Gerald Haigh finds there are many ways of making the SEN co-ordinator's job a lot less stressful.
The Special Needs Code of Practice sets out seven key areas of responsibility for special needs co-ordinators. These can be summarised as: running the SEN policy day-to-day; advising colleagues; co-ordinating actual provision for SEN children; keeping the SEN register; liaising with parents; co-ordinating in-service training and liaising with outside agencies.
There's a good case for saying that it can't be done. At the very least, if you want to achieve a high standard in all those areas, then you're probably going to be disappointed. In a big secondary school, after all, there may be 200-300 students on the special needs register.
One secondary Senco - anonymous because she's on sick leave, suffering from stress - says: "You can never do this job well enough. You can never do enough individual education plans, never enough liaison with other teachers, never enough contact with parents. You can never keep up with the memos and the messages."
Inevitably, this has given rise to a great deal of paperwork - targets, individual education plans, measurements, records, summaries, notes of meetings. The result is that most Sencos are constantly torn between administration and the needs of the students.
Some of the paperwork is probably unnecessary.
Much of it, though, is an inevitable part of the job of keeping track of the students, and it has to be done.
There are Sencos in primary and secondary schools and each sector has its problems.
For primary Sencos, the big issue is time. Some primary Sencos are freed from full-time teaching, but it's more likely that in a small to medium-sized primary, the Senco will have half a day of non-contact time a week.
This will be taken up almost entirely by work with individual children or meetings with parents or local authority officials, leaving admin to be done at home. (And this teacher will be doing the same classroom preparation as all her colleagues).
In the secondary sector, the challenge is to make special needs provision into a whole-school responsibility. The Code of Practice emphasises that every classroom teacher has to take a share of the responsibility for children on the special needs register.
How does the Senco reach out to include, say, the history specialist in the whole process of assessing a student's special needs, judging how to meet them, and then working with colleagues to do the appropriate teaching?
A chorus of Sencos nationwide will cry: "When you find out, let me know."
The most potent force for maing the Senco's job possible lies with senior management, who choose priorities and values which, in turn, stem from the head and governors. The level of commitment to special needs, reflected in the status, time and support given to the Senco, is the most important factor in making the job possible.
Aside from that, there are some practical things that the Senco can do.
The most oft-repeated advice is to keep organised - use coloured boxes and files to keep different kinds of work separate. Delegate specific tasks to colleagues whenever you can.
Use the wisdom and willingness of special needs assistants. Keep targets and IEPs brief and manageable. Use pro formas for as much paperwork as you can. Lobby hard for admin support - a half-day a week could transform your job. Perhaps most important, learn to say "No".
The willing Senco can easily be put upon, and the role must be clearly defined within the school, and boundaries understood and supported by senior management.
The computer - especially a laptop - will hold pro formas of all kinds ready for you to complete. It can keep all your IEPs in a form where it's easy to change them or summarise them.
It can help you write letters to parents and other agencies, and remind you of deadlines and meetings. And if you have good software on the school network, it can be a means whereby colleagues across the school are kept informed .
If the school has a management information system such as SIMs, check whether it has modules or sections for Sencos . Other software suppliers have more specific products - many Sencos, use IEP Writer, designed by experienced special needs teachers.
More ambitious is IEP Developer, designed for secondary schools. It sits on the network and draws every teacher into the process of assessing and planning for the needs of each child on the SEN Register. This new product is ambitious and needs support from senior management.
It has drawn praise from Ofsted teams.
Every Senco should be a member of NASEN, (National Association for Special Educational Needs) as it is a source of valuable information.
For primary, PfP Publishing has a range of products for Sencos, and The Stationery Office has a newsletter - Senco Solutions.
For internet help , The Stationery Office has a school management website which addresses special needs issues.
The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) has a large inclusion section on its website. Search the DFEE site using Senco or SEN for helpful papers.
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