Undermined, underused and misunderstood: life in schools for Sendcos

Misconceptions over the role, muddled policy and a lack of visibility on leadership teams for special educational needs and disabilities co-ordinators have led to the risk of our most vulnerable children being failed by mainstream schools, argues Nancy Gedge in Tes.

Sue is an experienced special educational needs and disabilities co-ordinator (Sendco). She’s been one long enough to know the system. Long enough to know how it works. Long enough to know she rarely, if ever, wins.

But Sue still fights.

Today she’s worried about Jay. Next year, he will take an English literature exam despite his severe language difficulties. He won’t pass. The likelihood is that he won’t pass any of his GCSEs. Yet he has to sit these exams – spend all of his time preparing for them – because when it comes to outcomes, this is what is valued. If he can scrape even the lowest grade, then the school has achieved. A child with SEND – they’ve got him a piece of paper. It’s a result.

Sue doesn’t agree. She became a Sendco to ensure that all children had the best chance of life. She knows that in this regard, for Jay, the school has failed.

The role of Sendco is not what she thought it would be. It is not what she believes it could be. It is not what she knows it should be. And she’s not alone. There are Sendcos across the country who feel the same way.

Every school in the country has a Sendco, even the top-performing grammar schools. If they don’t, they’re in breach of the law. And there is good reason why they are there. 

England has about 1.2 million children with SEND. Around 991,980 pupils receive SEND support. In the 2015-16 academic year, 13.4 per cent of children in state-funded primary schools had SEND and 12.7 per cent of children in state-funded secondary schools did so. As such, every individual state school will have significant numbers of children with SEND, both already identified or in need of identification.

With a lack of guidance from above and mixed definitions among the teaching profession, the role of Sendco becomes heavily dependent on the context and leadership of an individual school. If everyone in education fully understood SEND and realised – and saw the necessity in – what was needed, then this would not be a problem. The trouble is that far from everyone in education believes in inclusion, or prioritises it, and plenty more don’t understand it.

Read more about the highly complicated and wide ranging role of the Senco and where the it’s going in the future Undermined, underused and misunderstood: life in schools for Sendcos

Do you know the full role of your Senco? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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Categories: Infant, Primary, Secondary, SEN, and Teaching.


  1. Judith Wilson

    I love the way the lead paragraph states, “…have led to the risk of our most vulnerable children being failed by mainstream schools”. It isn’t a case of leading to a risk of them being failed, it is a fact that they HAVE ALREADY been failed for some considerable time. Each and every SENCO (or the more modern SENDCO) and their teams of teaching assistants have been taking the opportunity to speak up on behalf of all children with special needs and their parents/carers for as long as I can remember, telling the ‘powers that be’ that they are not receiving the best and most appropriate care and education – instead they are being used to ‘tick boxes’ and satisfy statistics. These children are NOT statistics and they all deserve the best possible chance of a happy and fulfilling life. As for inclusion, this term raises some difficult issues. My own four year old autistic grandson has already suffered from being ‘included’ since my Local Authority, West Sussex County Council, decided on a policy of inclusion, seemingly at any cost. They have closed the special needs unit at his nursery and are apparently under the impression that he will thrive in a larger, noisier group of children. I almost hate to disillusion them in their ivory offices by telling them that his behaviour has deteriorated and he is having trouble mixing with all the more able children. The rot has set in at this very early stage of his education and I dread to think what the future holds for him and his peers at the rate we’re going.

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