The Sendco plays a vital role in any school. Supporting the children who need it most and enabling fellow teachers to fulfil their potential in the classroom are just parts of a job that comes with a lot of responsibility. But, along with that responsibility, you also get plenty of rewards, such as the chance to see pupils succeed and an improvement in your salary.
Whether he’s supporting teachers, counselling pupils or reassuring parents; there is no such thing as a typical day for Sendco, Matthew Wigg. Having held a Sendco role in multiple schools across a multi academy trust, Matthew has worked with a variety of pupils in both teaching and non-teaching roles. We spoke to him about the Sendco role and what makes it so important.
What made you want to become a Sendco?
"As I got into my third year of teaching there were a number of children on the SEN register, as it was then, and I felt that I really struggled to meet these children’s needs. I wasn’t sure whether I was doing the right thing. They weren’t making a huge amount of progress and it was something I felt I needed to find out more about for my own professional development."
What training do you need?
"You need to complete a year-long course [the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordinator] that involved eight face-to-face contact days where you learn about the history of SEND. There are two assignments; the first is a case study of a pupil in your school and the school setting itself, the second is a piece of work where you try something in school and see what the impact is on a group of learners.
"After that I went on to do the Advanced Sendco the next year. You can go on to do Sendco as Leaders, and that can lead into the National Qualification for Headship after that."
What skills do you need?
"In effect you’re very customer facing, even though it’s an educational setting. You are dealing constantly with parents, external agencies as well, so you need to be very good at speaking to people, as well as hosting and running meetings.
"More and more nowadays you’ve got to be able to analyse data to see whether the children are making the required progress. You need to have acquired leadership skills as you are managing and coaching teams of staff, whether it is support staff or working with teachers. Sendcos should be, I believe, on the leadership team in the school."
What does the Sendco role involve?
"As a Sendco the biggest thing is supporting teachers with strategies to try and help pupils in their class. Historically teachers would say, 'this child is SEND, I’m going to give him to the SENCO so they can take him out and do some group work with them', and that seems to be the way it used to work.
"At the moment, the teacher’s responsibility is to teach all children in their class, so it’s very much a role of saying to the teacher, 'what have we tried already? What worked? What didn’t?' It’s about supporting a strategy to see whether those children can make progress.
"My role also involves the line management of teaching assistants, and that’s not always the case with a Sendco, but all of the ones I know have that responsibility as well. So that’s looking at effective deployment of TAs, and the day-to-day time tabling and performance management of those members of staff.
"Working with parents is a big one. Parents of children with SEND can at times be quite challenging, primarily because they want the best for their child and often they may not have received that prior to the Sendco being involved.
"A big part of my role at the moment is social, emotional and mental health. The waiting lists, certainly in this area, are really long, so children and families aren’t necessarily getting the support they need. So it’s about working on an intermediate solution between those external agencies, schools and parents."
Do you still teach?
"My role is non-teaching but myself and the rest of the leadership team all go in and support in the classroom across different year groups. It’s so important to see the children working and you actually know who they are and a little bit about them.
"It’s a difficult balance to have. I’ve had different roles from being a full-time classroom teacher and being a Sendco, to having two days a week relief time, to now having in effect a free week. The time management aspect is challenging and it depends on whether the leadership team are on board and supportive of the role of the Sendco in the school."
What’s the best bit about your role?
"It is those real success stories; it can be a difficult job but also a very rewarding job. We had a pupil who was on the verge of permanent exclusion a year and a half ago. They had multiple fixed-term exclusions for breaching the school’s behaviour standards, but underlying there was a SEND, which was ADHD. It was really a case of not if this child got permanently excluded, but when.
"We got in some external support to help this child with their social, emotional and mental health. A local charity wanted to do some therapeutic work with the pupil and now they're here on a full timetable, engaging with their work and receiving very few behaviour consequences. That's the one I hold up as a case study. Its days like that that really make it worthwhile."
What’s the worst bit about your role?
"There is a huge amount of paperwork involved. You’ve got to make sure you have all your paperwork in order, particularly when you’re dealing with external agencies. Pretty much any external agency you work with will have a referral form, which is often quite a weighty document. You’ve also got to write reports and feed those back to parents. I’d love it if I had somebody to do my filing for me; that would be great!"
What’s the salary like?
"I receive a TLR for my Sendco role and there is also an SEN payment which Sendcos can receive. It should carry an additional payment in recognition of the role; I know it doesn’t always but that’s the expectation. If I was starting out again and didn’t have that I’d certainly be asking for it because the role does carry a high level of responsibility."
What could a Sendco do next in their career?
"My title now is inclusion manager, which incorporates pretty much everything. So that’s SEND, attendance, pupil premium, safeguarding, behaviour management; it’s a bit of everything. This is somewhere the role of the Sendco is potentially going. It’s a nice role actually, very varied.
"My career ambitions were always to have my own school in a headteacher role, and as a Sendco, the foundations are there for you to go on to headship if you want to. You need to know what high quality teaching looks like, and you need to have such a wide ranging knowledge across the school it really prepares you well for that role if you want to do that."
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a Sendco?
"While I was doing my training I was able to share the Sendco role. That’s probably a top tip for anyone who wants to become a Sendco. That took a lot of pressure off that first year, having somebody in school who’s already a Sendco and you can shadow them.
"What was really important was having experience across the year groups. I’ve taught every year group across the primary age range and that was vital in understanding the needs of all the learners in the group. I think if you’re restricted to just one year group it’s very difficult to support other teachers outside of that age group."
Matthew Wigg is inclusion manager at Wensum Junior School, Norwich, part of the Evolution Academy Trust.
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