The parliamentary Education and Skills Committee began to hear oral evidence in its inquiry into special educational needs on 31 October. The first session included evidence from Baroness Warnock, in which she expressed her views on the role of SENCOs and teaching assistants.

During the evidence session, Baroness Warnock made specific reference to problems associated with the role of the SENCO. When asked about recent Ofsted reports highlighting difficulties that many schools experience in trying to meet the increasingly diverse needs of pupils with special educational needs, she pointed out that although it had originally been supposed that SENCOs would be a member of the senior management team, there were now ‘a very large number of schools where the SENCO is actually a teaching assistant and not a teacher at all, with no experience and they are no longer a member of the senior management team but someone with peripheral duties to see how many children there are in that school who are getting this, that and the other.’ (Response to Question 39, uncorrected evidence.*)

Taken out of context, this remark could be construed as downplaying the role of teaching assistants who make such important professional contribution to the education of pupils with special educational needs. This would, however, be to miss the important point being made. In recent years, and particularly at the current time as new teaching and learning payments are being introduced, the concept of SENCO as leader and manager is under serious threat. This surely gives weight to Baroness Warnock’s view that some key aspects of inclusive education policy at national and local levels are lacking coherence.

Other evidence In the second session, which focused on the implications of the new education white paper, Andrew McCully of the DFES insisted that the new trust schools would not exclude children with special educational needs (see lead story). The session also covered clarification of SEN policy from the DfES, the role of local authorities, the role of parents, and role of the workforce.

Probing questions were asked about the preparation of teachers – both in initial teacher education programmes and through continuing professional development – to work effectively with pupils experiencing difficulties in learning. A detailed report of this discussion will be included in the next edition of SENCO Update.

The committee’s minutes note that its members intend to visit the Netherlands and Spain in connection with the inquiry. Both of these countries have grappled with developing inclusive education during recent times, arguably by pursuing quite different policies. It will be interesting to see how observations of these policies in practice inform the thinking of the select committee.

*The uncorrected evidence is not an official transcript. Participants have not yet had the opportunity to correct the record.
Detailed information about the inquiry can be accessed here.