Their complaints about the extra work that has been created by the hugely demanding special needs code of practice - ushered in by the 1993 Education Act - have been backed up by the findings of an NASUWT survey presented to the union's conference in Eastbourne last week.
To add insult to the special needs co-ordinators' injury, however, many of the delegates and the entire press corps, apart from The TES, did not appear to be greatly concerned about their problems because they rose from their seats and left the conference hall when the discussion on the survey started.
The survey of 1,226 maintained, grant-maintained and special schools in England and Wales revealed that the code had created more work for teachers in more than 80 per cent of schools. On average, schools were having to spend between three and four hours a week on activities directly related to the code, but 234 of the schools said that it was costing them six or more hours each week. Nevertheless, only 11.6 per cent of schools had employed an additional teacher to help to put the code into practice and just 19 per cent had recruited a special needs assistant.
Some of the extra work that the code has generated has been shouldered by class teachers, but the lion's share has had to be accepted by the SENCOs who are responsible for the day-to-day administration of their school's special needs policy, advising colleagues and liaising with parents and outside agencies - in addition to their own teaching duties.
The union is particularly concerned about the time that SENCOs, in conjunction with other teachers, are having to devote to the detailed individual education plans that are drawn up for pupils who reach stage 2 of the code's five-stage process that can culminate in the statementing of a child. In addition, many of them have also had to take on the task of drafting whole-school SEN policies that the governors of maintained schools are required to produce by September.
Two other factors have added to the SENCOs' problems. The closure of special schools - more than 100 have shut over the past decade - has increased the number of pupils in mainstream schools who have severe emotional or behavioural problems or who suffer from acute physical, sensory or intellectual impairment. And the continuing reluctance of many local education authorities to statement children means that schools are often not receiving the extra staffing and financial help that the pupils' problems demand.
Sheila Mountain, a Merton delegate, said that she was one of the many hard-pressed SENCOs. "We have 125 pupils - out of 420 - on the SEN register and 12 have statements. I am responsible for not only advising my colleagues but contributing to their in-service training and yet I have had no training myself. I thought I would receive some training when the code was introduced. How could I have been so naive?
"I have been told that virtually all the high-school SENCOs in our authority had some time off for a stress-related illness in the past year. It is hardly surprising."
Another delegate, Kathy Linfoot-Smith, said that as no extra resources had been provided to implement the code, SENCOs were "trying to do the impossible with the invisible. One of my colleagues has 18 statemented pupils to look after, a full-time job in itself. But she also has 150 pupils on the SEN register and gets only half-a-day off a week for her work as a co-ordinator. "
She argued that the union should help the "incredibly isolated" SENCOs by organising training for them. Conference, however, decided to endorse the approach of another co-ordinator, Sue Taylor of Wolverhampton, who said she had told her school's management that she couldn't - and wouldn't - do the work required of her unless additional staffing was provided.