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Training makes sense for sencos

Thorough training is essential for special needs co-ordinators (sencos), says Michelle Ojo. Without it, she believes she would spend every day chasing her own tail.

The 34-year-old senco at North Beckton primary, in Newham, east London, is responsible for 18 children with conditions ranging from dyslexia to autism and Down's syndrome.

Under proposals announced by the Government this week all sencos will have to complete a nationally accredited qualification. Ms Ojo welcomes this.

She insists she would be unable to cater for every child's needs if she had not taken a two-year training course provided by her local authority.

"Without training I wouldn't be able to keep on top of things," she said.

"I'd be walking around blindly, chasing my own tail. It's the children who lose out. They need the right support to be able to progress academically, socially and physically."

The proposals follow recommendations made by the Commons select committee on education. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said: "We must strengthen support for teaching children with special educational needs, to ensure we have the right expertise in the classroom."

The new qualification will equip sencos with knowledge of the most common problems and contact details for expert organisations. And from now on all sencos will have to be qualified teachers. Increasingly, schools have been appointing teaching assistants.

Ms Ojo believes that sencos should be part of the senior management team.

"You're involved in the day-to-day running of special needs," she said.

"You also have to make sure the whole staff get the training they need."

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: "The training of sencos is crucial. But there will have to be additional pay for additional qualifications."

The select committee's hard-hitting report, published in July, called for a radical overhaul of the way pupils with special needs are taught. This included national guidance on when and how statements of special needs are issued. But local authorities will retain the power to determine what type of provision they offer.

Lorraine Peterson, of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, said: "We're disappointed there won't be a national agenda. There will still be 150 local authorities with 150 different ways of doing things. It's still a postcode lottery." Brian Lamb, of the Special Education Consortium, disagreed. He said: "A fundamental review of the system would just bring paralysis for the next few years, while everyone stares at their navel. But we need to radically improve the system. ."

The Government has also committed itself to establishing a dyslexia trust, funded by private sponsors, which will offer training grants for schools and local authorities. The recipients will provide specialist support to their own pupils and work with other local schools. A national programme of professional development will be delivered, initially focusing on speech, language and communication problems.

But Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, is unhappy with the Government's response. "I'm deeply, deeply angry," he said. "It's complacent and doesn't recognise the need for improvement at all. It's just as parents have claimed all along: government isn't listening."

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