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Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO)

Please be aware that this section contains information prepared in 2009 and may now be out of date. Some links may no longer work. We are reviewing this section.


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A special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) is a teacher who is responsible for special educational needs within schools. All schools have a SENCO and they work with other teachers and with parents to ensure that the needs of pupils, who are identified as having special educational needs, are met within the school.

If your child is identified as having special educational needs and does not progess sufficiently with extra help from a teacher, the SENCO will become involved. Their role is to:

•    make sure you, the parent or carer, are kept informed about your child's special educational needs
•    support the staff and other professionals working with your child
•    make sure that an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or alternative is in place (see separate section on IEPs)
•    make sure that information about your child's needs is collected and kept up-to-date

All mainstream schools must appoint a designated teacher as the SENCO, responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school's special educational needs (SEN) policy.  He or she will coordinate provision for pupils with SEN and liaise with parents, staff and external agencies such as educational psychologists and speech and language therapists.

A child is defined as having SEN if he or she has a learning difficulty that requires special educational provision to be made for him or her.  All pupils with SEN must have those needs addressed, via a broad and balanced education.  In most cases, it is the pupil's mainstream school that will make this provision.

The SENCO is a key person in relation to the identification, assessment, programme planning and review of the child's progress. They should be aware of and able to make links with all appropriate support agencies. There should also be regular meetings between the SENCO and the parents of children who are on the autism spectrum to discuss the child's needs and progress. SENCOs should also support teaching staff to make appropriate adjustments when working with children on the autism spectrum.

In a small school, the head teacher or deputy may take on the role of SENCO.  In larger schools there may be a SEN coordinating team which may include teaching assistants.

The SEN Code of Practice gives guidance on assessments and interventions for SEN pupils, including statements of special educational need. TeacherNet has useful webpage with information on the continuum of support offered for special educational needs identification and assessment. The National Autistic Society also offers helpful information.

National Standards for SENCOs have been produced by the Training and Development Agency.  These standards identify what needs to be in place in a school for the co-ordination of SEN provision to be effective.  They also set out the additional knowledge, understanding, skills, attributes and expertise required by SENCOs.

All early years settings in receipt of government funding to provide early education must identify a SENCO responsible for establishing the setting’s SEN policy. In the case of accredited childminders who are part of an approved network, the SENCO role may be shared between individual childminders and the co-ordinator of the network. Early Years Development and Childcare Partnerships (EYDCPs) which oversee early years provision are establishing networks of Area SENCOs to work with these settings, and are aiming to achieve a ratio of one Area SENCO to every 20 settings. These area SENCOs will provide advice and support to settings and will link children with SEN, including autism, to other specialist services.

Recognising that the help that disabled children and those with special educational needs get often depends on where they live rather than on their needs, the Government published Removing Barriers to Achievement: the Government's Strategy for SEN in February 2004.  This emphasises that training for teachers and appropriate funding for schools are vital, and focuses on four key areas:

•    Early intervention
•    Removing barriers to learning
•    Raising expectations and achievements
•    An improved partnership approach

Research from the National Autistic Society found that 45% of parents of children on the autism spectrum say it took over a year for their child to receive any support, with 66% saying that it took over six months. Furthermore only 30% of parents of children on the autism spectrum in mainstream education were satisfied with the level of understanding of autism across the school, and 23% were disasatisfied with the SENCOs’ level of understanding of autism (Make School Make Sense: National Autistic Society).

To address these problems, the Government has come up with a package of measures to improve support for children with SEN and disabilities.

£10 million a year has been allocated to enable all new SENCOs to undertake nationally accredited training which from September 2009 will be a regulatory requirement. Nationally accredited training courses will be provided by the TDA from September 2009, and will include a focus on autism spectrum disorders. For teachers already in post, training materials will be made available to support their work with children with SEN. This training will be delivered through the Inclusion Development Programme and materials on autism should be ready in 2009.

There is a further new requirement for SENCOs to be qualified teachers. This is due to come into effect on 1st September 2009, but will allow a two year transitional period for SENCOs who are not currently teachers, but who have been in post for at least six months as at 31 August 2009, to gain Qualified Teacher Status by September 2011.

The SENCO for your school or early year’s setting is a key person if you have concerns about your child’s developments or the provision that is being made for them.  You can talk over your concerns and the SENCO will be able to explain what happens next.

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Get help from...   

TeacherNet pages on special educational needs and resources, including excellent SEN links

The TeacherNet page on SEN identification and assessment outlines the process of support offered to pupils with SENs

National Autistic Society has useful advice on obtaining SEN support

The SEN Code of Practice

National standards for special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs)
Download a copy from the TDA website

To download a copy of the National Standards for SEN

To download a copy of Barriers to Achievement: the Government’s Strategy for SEN

Make school make sense: Autism and education: the reality for families today. National Autistic Society.

The Education (Special Education Needs Co-ordinators) Regulations 2008 (regulations introducing the requirement that SENCOs be qualified teachers)

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National Autistic Society has much useful information regarding education and statements of special need.

As does Teachernet

Training and Development Agency

National Association for Special Educational Needs

Training and Development Agency for Schools

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Case studies

St Peter's C. of E. Primary School is a mainstream school and maintained by Redcar and Cleveland local authority with an Infant Assessment Class for 10 children with SEN aged 4-7 years.  Good practice example on Teachernet

The Teachernet website contains a range of other good practice examples.

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