Three years ago, when I first imagined what a SENCO Survey might achieve, I spent a lot of time wondering if it was even possible, and what the immediate impact for SENCOs would be. What would a truly empowered workforce look like? How much time did SENCOs actually need? Were we one homogenous group, or did the diversity of children's needs make up our profile? What would the depth and breadth of the role look like in practice, if SENCOs were actually able to do what they were legally required to do?
Three years on, we have both our initial research project, It’s About Time, and our newly-released second offering, The Time Is Now, looking at SENCO workload and its consequences (both of which can be found here). I believe we have been able to answer some of these questions above.
The SENCO workforce: the facts
We’re not a homogenous group in terms of the time required to do the role. SENCOs in secondary need more time than those in primary schools. This stands to reason given the greater number of pupils on roll. School SENCOs with higher numbers of SEND pupils also require more time than their counterparts in similar-sized schools, but with fewer children or young people with SEND.
The challenges SENCOs face vary, however lack of time, lack of support, lack of consistency across local authorities, and lack of status within schools are pervasive themes across the country.
So, we now know how much time SENCOs think they might need, and we know there is currently no consistent approach across schools nationally. But the evidence from both our research projects, along with wider findings in the Education Select Committee report, the National Audit Office report, and the Timpson Review into exclusions, demonstrates we are still some way off seeing a truly empowered workforce in practice.
It's understandable that some feel frustrated about the impact of their SENCOs, especially if they appear not to be meeting their legal duties. However, the overarching message from our research has been that for significant improvements nationally, SENCOs need:
- better admin support,
- a more consistent approach to EHCP processes across LAs,
- protected time,
- to be on the school’s Senior Leadership Team
What would be the impact of a truly empowered SENCO workforce?
It’s complex: too complex for words in a blog, which is why I’ve created a diagram below to explain it more simply (warning, you’ll need your glasses). But my predictions are that we would see very significant gains from empowering our SENCOs. I believe:
- the numbers of exclusions would fall as pupils are better supported.
- fewer young people would leave school without qualifications of value, often leading to unemployment or episodes in the justice system.
- we’d see happier families who are less stressed and more financially well-off, given the huge numbers of parent/carers who have had to leave jobs to become unpaid advocates/ carers/ lawyers/ doctors/ physiotherapists/speech and language therapists and home educators, as well as being Mum or Dad.
- we’d have teachers who feel better supported when teaching students with SEND.
The financial value of an empowered workforce
All of these outcomes have financial value. Not permanently excluding someone saves the national purse at least £370,000 per pupil, according to research conducted by the Institute for Public Policy. A pupil getting good qualifications means better life outcomes, better employment opportunities, less demand on our ever crumbling social care. Not going to Tribunal over an Education Health and Care Plan saves the national purse between £3500-11000 per case, according to SNJ’s own research.
Every child with SEND who flourishes in a mainstream school rather than specialist provision, saves the public purse between £23-40,000 per year per child, according to the Education Policy Institute. Every empowered parent, able to go back to work, confident their child is happy, in good hands at school, will not only gain financially but so will our economy. In comparison with these gains, the cost of empowering SENCOs is minuscule.
Let's try it and find out
So, is it worth it trialling? Surely it’s worth finding out?
We may not see seismic changes overnight; it might even take years to feel the full impact. But for every child who thrives because their school includes them, or for every family who can go on holiday and laugh again because their financial stresses have been eased, it’s a step towards a victory for equality and diversity.
I know our SENCOs want to have an opportunity to make a difference in their schools. As the SEND Code of Practice (2015) is being reviewed this year, and real change is a possibility, I believe the time to make that difference is now.
Here is a visual diagram explainer of the surveys’ findings and my opinion about their potential impact. See the PDF in full resolution here
Hannah Moloney is a SEND specialist with many years’ experience of the education and care sector. Her passion is working to build recognition for children with special educational needs and disabilities through strategic development of education, health and social care partnership working. You can find out more at here: www.hannahmoloney.co.uk and www.generationCAN.org.uk
- The devastating impact of the SENCo workload - first survey
- SENCO basics: My research defining the role of the modern SENCO (Hannah Moloney)
- The SENCo – parent relationship: Making it work to benefit the SEND child
- The role of the SENCO: what do you need to know? (Malcolm Reeve)
- Advice for SENCos – the parents’ perspective from Hayley Goleniowski
- Are Access Arrangements given unfairly? Three reasons why we need a review of the system
- School leadership and SEND ignorance
- SEND children are being “traumatised” by not getting the help they need in schools
- One mum’s tough decision – Mainstream or Special School for her daughter with Down’s
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