This copy of SENCO Week looks at how to inbed inclusion as a whole school SEN approach

Inclusive approaches are the bedrock of good provision for pupils with special educational needs. No matter how well planned and effective your intervention programmes might be, everyday classroom teaching plays a hugely important part in a child’s learning experience and must be of the highest quality if those with SEN are to make progress.

This term, we will be looking at how you as SENCO can support colleagues in developing strategies which enable all pupils to ‘achieve and enjoy’ in mainstream classrooms.

Support for SENCOs
Recent figures from the DCSF report an increase in the number of children in the UK with special educational needs; from 14.9% in 2005 to 17.8% in 2009. Distribution across the types of SEN is similar to last year, with speech, language and communication needs being prevalent in primary schools and moderate learning difficulties in secondary schools. (www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s000852/index.shtml)

Part of the increase may be due to greater clarity in classifying SEN within schools and the move away from the lengthy and frustrating business of applying for statements of SEN through the local authority. The move to more delegated funding via Enhanced School Action Plus (ESAP) means that schools can now apply for short-term funding and this may have encouraged schools to move up a gear in terms of their monitoring and evaluation of special needs eligibility.

Whatever the reasons for the increase, these figures underline the need for schools to develop whole-school policies for identifying and meeting individual needs. A commitment to enhancing colleagues’ expertise in developing specific teaching strategies is an important part of the SENCO role: many would say that this is the only way to have a significant impact on the progress of pupils with SEN.

If you are an experienced SENCO, you will undoubtedly have robust systems in place, but if you are new to the role, or feel that whole school practice may need tightening up, addressing the five, interconnected Cs may help. Communication, Consistency, Collaboration, Curriculum and CPD.

Communication: between colleagues, with parents, with other agencies, with pupils.
How efficient are your communication systems between these groups? There has to be clear and regular two-way exchange of information between SENCO and teaching staff about pupils with SEN: what difficulties are encountered, how they can be ameliorated and how much progress is being made. What is the most efficient way of achieving this? Face to face; written notes; email/intranet template? Sharing information with parents is more important than ever after the new White Paper, Your Child, Your Schools, Our Future: Building a 21st Century Schools System and its promise of guarantees for parents and pupils. Getting parents ‘onside’ is a huge bonus and good communication is at the heart of achieving this. Can this be improved in your school? The ECM agenda and the concept of a team around the child (TAC), places great emphasis on everyone talking to each other and keeping up to date with a child’s specific situation. When lots of professionals are involved, this is easier said than done, but you have to be able to demonstrate an effective means of doing this. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, is communication with the child himself. How are his views sought and incorporated into the decision making process? Are teachers skilled in using appropriate language and visual back-up, where necessary, to ensure that pupils with language/cognitive difficulties have understood what is said? How do they check for understanding?

Consistency: in approaches to behaviour, rewards and sanctions; cross-curricular themes such as spelling and handwriting; assessment for learning. Lack of consistency can thwart any intervention programme and an individual teacher’s efforts to help a child. Classroom teachers must understand what is happening in any out-of-class support group or one-to-one tuition so that this work can be reinforced in the classroom. They must follow the same behaviour management system as other staff in school, share expectations and employ discipline in a fair manner; approaches to handwriting and spelling should be transferable across groups and subject areas. All of this links back to ‘communication’ of course – do all staff know about whole-school policy? Are the main points revisited regularly in staff meetings and INSET days?

Collaboration: between teachers; teachers and SENCO; teachers and TAs; teachers, SENCO and families; between pupils. Sharing of good practice, even at the level of ‘this worked for me’, is not as widely used as it could be. How can you improve this situation in your school? Good communication and collaboration between teachers and TAs is crucial to efficient use of resources. Are staff aware of the variety of roles a TA can perform as part of a lesson? For pupils, working with a partner can be less threatening and more productive than working alone; the best teachers ring the changes in small group and pair work, matching a less-able child with a more able peer sometimes, so that the activity moves along and the more able pupil provides a good role model. Being able to identify pupils’ strengths is essential for this – often, those who are weak spellers for example, can produce excellent drawings or diagrams, winning them esteem within the group and improving self-confidence.

Curriculum delivery: good planning and development of effective differentiation. This is at the heart of effective inclusion and over the next three issues, we shall look in more detail at ways of differentiating within mixed ability classrooms.

Continuing professional development: employing different ways of informing and enhancing the skills of teaching and support staff. Are you sufficiently proactive in this respect? Are there ‘SEN/Inclusion’ spots slotted into every staff meeting and CPD session? Is there a dedicated noticeboard/newsletter (real or virtual) providing information for staff, including details of useful reading, Teachers TV, professional courses and conferences?

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

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.