Nasen’s chief executive officer, Lorraine Peterson, has confirmed that the UK’s leading special educational needs professional organisation is committed to the view that SENCOs should be qualified teachers and members of school senior leadership teams. Writing in a recent edition of the Nasen publication Special, she also argues that SENCOs need sufficient time and resources to be able to carry out their duties efficiently, and in ways that enable them to coordinate the best support for pupils with special educational needs.(1) Reducing bureaucracy and improving practice

The DfES and NASEN held four seminars in recent months, two for primary and two for secondary phase SENCOs. The seminars aimed to identify good practice and to map the qualities needed by effective SENCOs. The seminars were arranged in response to a commitment outlined in Removing Barriers to Achievement: The Government’s Strategy for SEN (2004) to reducing SEN related bureaucracy and freeing up SENCOs to work strategically and more directly with pupils and teachers.

The need to clarify the role of SENCOs, and to disseminate good practice, was also identified as a priority in the Cabinet Office/DfES report, Special Educational Needs Bureaucracy Project(2), published in 2004, which stated that:

‘Efforts to reduce bureaucracy and red tape will only go some way to relieving the burden on SENCOs and need to be accompanied by a clearer consideration of roles and responsibilities of all staff who work with children and young people experiencing difficulties in learning. A clear indication of SENCOs’ responsibilities and effective use of release time will enable SENCOs to fulfil their role effectively and enable colleagues to understand the parameters of the role. This would facilitate an improved SEN service.

What next?

Findings from the seminars should serve two important, although not necessarily compatible, purposes. Firstly, the DfES should take account of local knowledge, expertise and experience to clarify its own policy on the role of SENCOs. Whether it does so in the light of evidence gained from the seminars remains to be seen, but recent informal statements of government policy do not offer grounds for optimism.

Secondly, Nasen should make use of seminar findings to inform the development of its policy on the role of SENCOs. Lorraine Peterson has made it clear that this is precisely what the organisation will do through the development of guidance to be published later in the year. Given the collaboration that has taken place between the DfES and Nasen in the running of the SENCO seminars, it would make good sense if this good practice guidance is supported by a clear reaffirmation of government policy outlined in both the SEN Code of Practice and Removing Barriers to Achievement.

1. Special, Spring 2006, 45-49 Special Educational Needs Bureaucracy.