“Give SENCOs the time and resources they need to do their jobs”
Professor Adam Boddison, outgoing CEO of Nasen
Wednesday July 14, 2021
With more students requiring SEND support in our primary schools, it is imperative to scale up investments in the SENCO workforce, says Professor Adam Boddison, of the Nasen Association for Educational Needs special needs and people with disabilities.
In May 2021, the government released its latest data on the prevalence of SEND (special educational needs and / or disabilities) for schools in England.
For primary schools, the number of students with SEND decreased by almost 4,000 between 2019/2020 and 2020/2021. However, this reduction occurred against a background of 55,000 fewer students in primary schools in total.
The reality is therefore a marginal increase in the proportion of students with SEND from 14.55% in 2019/2020 to 14.64%. in 2020/2021. Likewise, the proportion of pupils with SEND with the most complex needs has increased in both preschools and primary schools.
With a greater proportion of students with SEND and an increasing complexity of needs, the role of SENCO (Special Education Needs Coordinator) is arguably more important than ever. It is therefore of great concern that research conducted by the University of Bath Spa and the special needs charity Nasen has consistently highlighted the barriers preventing SENCOs from effectively fulfilling their role.
Too much paperwork
the SENCO National Workforce Survey 2020 demonstrated a constant lack of investment in the SENCO workforce in primary schools. As a result, SENCOs do not have enough time, support or resources to be able to effectively carry out their role.
SENCOs are highly qualified professionals. In addition to being qualified teachers, they must obtain the national Masters level award in SEN coordination, and many of them will have additional SEND credentials because they care deeply about their role. Given this expertise, it is a national tragedy that the limited time SENCOs have is too often spent on paperwork, rather than improving inclusive teaching and learning in their schools.
About four in five early stage SENCOs say paperwork takes up most of their time and this proportion is increasing. In practice, this means that school leaders deploy their highly skilled SENCOs as very expensive administrators. Only 15 percent of primary phase SENCOs have dedicated administrative support, and only one in ten has a SENCO deputy or SENCO assistant. This is an area in which school leaders could invest to maximize the impact of their SENCO.
In addition to the limited time available to them, three-quarters of the primary phase SENCOs are regularly withdrawn to undertake non-SENCO tasks. SENCOs believe this may be because their role is understood by only about half of senior leaders and less than a third of the broader workforce.
A matter of investing time
Data from the workforce survey suggests that primary phase SENCOs have an average of about two days to take on the role of SENCO. While this may seem reasonably close to the two or three days recommended by the report’s authors, there are large variations in deployment and it is estimated that only 55% of SENCOs exceed the recommended minimum.
Government 2019 Education Committee Report on SEND recommended that the cost implications of having a full-time SENCO in each school be explored. The current rate of increase in time allocated to primary phase SENCOs between 2018 and 2020 suggests that it would take almost 150 years for primary school SENCOs to become full time.
For students with the most complex needs, it is estimated that it will take almost 25 years for SENCOs to have enough time to meet their needs, unless the pace of change accelerates rapidly.
The government does not currently specify the minimum time required to assume the role of SENCO. Now is the time to urgently invest time, support and resources in our SENCOs.
- Professor Adam Boddison is the outgoing CEO of nasen – a charity that supports and advocates for those who work with and for children and young people with SEND and learning differences.