5 ways senior leaders can better support Sendcos

The role of a Sendco often isn't fully understood by leaders, says Nicole Dempsey - as she offers some advice

Nicole Dempsey

sendco support

The Sendco role is unique. It’s one of only two statutory roles in a school (the other is headteacher), and the Sendco is required to have both qualified teacher status and a Sendco-specific master's level award. 

Being a Sendco also comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and having the understanding and support of the senior leadership team can be make or break. 

The 2018 SENCO workload survey found that less than half of Sendcos felt that the role was understood by their senior leadership team, and this dropped to just over a quarter for Sendcos working in secondary schools.  

The survey paints a problematic picture, with a 2020 update highlighting a lack of progress, but also making clear that those problems are surmountable. 

SEND: Tips for school leaders to improve support for their Sendcos 

In fact, it has never been more vital that the leadership of SEND becomes synonymous with great leadership of schools in general, so here are five simple starting points for senior leaders who want to begin that journey:

1. Develop a better understanding of the role

A great start for any educator is to read the SEND Code of Practice. This is the document that sets out how SEND needs should be met in schools, but it tends to be treated as a specialist document, often only read by Sendcos and SEND-specific practitioners.  

In reality, it is the bare bones of inclusive practice for all educators and, although it is not a short document, it is an important one for developing a whole-school understanding of our roles and responsibilities and how that fits into the wider system for supporting SEND in education. 

Next, read the Sendco workload survey and 2020 updates, as these bring the reality of implementing the code into razor-sharp focus, and list steps senior leaders should take in order to start to make improvements. 

And finally, but most importantly, speak to your Sendco.  What is the reality like for them? What do they need in order to get the best out of their role for themselves, for students with SEND, and for the school as a whole?

2. Prioritise the most precious resource

The first thing I have always asked for is time. In the workload survey, 70 per cent of Sendcos said they did not have enough time allocated to the role, and only 26 per cent felt that the role was manageable for one person.

The role is partly administrative, with plenty of paperwork and phone calls to keep someone busy before they can begin to think about strategic development of provision or improved inclusive practice for classroom teachers. The more time the Sendco has to commit to the role, the more they will be able to go beyond the basics and have more impact for more students.   

3. Introduce opportunities for networking

The Sendco role can be a very lonely one. They’re usually the only one in the school and if there’s a limited understanding of the role from those around them, it can be easy to feel isolated. Working in this way carries the risk of missing out on opportunities and developments in, and support from, the wider field.  

It may be that the local authority or your multi-academy trust has a Sendco network or, if not, engaging with a community of like-minded people online might give the Sendco some people to bounce ideas off and share resources with, and the chance to find out about CPD and networking opportunities. More than that though, it can help them to feel supported, in control and confident to push for the change that is needed for students with SEND.

4. Highlight shared accountability

Regular SEND-specific CPD for all staff doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. You can start by speaking about your students and what is working well for them. Plan support and provision in a way that focuses on improving the environment, supporting and upskilling staff, and adapting content as opposed to providing something separate for the student.

Something as simple as having SEND as a standing item on every department meeting agenda can start to spread responsibility for meeting all students’ need more fairly.

5. Have a clear vision for inclusion

There needs to be a clear shared vision for inclusion in your school and then every decision (not just decisions about SEND) needs to be made with that vision in mind. Before this can be set, the senior leadership team needs to understand the Sendco role, have a strong relationship with their Sendco and ensure they have the time, resources and connections they need.  

Part of that strategic vision needs to be conscious and well-considered deployment of the Sendco role. Is the Sendco an administrator of paperwork and processes, a deliverer of provision and support, a source of specialist knowledge, advocate for the vulnerable, or a leader of change for the better?  

The reality is probably a combination of all of these things, but knowing what ideal looks like and working towards it can help to create balance for the Sendco, as well as having a positive impact beyond the role itself.

Nicole Dempsey is assistant principal at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford

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