Alison Williams has an extended role as SENCO and head of inclusion at Danetre School, an 11-16 technology college in Northamptonshire. She talks about her duties to Crispin Andrews

What does being head of inclusion as well as SENCO entail?
The role of SENCO is becoming increasingly diverse as schools work towards the Every Child Matters and extended services agendas. Whereas the inclusion agenda is often driven by the senior leadership team with an assistant or deputy head taking charge, here it was decided to extend the SENCO role to give me responsibility for inclusion in its broadest sense. I am on the extended leadership team and have a weekly meeting with the headteacher that gives me a direct route to him.

If you think about it there’s quite a lot of overlap. Rather than making sure that as a school we meet the needs of students with physical and learning disabilities or one of the various syndromes; now my work concerns all those youngsters who may have difficulties accessing learning and school life. So this will include youngsters with emotional behavioural difficulties, new arrivals to the country, children to whom English is an additional language and those experiencing social problems outside school that adversely effect their performance and wellbeing within it.

My role is to ensure that external influences do not prevent children from accessing the educational provision we offer at the school. We have a learning support unit and the line management of this facility also falls within my remit.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Its unpredictability – no one day is the same as another! No matter how organised your day looks at the outset there is a constant need to respond to situations that have unfolded throughout the day. I might find myself fighting the corner of a student who has problems but who has overstepped boundaries in terms of discipline for learning or I may be responding to issues raised by an outside agency.

There are days when everything runs smoothly and others when everyone seems to want a piece of you at once. On these days it seems like the phone doesn’t stop ringing, there’s a queue outside the office and you are accosted by all and sundry on a walk to the ladies! It could be an agency like police or social services or a parent with a concern; it might be a teacher or an LSA who needs advice for a particular student. It might be a student who needs TLC and tissues or a range of other issues.

Can you organise things in such a way to minimise this sort of chaos?
Email has been fantastic. Every teacher has a laptop with Wi-Fi internet connection. This means if there is a problem a message can be sent and picked up instantly. One particular youngster is prone to falling asleep during lessons and also to soiling himself. So the other day when the subject teacher had a concern a message was sent to me and to his form tutor who then contacted the teacher taking the next lesson to get the youngster to discreetly visit the SEN areas to be checked out at the start of the lesson.

What are the best aspects of your work?
Without a doubt making a difference to young people’s lives, seeing students with difficulties succeed in the long term. This can involve setting up an individualised curriculum or devising other intervention strategies where the normal mainstream provision is not working. We liaise with the local college which offers a shortened GCSE package in more adult surroundings for a small group of year 11 students. Recently I created a ‘listening ears’ programme where students are assigned to a staff member for a designated 30 minutes per week for six weeks to focus on emotional issues that may be impeding their access learning. Increasingly, we are equipping staff with the additional skills such as anger management training and protective behaviours to pass onto our young people in need.

What one thing makes a big difference to SEN provision within the school?
Not having a whole-class teaching timetable means I am contactable though the school day and have the flexibility to liaise with parents, staff and outside agencies.

Typically I have three meetings a day relating to students with a statement, at school action plus or who are on a pastoral support plan. Many of these meetings involve parents along with an outside organisation like EWO, social services, police or educational psychologist.

I try to be flexible with meeting times to minimise inconvenience especially to parents who work. Being off-timetable means I can be flexible in establishing mutually compatible working practices with external organisations. This is key to making such collaborations work effectively.

What aspect of your practice would you most like to share with other SENCOs?
How we build positive relationships with parents over a period of time. It is vitally important to do this from as early as possible. We start this process during the transition from Year 6; this includes visits to the primary schools and extra induction days and trips for vulnerable or challenging children. At open evenings prior to transition we make time to talk to the parents and the child – this helps to allay fears that in such a large school they will be lost within the system.

I try to always put the child at the centre and enable them to be safe and happy and to achieve to the best of their ability.