All new special educational needs co-ordinators (sencos) will have to undergo government-approved training courses under new rules, the government has announced.
Lord Adonis, schools minister, revealed the plans in a bid to improve the status of sencos and improve provision for their pupils.
Speaking at the Voice annual conference for education professionals on Tuesday, the minister insisted that the training would be flexible and dependent on each senco's experience. Around pound;30 million has been set aside for the training over the next three years.
It is also proposed that all undergraduate trainee teachers should take a special needs module and have more chances to go on placements in special school SEN units.
Nasen, the association of special educational needs professionals, said the move was vital to attract younger teachers into the job.
Lorraine Petersen, chief executive, said: "We estimate around 45 per cent of sencos plan to retire before 2012, so we must recruit a new wave to replace these dedicated and passionate individuals coming to the end of their careers. We are about to lose a lot of experience."
The announcement came as the Department for Children, Schools and Families confirmed that from September all sencos must be fully qualified teachers. Those who are not but have been in the job at least six months will have until September 2011 to qualify. Research from Nasen suggests that this could affect 10 per cent of sencos.
Lord Adonis stopped short of insisting that a senco would have to be part of the senior leadership team in every school but said there must be a SEN "champion" at management level. Schools will also be urged to designate a governor to focus on special educational needs.
He told conference delegates that there were "long standing concerns" over training and support for sencos, and that the new plans would raise their status in the eyes of children and parents.
However, the Association of School and College Leaders has already said that assuming only a qualified teacher has the skills to be a senco is "old fashioned".
But Lord Adonis told The TES that he was "uncompromising" in his view that schools could not be considered to be taking SEN seriously until sencos were "properly qualified and trained".
He added that sencos could still expect support from teaching assistants in administrative tasks.
l The Training and Development Agency for Schools is seeking views on senco training. To contribute, go to www.tda.gov.ukteacherssensenco_ consultation.aspx
27 YEARS IN THE JOB AND STILL UP FOR LEARNING
When Steve Coward first began working with special educational needs pupils, it was known as "remedial education".
But in the 27 years he has been senco at The Commonweal School in Swindon, it is not just the language that has changed; the role itself has become increasingly complex.
The 59-year-old now oversees a team of 30 staff and co-ordinates pupil support with a range of outside agencies, including social services, police and educational psychologists.
But Mr Coward said that many of the courses available to sencos only deal with the basic skills of working with pupils, so in the past he has had to arrange training in education management for himself through the Open University. As a result, he is all for compulsory training for sencos.
"About three years ago, we were the first secondary in Swindon to accept a blind student, who is now in Year 9 and doing well," he said. "But it took two years' preparation before we were ready to accept him, which gives an idea of the work involved."