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A new role for us monitoring Sencos - what will it mean?

April 15, 2008 12:00 AM
By Janette Owen
School sign


The role of special educational needs coordinators (Sencos) comes under scrutiny this month as the government launches a consultation paper aimed at beefing up their status in schools.

Currently, Sencos can be found in a wide variety of places in the school staffing structure, depending on the size and organisation of the school, and in some places the role is carried out by a teaching assistant. Now the Department for Children, Schools and Families is keen to boost their influence by ensuring that they are qualified teachers and by making them a member of the senior leadership team or, where that is not possible, designating a member of the senior team to champion the special needs cause.

The one-off cost of the proposed changes is estimated at £4.4m, spread over two years, and draft regulations charge governors with the responsibility of making sure that this happens.This new emphasis on the role of Sencos comes, coincidentally, as the Tories reveal that one in 14 pupils left school in England last year without sitting a GCSE in English and maths.

About 44,100 pupils did not attempt the exam in either subject, according to a written answer obtained by the shadow schools secretary, Michael Gove, despite a government target that schools should ensure that at least 30% of pupils get five good GCSEs, including English and maths. In July 2006, the education and skills select committee on special educational needs (SEN) recommended that all Sencos should be qualified teachers, in a senior management position in school, and that they should have appropriate training.

The government says: "Sencos have a key role to play within schools to ensure effective provision for children with SEN and disabilities, and the government wishes to strengthen the role of Sencos within the leadership and management arrangements in school."

It has produced draft regulations that "require the governing body to define the role of Senco in relation to the leadership and management of the school" and "require the governing body to monitor the action of the Senco in relation to key areas of the role".In more detail, governors are expected to support, advise on, participate in and monitor the effectiveness of their school's SEN provision - and that includes overseeing pupils' records, securing services from outside agencies and liaising with parents.

While no one would argue against providing more help for less able students, the striking feature of all this in respect of governance is that it goes way beyond our usual strategic, hands-off role. Getting involved with SEN support at this level will mean dabbling with the organisational and managerial aspects of school - and could easily lead to conflict with the headteacher. A governor designated to focus on SEN provision is going to need a great deal of training to be able to play an active, and constructive, supporting role if the proposals are accepted.

And will governing bodies be able to delegate these new powers to the head? Unlikely, particularly as the draft regulation says that the head or acting head can become the Senco. All governors can have their say on these proposals in a consultation that runs until June 17.