Our children in need

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Helping your pupils may be your priority as a Senco, but how can you also keep their interests top of the agenda? Susanna Pinkus has some suggestions

As a special educational needs co-ordinator, you may already have discovered that one of the toughest parts of the job isn't the challenge posed by the children, but the problem of how to win the hearts and minds of your colleagues. They no doubt have their own curriculum or pastoral priorities, so how can you enthuse others and keep special needs at the forefront of your school agenda?

Extend your support network

Establish good working relationships with local authority colleagues. Be active in special needs forum meetings. Make links with Sencos in neighbouring schools and share ideas and resources with them.

Get to know your borough's Adva-nced Skills Teachers (ASTs). It is likely there will be at least one teacher who specialises in special needs. And best of all, ASTs' services are free to your school.

Value your teaching assistants

Teaching assistants are often a vital element of support in schools. Foster their continued professional development and ensure that they have the same opportunities as teaching colleagues to attend courses and have a voice in the school community.

Strive to keep their paperwork to a minimum while maximising its usefulness. Have everything on a weekly A4 sheet with a timetable on one side and comments on the other, under two headings: "What went well this week?" and "What was difficult?"

Think outside the box

If resources don't stretch far enough, think creatively. There is usually a way around it. Parents and community volunteers can often fill the gaps and bring an invaluable wealth of knowledge and experience to the children.

Mid-term admissions Be proactive in identifying new children who may have additional needs. Ask to see their files when they arrive in school, before they go to the class teacherform tutor. This will help give you a chance to identify new charges who might fall under your remit.

Develop governor links

Every state school has a special needs governor. Meet yours regularly to brief them and discuss priorities. Their awareness and support can help keep special needs firmly on the governing body's agenda. With your head's permission, send your governor a termly update on special needs matters.

Build capacity

Encourage and support all staff to develop knowledge and teaching skills in special needs and do not restrict courses to members of your own department only. You want enthusiasm and passion for special needs to spread throughout the school.

Offer to swap roles with class teachers from time to time. You can teach the class while they support.

Track progress

Track the impact of interventions on children and their learning. Develop tracking systems which fit with existing procedures.

Tracking is important, but remember to keep a balance - just because you continually measure something doesn't make it taller.

Revisit policies

Once your special needs policy is up and running, look again at other policies to check how they all fit together. Marking and behaviour policies, in particular, may need to be revised in light of a new special needs policy. Trial new policies for a set period and encourage feedback from colleagues to promote collegial ownership.

Relationships with parents

Evaluate how you work with parents. How do they feel about the relationship they have with you and other special needs staff? What suggestions do they have which could help improve home-school links?

Send out questionnaires to parents asking for feedback about their communications with school. Remember to give them the option to respond anonymously.

Provision mapping

Ensure that you know what each child under your care is receiving in terms of support and teaching. Do a quick overview each term on an A4 grid, the children's names down the side and what provision is available across the top. Indicate with a tick who is receiving what, to ensure effective distribution of resources.

Remember, provision mapping does not need to be complicated - simpler is often better

Susanna Pinkus is a SencoAdvanced Skills Teacher in special needs in the London borough of Harrow. She is also an academic affiliated to the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

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