The idea is to stop teaching assistants or other support staff gaining crucial Senco role
All special educational needs co-ordinators (Sencos) will have to be fully qualified teachers under new government proposals.
The move will affect the growing number of schools that have given the post to unqualified staff, such as teaching assistants. Under the proposals, by September 2009 all new Sencos will have to be qualified teachers. Those already in the job for at least six months will have until September 2011 to qualify.
Nasen, the professional association for people working in special needs, and the National Union of Teachers, have welcomed the move. But both are unhappy that the Government has backed down over plans to make it compulsory for Sencos to be members of the senior leadership team.
It will be enough for a "champion" of special needs to be part of management, with the work delegated to another staff member.
New research by Leeds University has found that only a third of secondary Sencos are on the leadership team, compared to 71 per cent in primaries, where the head often takes the role.
Nasen said it was essential for Sencos to be at the heart of school management in order to be able to liaise with governors, and to ensure money allocated to special needs was spent on it. The association said that because special needs funding is not ring-fenced, it can be taken for other areas of the school, such as ICT or buildings.
In the Leeds study, 30 per cent of Sencos questioned did not know how much money came into the school for special needs. It also found that 9 per cent of Sencos were not qualified teachers; the national proportion may be higher.
Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, said: "Senco is a strategic role, looking at how the children with special needs fit into the school improvement agenda, and going into classrooms to observe teachers. You wouldn't want a teaching assistant doing that; it is such an important post."
But some support staff who work as Sencos disagree. One, writing on the TES special needs forum, said they fulfilled the full range of higher- level duties, including whole-school training, checking teachers' lesson planning, induction training for NQTs, and compiling tracking statistics.
The teaching assistant wrote: "Some people just can't get over a TA being so competent to warrant such a job."
Headteachers' associations have welcomed the U-turn on Sencos having to be members of leadership teams, but do not agree that Sencos need to be qualified teachers.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "It is old-fashioned to assume that only a qualified teacher has the skills to be a Senco.
"Support staff fulfil many top-level jobs in schools today, and in many cases have more specialist knowledge and flexibility in their schedules, which makes them better suited to the role.
"Likewise, it would be wrong to dictate to schools that a Senco must sit on the leadership team. Heads are best placed to decide how to organise a school's leadership".
Consultation on the plans, which can be viewed at dcsf.gov.uk, ends on June 17.
SENCOS: WHAT THE RESEARCH UNCOVERED
- At least 9 per cent were not qualified teachers.
- Nearly 70 per cent in secondary schools have more than 10 hours per week to do this part of their job, but half of those questioned said it took them 30 hours.
- Researchers received "frequent comments" from Sencos about overwork and the burden of bureaucracy.
- 44 per cent of secondary Sencos and 38 per cent of primary Sencos plan to retire before 2012.
- One Senco working with 119 pupils with special needs wrote: "I rarely get to carry out long-term strategic plans because of the day-to-day paperwork and contact with parentsagencies, etc. I have little admin support and only two learning support assistants and a teaching load. This job is impossible under the circumstances."
- 71 per cent of primary Sencos are part of the senior management team, compared to only 33 per cent in secondaries. The difference is likely to be because primary heads often take on the role.
`The working lives of Sencos', by Leeds University, was commissioned by Nasen, the special needs association: 166 sencos in England were interviewed.