Do you base your provision planning on analytical evaluation of what has gone before (in your own setting and in other contexts) or do you tend to use ‘gut feeling’ and what is easiest to organise? This issue takes a look at how SENCOs can take a professional approach to evidence-based practice

Support for SENCOs
The national training for new SENCOs will be looking at how to:

  • analyse, interpret and evaluate relevant research and inspection evidence about teaching and learning in relation to pupils with SEN and/or disabilities
  • identify and develop effective practice in teaching pupils with SEN and/or disabilities, eg through small-scale action research
  • have a critical understanding of teaching, learning and behaviour management strategies and how to select, use and adapt approaches
  • have a critical understanding of approaches, strategies and resources for assessment.

In terms of staying in line with professional standards and keeping up to date with your own CPD, you might consider how well you perform this part of your role. It’s an important area for you if you are to have a positive impact on strategic planning in school. You need to know what works. The list of questions below will help you to identify strengths and weaknesses and plan development.

How do you ensure that you keep abreast of published research and guidance?

  • Reading: periodicals such as SENCO Update (Optimus) or Support for Learning (nasen); plus the occasional book – look at publishers’ websites, such as Routledge, Sage or Continuum, for the most relevant titles (bookshops often have only a dismal selection).
  • Internet research; go to national association sites rather than less reliable sources.
  • Looking at guidance from DCSF, Ofsted, TDA and QCDA.

Reading this information is one thing – reflecting on it and using it to improve practice is another. Use a recent article or report as a focus point for a network meeting of SENCOs, or with your own staff/support team in school. Task one person with summarising and feeding back to the group.

How do you identify and develop effective practice in teaching pupils with SEN?

  • Observing lessons, group sessions and one-to-one tutoring (in your own school and others); feeding back, sharing good practice with other staff.
  • Conducting action-research projects – trying new approaches and evaluating their impact (and cost-effectiveness).
  • Analysing progress data and determining how/why some pupils have made more progress than others (type of intervention/resource; size of group; timing; venue; frequency; personnel; suitability to learning style/age appropriateness; parental support).
  • Speaking to pupils themselves about what they find effective.
  • Sharing ideas with SENCO colleagues.
  • Investing in training for yourself and colleagues (eg TEACCH, Reading Recovery, Dyslexia training); aim for a spread of expertise in school or among a school cluster.
  • Attending seminars at education shows.
  • Attending conferences – not only to listen to key speakers but to network and share good practice with other delegates.

How do you develop and maintain a good understanding of approaches, strategies and resources for assessment?

  • Having a range of summative, formative and diagnostic assessment techniques and understanding which is most appropriate in a given situation. Look at the latest assessment tools, visit education shows to see products and talk to advisers, or invite them into school.
  • Being aware of Afl and APP approaches and supporting teachers in catering effectively for children with SEN.
  • Reading and spelling tests are often the domain of SENCOs: word recognition, sentence completion, cloze exercises, passage reading. In most cases, a group test (with written or multiple choice answers) is used to measure overall standards in a class or school and needs to be fairly quick and easy to administer, and straightforward to mark and score (often online in secondary schools).
  • These are usually ‘standardised’ and will produce a score or a ‘reading age’ (RA) which can be compared with the pupil’s chronological age (CA). Make sure you use an up-to-date one, eg the Suffolk Reading Scale.
  • If a pupil’s RA is significantly lower than his or her CA, an individual test is often used to give more accurate information about how she or he is reading: this may include diagnostic elements such as running records and miscue analysis, which help the teacher to analyse mistakes and understand more about the reader. Armed with this information, you can plan an appropriate programme, with suitable targets – involving class/subject teachers as well as support staff.
  • Re-testing requires sets of parallel tests to be meaningful and avoid children becoming familiar and practiced (eg with a certain set of words for spelling). Only recently, I was told of a school where staff had replaced the words in a spelling test with alternatives – oblivious to the fact that this would negate the standardisation of scores! Make sure that colleagues understand the test being used, how to administer and score it… and how to use the results to enhance learning for the child.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.