04 SES 03 A, School Leadership and Inclusive Education
The role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) has been an integral component to the inclusion of children and young people within English schools for more than two decades. It was first established in policy through the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (DfEE, 1994) and reinforced through subsequent revisions (DfES, 2001; DfE, 2013). Despite the statutory requirement for schools to have a SENCo, it has only been since 2009 that there has been a mandatory requirement of the person fulfilling that role to have specific training. Regulations came into force from 2009 (TDA, 2009) for any SENCo newly appointed to the role to complete the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NA SENCo) as a post-graduate certificate. This paper examines the perceived impact of the NA SENCo through the perspectives of SENCos themselves. Conclusions are drawn from SENCos who completed the Award and identified the improvements made to their pedagogy, their ability to coordinate and lead inclusive systems and how successfully they built partnerships with others.
SENCos in England facilitate a different role from many other European countries and has a unique strategic focus in comparison to international comparisons. Rather than being considered a ‘specialist teacher’, who may focus on remediating specific difficulties through working directly with the young person (Takala et al, 2009), the SENCo is primarily intended to facilitate systems of learning through developing the skills and attributes of others. The SENCo is also required to develop these systems through the building of partnerships internalised to the school (eg. head teacher, governor, parents) and those external to the school (eg. Local Authority advisors, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists). It is through these partnerships that a support network is meant to be created for the family and young person. The SENCo is often perceived as a key advocate for the inclusion of children and young people (CYP) with Special Educational Needs (SEN). However, the complexity of the role can often be problematic when combined with other additional responsibilities, although it has been argued that the SENCo may be best placed to fulfil these additional responsibilities it has the potential to limit their strategic effectiveness. Although this paper does not examine the complexity of the role, it is important to consider these aspects when evaluating post-graduate qualifications for teachers such as the NA SENCo.
The SENCo role can be perceived as being very anglo-centric. However, equivalent and similar roles exist in other European and international systems. In some cases the role is conceptualised as providing specialist pedagogical support (Vlachou 2006; Takala et al 2009) whilst in others it centres on leadership and organisational change (Lindqvist and Nilholm 2011). In other international contexts where the role is at a stage of infancy research suggests clarity is required to inform how best to prepare and support individuals in the role (Poon-McBrayer, 2012). Therefore developing a coherent understanding of the different ways in which the role has developed and supported across international boundaries is crucial for evidence-based’ policy making.
Literature on the ‘preparedness’ of those professionals associated with working with learners having Special Educational Needs (SEN) has mostly centred on those working in paraprofessional roles (Webster et al, 2011) as opposed to those with leadership responsibilities. Despite this, examinations of the effectiveness of professional development for teachers and SENCOs has primarily been reported within the British and Irish educational systems (Abbott, 2007; O’Gorman and Drury, 2010; Pearson and Gathercole, 2011). However, few of the studies have examined the specific impact the NA SENCo has had on the specific competencies specified in the course design.
Abbott, L. 2007. Northern Ireland Special Educational Needs Coordinators creating inclusive environments: an epic struggle. European Journal of Special Needs Education. 22 (4): 391-407. Agaliotis, I. & Kalyva, E. 2011. A survey of Greek general and special education teachers’ perceptions regarding the role of the special needs coordinator: Implications for educational policy on inclusion and teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education. 27: 543-551. DfE (Department for Education), 1994. Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs. London: DfE. DfE (Department for Education), 2013. Indicative Draft: The (0-25) Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. London: DfE. DfES (Department for Education and Skills) 2001. Special Educational Needs Code of Practice. London: DfES. Florian, L. and Black-Hawkins, K., 2011. Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 35 (5), 813-828. Lindqvist , G. and Nilholm, C. 2011. Making schools inclusive? Educational leaders’ views on how to work with children in need of special support. International Journal of Inclusive Education: 1-16. Nimante, D. and Tubele, S. 2010. Key challenges for Latvian teachers in mainstream schools: a basis for preparing teachers for inclusion. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10 (1): 168-176. O’Gorman, E. and Drudy, S. 2010. Addressing the professional development of teachers working in the area of special education/inclusion in mainstream schools in Ireland. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs. 10 (1): 157-167. Pearson, S. and Gathercole, K., 2011. National Award for SENCos: Transforming SENCos. Tamworth: NASEN. Pijl, S. J. 2010. Preparing teachers for inclusive education: some reflections from the Netherlands. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 10 (1): 197-201. Poon-McBrayer, K. 2012. Implementing the SENCo system in Hong Kong: an initial investigation. British Journal of Special Education. 39 (2): 94-101. Takala, M., Pirttimaa, R. and M. Törmänen. 2009. Inclusive special education: the role of education teachers in Finland. British Journal of Special Education. 36 (3): 162-172. TDA (Teaching Development Agency) 2009. Standards for National Award for SEN Coordination. London: TDA. Tissot, C., 2013. The role of SENCos as leaders. British Journal of Special Education. 40 (1): 33-39. Vlachou, A. 2006. Role of special/support teachers in Greek primary schools: a counterproductive effect of ‘inclusion’ practices. International Journal of Inclusive Education. 10 (1): 39-58. Webster, R., Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Martin, C. and Russell, A., 2011. The wider pedagogical role of teaching assistants. School Leadership and Management: Formerly School Organisation, 31 (1): 3-20.
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