Authors Helen Curran et al
Published by British Journal of Special Education, Volume 44 (2017)
This article discusses findings from a PhD project which explored the views of special education needs co-ordinators (Sencos) six months after the introduction in 2014 of the SEND reforms and the SEND Code of Practice.
The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced cultural and systemic change within the area of SEND and the SEND Code of Practice provides the statutory guidance in relation to the act. The code states that a child has special educational needs if he or she requires "provision [that is] different from or additional to that normally available to pupils of the same age".
Research prior to the implementation of the reforms suggested that the Senco role was ambiguous, and in some cases low-status, and lacking in strategic influence. The introduction of the SEND reforms provided an opportunity to raise the status and profile of Sencos and to improve the leadership aspect of the role.
The study comprised a questionnaire on Sencos' perceptions of the first six months of the reforms, and included questions around: the nature of the support they had received; changes they had made within their settings and; enablers/barriers to the process of implementation.
The questionnaire was completed by 74 participants, recruited through a variety of channels, including Twitter, the Senco-Forum, other professional forums and local authority contacts. Two-thirds of respondents were from primary school settings. The small sample size and limitations in the recruitment approach mean that the findings from the study are not necessarily representative of all Sencos.
- The primary source of support for implementing the SEND reforms came from local authorities (49 per cent), with 25 per cent coming from the National Association of Special Educational Needs (Nasan) and other organisations.
- There was a mixed picture in terms of Sencos' satisfaction with the support they had received (32 per cent satisfied; 36 per cent dissatisfied). Inherent in this were feelings of confusion around what they needed to do to implement the reforms.
- Sencos also reported that competing policy issues within schools made the reforms less of a priority.
- Key changes made since the introduction of the SEND Code of Practice included:
- Reviewing the SEND register
- Reviewing the SEND policy
- Creating the SEND Information Report
- Focusing on Person Centred Planning.
- Around two-thirds of Sencos reported a reduction in the number of children recorded on the special education needs register. The most common reasons cited for this reduction was the changed definition of "special educational needs" and the new "SEN Support" category.
- A number of Sencos reported that the SEND reforms had provided an opportunity to reconsider whether the children on their register actually met the definition of special educational needs or whether there may be a different reason for the concern - for example, a lack of effective teaching. This reflected the findings from Ofsted (2010), which suggested that children with SEN were being over-identified.
- Some Sencos also discussed the need for a clear distinction between a child receiving SEN Support and a child with special educational needs. A number reported that they were only recording children who were in receipt of SEN Support, with some reporting that only children who had access to external agencies were recorded as in receipt of SEN Support.
- Parents were perceived to be better informed and engaged following the SEND reforms. In contrast, the National Deaf Children's Society reported that only six per cent of parents reported improvements to the support their children received, while the National Autistic Society, reported that only 23 per cent of those who had been through the new statutory assessment process were satisfied.
Implications for practice
Although this article focuses on the experiences of Sencos following the 2014 reforms, there are wider practice implications that can be inferred from the research, including:
- Greater clarity is needed in defining and interpreting the meaning of special educational needs, and what that means for children and young people. Not all children with special educational needs meet the threshold for receiving SEN Support, but nevertheless need some form of additional support to achieve their full potential, in schools and in other settings.
- The quality of education, health and care plans is dependent on the quality of advice obtained to inform them. Professionals from all agencies need clear guidance, as well as training, to ensure that the needs of children and young people with SEND are properly considered and met.