-term memory. Help students with these new words by providing a definition, the word type, the word being used in a sentence and an image to go alongside it.

The power of a visual. Ensure your slides are not too dense, but that they reinforce the content that students are being taught verbally. As content might be accessed on a mobile, use a large font. As usual with slides, place text on a lightly coloured background rather than on a white background.

Read aloud. Take the time to read the text on your slides out loud, clarifying key vocabulary/explaining new knowledge and pausing where needed.

Deploy your Teaching Assistant well. This will mean getting the Teaching Assistant on the call with you, then at some point putting the TA in a breakout room with the child(ren) who need(s) it, so the TA can help them with their independent practice – potentially reading or scribing, or tutoring the student(s) remotely. Breakout rooms are easy to manually create on a range of platforms.

Consider how to support attention. Keep instructions and explanations short, breaking up teacher talk frequently, i.e. where students need to hold up something they’ve written or enter something brief into the Chat.

Cold call. There should still be an expectation that all students take part, including students with SEND. Ask a question of all students, provide thinking time, then say a name and ask the child to unmute/write in the Chat.

Emphasise the power of trying and failing. More students will take the opportunity not to attempt a difficult question, knowing it might not be checked. It is important to remind students that having a go (and potentially getting something wrong) is a part of learning.

Encourage quizzing. Consider how quizzing can work – they might write their answer on a piece of paper/whiteboard and all hold it to the camera simultaneously; they might be self-marking, they might be entering their answer into the Chat or they might have to open a quiz via a Microsoft Form or a Google form. Either way, quizzing gives you feedback and forces students to engage and to complete work while on the call. Monitor those who are not responding in the Chat.

Support independent written work. Whether through your modelling, sentence starters or writing frames, support writing tasks where appropriate. This will include students having adequate silent time to complete their written work, including extra time where some students would normally have it.

Consider having students’ cameras off at times. It can be distracting for students to see each other while on the call.

Recap. End the lesson with a recap slide.

Follow up with a phone call. Where students are expected to follow up the live lesson with independent work, consider who needs additional support. This might mean a follow-up phone call; it might mean asking your SENDCO if there is a TA who could follow up, to support that child with their independent task or to consolidate the learning.

Report concerns. Where you feel a child is unable to access, doesn’t participate at all or presents with other concerns, report this to the appropriate member of staff – a Head of Year, form tutor, SENDCO or safeguarding lead as appropriate.

Finally, there is the need to be extraordinarily flexible and responsive. Just getting all students on the call, taking a register, managing their right-to-unmute, monitoring the Chat and readmitting students whose internet fails them is a substantial challenge. If teachers can manage the significant challenges of remote teaching and still apply some of the strategies above, we’ll be ensuring students with SEND can still be well-supported during strange times.

The lockdown SENDCO – how to support children and families during another school closure

Schools to close again. Lots to put in place for Headteachers, whose roles I don’t envy. But what about the SENDCO? Follow these steps, to ensure children and families can be well-supported during school closure:

  1. Be aware of the needs of your teams, and of yourself. If you have Teaching Assistants who are clinically extremely vulnerable, highly anxious, recovering from COVID or looking after family members, their deployment will need to be carefully considered at the moment. Likewise for yourself!
  2. Create your list of which children you’d like to be physically in your school. Schools are open for children of key workers and children identified as vulnerable. Following the initial lockdown in March, the Government’s definition of vulnerable was extended. As a SENDCO, you should be considering whether a place needs to be offered to students who fall under the following criteria:

This list is broad, particularly in areas with higher levels of deprivation. As a SENDCO, know who from your SEND register should be accessing the in-school provision, and invite them in accordingly (with your Headteacher’s blessing).

3. Where students have EHCPs, review and update your risk assessments. Ensure adequate steps have been taken, i.e. where there are concerns about the child remaining at home or concerns about the child being offered a provision in school safely.

4. Find out what all children in your school will be getting and reflect on this for your children with the highest needs. Whether your pupils will have live lessons, pre-recorded lessons or virtual learning, consider what amendments you should make for some of your students with need. On a sliding scale, this might involve:

  • Setting up separate sessions, led by you or a colleague, instead of mainstream lessons.
  • Ensuring a Teaching Assistant also attends the mainstream lessons, as they would in school, so they can support the child on the call and in follow-up sessions.
  • Setting up breakout rooms as part of the mainstream lessons, so that Teaching Assistants can support certain students with SEND during independent work.
  • Reminding the teacher about the needs of a particular child and how particular strategies might be adapted for online learning.

5. Look at your interventions offer. Where intervention sessions can take place remotely, they should. Think creatively about how they might be adapted, so that a child can still get support with reading, maths, handwriting, emotional regulation (or whatever they normally access) while they are at home.

6. Contact your external providers of intervention. Make sure you know how external providers that support your children (therapists, advisory teachers, family support workers) are continuing to support during school closure.

7. Create a list of children who will need check-in phone calls. Try to engage as many adults as possible in making these calls, so it is not left entirely to the SENDCO (Teaching Assistants, form tutors, Heads of Year), and work out in each case whether these will be daily or weekly. You might provide some suggested questions that colleagues could ask the children, such as:

  • What is your daily routine?
  • What are you doing to relax?
  • What are you doing that is helpful to others?
  • Which subject are you enjoying the work for?
  • Is there one subject you’re doing less work for?
  • How are others supporting you at the moment?

Work out who your colleagues making calls should feedback to, so their feedback is not lost.

8. Consider the support that parents need. How regularly should certain parents be called, either to check in on their wellbeing or to talk through some of the tasks the children have to do that day/week?

9. Ask teachers to reflect on the students whom they teach – which students do they provide the most support for in their teaching? Ask them to try and make time to phone these students, to give quick feedback, to provide reassurance and to show that these students are being kept in mind.

10. Stay in touch with pastoral teams. It’ll be important for you to be aware of pastoral issues, so you can work efficiently and deal with issues quickly – perhaps by offering a place in your in-school provision, contacting the parent or child more regularly or providing additional academic or emotional support.

Most of all, make sure you are aware and in the loop of whole-school systems. Sit in on some remote lessons, get feedback from as many people as possible and remember the power of one check-in phone call for a child or family who feel isolated.

What makes a great SENDCO

What attributes do you need to be a great SENDCO? Though I have often failed in my attempts at greatness, my experience working with 19 SENDCOs across 10 schools has helped me to recognise some of the aspects that get you closer to greatness.

Here’s my top 10 of what I think makes a great SENDCO:

Positivity

When others feel that a student ‘can’t remember things’, ‘won’t behave’ or ‘can’t cope in mainstream’, you need to be the voice of positivity. You must be the advocate for their successful inclusion.

Calm

When others are showing high emotion, you must be the calm voice of reason. This might be the way you deescalate a situation in class, the way you reassure a new teacher or the manner in which you listen to and support a parent. Where others reach for the panic button, you must show calm.

Rapport

You might be called upon as the one who can get a child to pick up the pen, put down the chair or come out of the cupboard. You might be the one to coax a child back into school, to cajole them to apply for sixth-form or to convince them that their voice is listened to. Your ability to have built rapport with that child will be invaluable when things get difficult.

Boldness

The best SENDCOs are constantly in corridors and classrooms. They are dipping into lessons, noticing things before they escalate and reassuring staff and students about what they are doing well. It takes a bold SENDCO to consider themselves able to walk into any classroom in a school, knowing that being nosey is an important part of leading SEND. Positive feedback to all can help this but it can take some boldness to be in and out of classrooms in this way.

To strive for expertise

Like many SENDCOs, I started the role knowing barely a fraction of what I needed to know about SEND. Every term I learn about new approaches and often about whole need types that I haven’t previously come across. I frequently go into meetings or classrooms and leave feeling like my current knowledge hasn’t prepared me for it in any way. The willingness to always strive for expertise is much more important than considering yourself to be an expert.

Perspective

Some tasks make your desk neater and your to do list shorter; other tasks transform the practice of a teacher or the education of a child. Being able to select the most impactful tasks, rather than those that might be high on your own organisational to do list, is a skill in itself.

To let go of perfection

As per the previous point, you must know that some things can remain messy and be okay. You may not have prize-winning annual review paperwork, a gold-standard exam access arrangements folder or the prettiest display, but if the children, staff and parents/carers within a school community rate your leadership of SEND, you’re choosing the right jobs to do well.

Status

This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on SLT. Having influence at the top level is invaluable; being given 5 different areas of the school to oversee is not. You need to be someone who colleagues feel is worth going to when they need support or want to share some good news. That doesn’t mean knowing everything there is to know about SEND – it means being a hardworking and supportive colleague.

An open door

The very real need to get on with your work can be frequently kyboshed by interruptions. The desire to work efficiently doesn’t marry up with being available, in a busy school environment. Striking a balance between being available often and protective of your time when you need to be, is a tricky one.

A teaching timetable

I truly believe in the need to be able to talk as a practicing teacher. You must be able to share how you approach an element of teaching and learning or behaviour management. You must not forget what you are asking teachers to do in the classroom by meeting the needs of all learners. The most powerful way to ensure that is by teaching yourself.

Some caveats are needed to the above:

  1. I would love to have all the attributes above. I fail often.
  2. I have worked with 19 SENDCOs across 10 mainstream schools over 5 years. My conclusions are based on reflections drawn from working with this excellent group of colleagues, rather than from a statistical evidence base.
  3. There are many ways to be great. What’ll work for one setting and SENDCO won’t work for another. The above are themes – they won’t be a checklist.

I believe in the transformative ability of the SENDCO role. It puts you in the enormously privileged position of advocating for children who may need an advocate the most.

I also believe it’s a difficult job and that it’s easy to do it badly, even with a great deal of hard work and commitment, through a lack of some of the attributes above.

The list is not exhaustive. There’ll be many things I’ve missed. But I hope this list is a reminder that the SENDCO role, when done well, is one of the most important leadership roles in a school.

Performance management and the Teaching Assistant role

Why have performance management?

With social distancing, the TA role is tougher than ever. Why focus on performance management when the role is so pressured already? Is performance management important for TAs when good performance doesn’t ordinarily get financial reward? I argue here why, though it is not one of the explicit recommendations from the EEF, I believe performance management is a vital tool for supporting colleagues and improving practice.

The concerns of a Teaching Assistant

The complaints of a Teaching Assistant, in my experience, are about not being valued. They’re about not being listened to, not being given feedback or not receiving recognition for the vital role they do. They’re about no one taking an interest in the difficulties of the role or the skill it entails. They’re about people not recognising the professionalism of their role. Performance management, when done well, can help to acknowledge and act upon all these gripes and more.

Providing acknowledgement

Having a good PM process gives hardworking staff acknowledgement of their efforts and successes. It allows good practice to be noticed, acknowledged and shared widely. It allows the good practice of one colleague to be seen by others. It reassures you as a SENDCO that every child is getting provision from staff who are being supported to improve each year. It shows the TA that every role in the school is valued and is therefore worth doing well.

Keeping it neutral

The aim is not to catch people out. However, if you have concerns about a staff member’s ability to fulfil their role well, it gives you a structure for seeing it and for providing support in a way that doesn’t appear to be personally targeted at that person. Constructive feedback becomes part of a process by which all staff improve their practice, rather than a process of individually targeting certain members of staff.

Staff progression

It also links to staff progression. Sometimes TAs will go up a pay point by virtue of meeting their targets each year. However, even if pay progression is not part of the process, PM processes can still be a vital tool for progression. It helps to facilitate a discussion around an intervention they might begin to lead, about some training they could attend or about how they could support a newer member of staff. It might uncover an interest in speech and language that becomes a good bit of development for the TA, which ultimately extends the provision you can offer in your school.

The process

I’ve tried a range of approaches with developing performance management and there will certainly some amendments in this (hopefully) unique year, but I believe a good process involves the following:

By November: all TAs have been met for a brief meeting with the SENDCO, in which their current deployment is discussed. You jointly agree 2-3 targets, discussing any training or support needs, as well as agreeing what success might look like. Targets might be linked to particular areas of practice, i.e. 1 for leading interventions and 1 for classroom practice.

At 2-3 points in the year: TAs are observed in a range of contexts, at points that make sense within your school’s calendar. These might be grouped around when teachers have their observations, to show clear parity; they might be grouped around when you have interventions up and running throughout the school. Consider the level of formality here – it could be that you sit in the corner for 15 minutes and watch a TA, clipboard in your hand, completing a feedback sheet related to the agreed targets. However, it could also be much more informal. You might be in the class to work with a child, notice some excellent work of a colleague and decide that this is the most appropriate thing to call an observation. Whatever the level of formality, I believe written feedback is always vital in showing that there is a process being followed and a profession that is being acknowledged, valued and developed.

In the summer term: TAs are met by the SENDCO. Together you review the year, its successes and its challenges. You discuss the targets that were agreed and review the written feedback that was given. This leads to a discussion about deployment and development for the following year.

The aim is not to create a culture of fear. It is not to catch people at their worst. It is to show staff across the school that, to be done well, the TA role takes skill, thought, training and feedback. It shows everyone that TAs should be on the same process of professional development that teachers are. Ultimately, it validates the role in a way that can only benefit the children, who deserve excellent practice from all adults.

Autism Spectrum Disservice – the wait to be assessed and the way forward for schools

I put this Tweet out in early October:

This tweet seemed to be received with empathy – 1500 Retweets, 4,000 likes. The Tweet was seen 350,000 times. Of comments shared in response to the Tweet (follow the link here if you should wish to), I saw these 10 things in the responses:

  1. It’s a disgrace.

Plenty of people are ashamed of the current situation and concerned about the impact on their children or their students. Adults talked with sadness about their feeling of missing out on the opportunity for self-learning, self-advocacy and accessing services that can come with a diagnosis. Plenty of people put the blame for this at the hands of the Government.

2. It’s (almost) a national disgrace.

It’s a postcode lottery. Some Local Authorities see the patient within 12 weeks; others who live in the neighbouring Authority will have to wait years.

3. It’s an international issue.

Tweets from the US and Australia echoed the issue of unacceptable waiting times.

4. The wealth gap prevents parity…

Those who can afford it, get seen within weeks and have a diagnostic report in a handful of months. Those who can’t afford it go without.

5. …but going private doesn’t always help.

Even for those who can afford private assessment, there are NHS services that give less weight to a privately-sought diagnosis – the National Autistic Society share this as a concern on their website.

6. COVID’s made it all worse.

If waiting times were bad before, as this British Medical Association report from 2019 suggests, they’re really dire now.

7. We shouldn’t blame CAMHS.

Many people came out in defence of the individuals working with total professionalism, skills and commitment within under-resourced CAMHS services. Funding shortages, coupled perhaps with an increased awareness of the symptoms of autism (as well as, arguably, an increased social acceptance of autism) leads to more requests for assessment and less capacity to meet those requests.

8. Frustrations don’t end with diagnosis.

Frustrations with the service don’t end when you get diagnosed; plenty of people note the lack of services to support people even when they do have the diagnosis.

9. We’re pathologising our children.

One response was critical of people’s rush to diagnose, rather than to comfort, support or understand. Though not indicative of the majority of responses, it argues that fewer people should be seeking diagnosis in the first place.

10. 4 years isn’t atypical – and it’s not the worst either.

24% of respondents in a recent Autistic Girls Network study waited over 3 years for a diagnosis. Almost unbelievably, 7 children in the same study were found to have waited over 8 years for assessment.

Solutions

Where solutions were offered, they tended to be in one of 2 directions:

  1. Complain.
  2. Add capacity.

The British Medical Association report, itself tellingly called Failing a Generation, is startlingly similar in its summing up of how to improve the situation:

Solutions that support school leaders

Neither of these solutions offer immediate solutions for schools though. While systemic change and additional resources are needed in order to assess the high number of children in UK schools currently on waiting lists, school leaders cannot wait for systemic change. They need to act now, ensuring they can:

  1. Recognise the symptoms of autism in young people, making an informed judgement on whether or not an autism diagnosis may be likely if assessed.
  2. Understand the types of support that would benefit a particular individual who is pre-assessment.
  3. Create a school environment in which autistic children and young people, irrespective of diagnosis, can thrive and belong.

This is no mean feat. A positive step would not be under-qualified or inexperienced SENDCOs diagnosing their students with autism. I write this ss someone who started as a SENDCO knowing far too little to do the job well. However, progress would look like:

  1. A much wider range of autism services being open to working with children, young people and their families pre-diagnosis. This would include Local Authority outreach services working to support SENDCOs with their provision for a child, even if the child has not yet had an assessment for autism.
  2. Closer clinical partnership between education and clinical settings, i.e. for SENDCOs to discuss the children and young people they believe would qualify for diagnosis, gaining feedback from (i.e.) a paediatrician as to likely causes of, and supports for, the difficulties they describe. This might be a form of triage service, which all school leaders can access at the point of referral.
  3. Subsidised training for all SENDCOs and school leaders who wish to access it, to support them to recognise the symptoms of autism, putt in place support for children who may be autistic, and to create a suitable school environment for a neurodiverse school population.

Practical ways to meet parents/carers 3 times per year

“Where a pupil is receiving SEN support, schools should talk to parents regularly to set clear outcomes and review progress towards them, discuss the activities and support that will help achieve them, and identify the responsibilities of the parent, the pupil and the school. Schools should meet parents at least three times each year.”

SEN Code of Practice, 2014

How to do it

As SENDCOs, we have a duty to do many things, including meeting parents 3 times per year. But meeting parents takes a lot of time. In spite of its many benefits, finding the time is not always easy. The National SENCO Workload Survey reported such meetings as being the second most time-consuming task for SENDCOs. As you look ahead to how you want to work with parents and carers, consider some of the following as your ways to meet all parents/carers of children on the SEND register, at least 3 times per year:

a. tell parents that your door is open. It’s up to them to come, should they wish to. Doing so, you’ll see some parents a great deal, but others not at all.

b. hold coffee mornings or information events explicitly for parents of children with SEND. This way, you can provide support and guidance, as well as some peer support.

c. latch on to appointments that parents are having with teachers anyway. When particular parents come in to review a PSP, return from an exclusion or receive a Headteacher’s award, go along also. Parents can find this more convenient; it also provides joined-up thinking.

d. latch on to whole-school events, where you know parents will be attending anyway – a parents’ evening, an end of term assembly.

e. provide a weekly appointment slot (i.e. 20 minutes on a Tuesday morning, 2 slots available, bookable through your school office)

e. arrange appointments for all parents 3 times per year – a ‘SEND parent review day’ where all parents/carers get the chance to sit down with you or a colleague. Some thoughts follow on the logistics of this, and on ways to ensure that it can be a success.

SEND parent review day

It’s a rush, but you get lots of easy wins – the chance to tell a child that they need to read at home in front of their parent; the chance to request from a parent that they ensure their child has the right equipment for school, in front of their child; the chance for parent (and child, where appropriate) voice to be genuinely heard. How do you make this realistic, especially if your SEND register has 100+ names on it?

  • Get administrative support wherever possible. Even if you don’t regularly have administrative support, try to source some for this purpose at least. The ‘statutory duty’ argument goes a long way with some Headteachers.
  • Share out the load amongst other staff if possible – could your line manager in school take some appointments? Would you be able to share some out with support staff?
  • Don’t make them long appointments in most cases. Try to stick to 20-minute appointments, in which you review and update the child’s pupil profile/1-page summary of need (having this piece of paper, though it may sound unimportant, helps to facilitate the meeting and provide focus). Children with EHCPs will of course also have separate, longer meetings through their annual review.
  • Use parents’ evenings as the middle time you meet with parents.
  • Keep meetings very focused – a chance to set/review specific targets. Know your own limitations and don’t try and solve every problem the parent may have – use your local SENDIASS; know contact details for the local Housing Association, for early help services in your Local Authority, for Citizens Advice, for free legal advice.
  • Although keeping the meeting focused (i.e. around strategies and targets for the year), make sure you are genuinely listening to the parent in those meetings.
  • Make sure you fit in time to be giving positive messages to parents about their child’s progress.
  • Book an appointment with the parent even if there is nothing in particular to report. Parents will mostly be happy having a meeting that doesn’t have any negative headlines!
  • Be careful not to define the child by their SEND. For a parent, their child’s SEND may be something they disagree with, or deny, or are fearful of, or saddened by; it will certainly only be a description of one aspect of them, rather than the thing that defines them. Show that you know there is much more to their child than a particular area of deficit.

Every year, I’m aware of the need to improve parent/carer partnership further. In a busy school, it’s easy to forget to make time for the people who aren’t normally in front of you in the way your pupils are. But by making a plan for the year, it can help you to ensure that parent meetings do happen, that you meet your statutory duty and that these vital stakeholders help you to do right by the children on your SEND register.