The 'Governing body' (or its equivalent) has responsibility for designating a staff member as the 'SEN Co-ordinator' or SENCO. This role is statutory for maintained schools, maintained nursery schools and academies.
In addition to the principal SENCO role defined by the Children and Families Act 2014 (section 67(2)) as 'having responsibility for co-ordinating the provision for pupils with special educational needs', the Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 (nos 50(1) and 50(2)), state that the governing body (or equivalent) must determine:
- The role of the SENCO in relation to the leadership and management of the school;
- The functions of the SENCO in addition to those under the Act (quoted above).
The governing body is also responsible for monitoring the SENCO's effectiveness in undertaking these responsibilities.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014 lists a range of activities that a governing body (or equivalent) may assign to SENCOs. Click here for the list.
Read NASUWT's briefing on the 'Special educational needs and disability (SEND) Reforms - SENCO', which describes what SENCOs 'must' and 'should' do under the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice.
The importance of the SENCO role in leading the coordination of provision for children/young people with special educational needs/disabilities in schools is emphasised in the 2014 special educational needs/disability framework (Act, Code and Regulations).
The SENCO role was first introduced following the Education Act 1993 and the Special Educational Needs Code of Practice (Department for Education and Employment, 1994). They were appointed from within the staff, and there were no training requirements.
Since the 2001 SEN Code of Practice, there was increasing concern about the SENCO role being undertaken by unqualified teaching staff.
In 2008, the Education (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) (England) Regulations
2008 set out the qualifications and experience teachers should have to be designated
a SENCO and assigned SENCO-related responsibilities to governing bodies. In 2009,
(Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2009
made it law for every new SENCO in a mainstream school to gain the
Master's-level National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators within 3 years of taking up the post. Click here to read more. (Department for Education, 2014; Lindsay et al., 2011)
Key changes resulting from the Children and Families Act 2014 and linked to the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice include:
- Person-centred approaches;
- Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plans (0-25 years) replacing Statements of Special Educational Needs and Learning Difficulty Assessments;
- A focus on outcomes – short, medium and long term – including preparing children/young people for adulthood;
- Producing an accessible Local Offer of services and other key information;
- Offering Personal Budgets linked to EHC Plans;
- Collaborative working between agencies and services, including pooled budgets and a joint commissioning approach for SEND services.
(For a full list, see 0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015, p. 14)
In educational settings, the foundations of effective support for children/young people with special educational needs/disability are systems, information and resources. To find out the key elements which 'must' or 'should' be in place, click on the subheadings:
(0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015; Northamptonshire County Council, 2014)
For further information on statutory policies, refer to Statutory Policies for Schools (Department for Education, 2014).
While the SENCO role has remained similar to that described under the 2001 special educational needs framework, under the 2014 special educational needs/disability framework, the SENCO must be a qualified teacher working at the school, and those who are newly appointed to the role (unless they have at least one year's prior experience of the role at another school) must gain the National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination within three years of appointment (0-25 SEND Code of Practice, 2015 (CoP), sections 5.52, 6.85).
The SENCO role itself is shifting from an operational, middle-manager role into strategic senior leadership. Whereas the 2001 Code equated the role directly to a 'Head of Department or Faculty or Head of Year', the 2014 Code likens it to 'other important strategic roles within a school' (CoP, 6.91). Whereas the 2001 Code suggested that 'Settings may find it effective for the SENCO to be a member of the senior management team', the 2014 Code states: 'They will be most effective in that [SENCO] role if they are part of the school leadership team'.
Specific duties relating to the education of children with special educational needs/disabilities are assigned to professionals with different roles within schools, including governing bodies, headteachers, SENCOs and teachers. Click on each of the following to read more about their responsibilities:
Assess the strategic position of the SENCO role within your organisation.
Review the strategic responsibilities of the role in the context of how it supports and complements:
- Improvement and development planning across the educational setting (not just stated inclusion or special education objectives);
- Key objectives for the designated special educational needs/disability-designated
governor (or equivalent);
- Key objectives and standards for the school's senior leadership;
- Key responsibilities for teachers.
How can the role be adjusted to
accommodate more of these?
Reflect on how the SENCO role and outputs are currently systematised within the setting. In what ways might you systematise the SENCO role and outputs to give others more immediate access to key knowledge, information and interventions, including special educational needs/disabilities strategies, systems (eg via flow charts), approaches, ICT curriculum software.
Oxford County Council (2014) example:
A provision map that has a range of small group interventions available for learners with special educational needs. These interventions are time limited, pre-formulated and are carefully matched to learners' needs so that they can be used by trained staff with minimal adaptation.
Legislation and guidance
- Special Educational Needs Code of Practice 2001
- Children and Families Act 2014
- The Special Educational Needs and Disability Regulations 2014
- Statutory Policies for Schools: Advice on the policies and documents that governing bodies and proprietors of schools are required to have by law (Department for Education, 2014)
- Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0-25 years (2015)
- Governors' Handbook: For governors in maintained schools, academies and free schools. (Department for Education 2015)
- Department for Education (2014) National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator: Learning outcomes. [Online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-award-for-sen-co-ordination-learning-outcomes; accessed 18.3.15]
- Lindsay, G., Cullen, M.A., Cullen, S., Dockrell, S., Strand, S., Arweck, E., Hegarty, S. and Goodlad, S. (2011) Evaluation of Impact of DfE Investment in Initiatives Designed to Improve Teacher Workforce Skills in Relation to SEN and Disabilities. London: Department for Education. [Online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/182642/DFE-RR115.pdf; accessed: 17.3.15]
- NASUWT (2014) 'Special educational needs and disability (SEND) reforms: SENCOs' (Briefing). London: NASUWT.
- Northamptonshire County Council (2014) Northamptonshire’s Special Educational Needs Descriptors: The Entitlement of students in mainstream schools and early years settings. Northamptonshire: NCC. [Online at: http://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/en/councilservices/EducationandLearning/special-educational-needs-disability-support/local-offer/Documents/DescriptorsSept2014AmendedDec14.pdf; accessed: 9.3.15]