A good SENCo works their way out of a job.

As a starting point for a manifesto this statement is pretty fraught with flaws, but it epitomises my objectives more succinctly than any other sentence I have been able to come up with. So here it is, my inaugural promulgation and statement of intent; I believe that, in order to have done my job properly, I would have had to render myself completely dispensable. Surplus to requirements. Redundant. And herein lies the first fault line running through my self-assigned mission statement; I don’t really want to lose my job. I love my job! This is a catch-22 situation and a hurdle I will have to leap when that bittersweet moment arises. The hardships of being a SENCo, eh? And there – the term SENCo – is the second crack running through what i assure you is going to be a rock solid platform for my career in education. I don’t refer to myself as a SENCo, or use the acronym ‘SEN’ at all, if I can avoid it. My job title is INCo, or Individual Needs Coordinator, but the sentiment remains the same; my personal ethos on educational inclusion means that I kind of find my own dream job unacceptable. This won’t be the first time I’ve been described as ‘contrary’. Typical Gemini. Although I assure you that I do not ascribe to the concept of astrology in the slightest. So, what is my problem with my own job? Well, I believe that a truly inclusive school doesn’t need a SENCo… or INCo… and it is true inclusivity that I aim to achieve. The definition of inclusion, in the educational sense, is not straightforward in itself. Measures taken in the late 1970’s to ensure the educational rights of all children, including those who had previously been deemed ‘ineducable’ (see TIMELINE), seems to have resulted in an ever intensifying crusade to educate all children in mainstream schools; an under-one-roof-at-all-costs approach. But is it really inclusion if some students are educated, sometimes almost entirely, in discrete intervention or nurture groups? Is it really inclusion if a student only ever accesses lessons when their involvement is facilitated by an intense relationship with a teaching assistant or equivalent? Is it really inclusion if a student never really feels like they belong to that school community? If they sit outside of its systems? If they are viewed as ‘other’ and possibly socially excluded or even bullied? To be honest, whether or not withdrawal intervention and the use of teaching assistants constitutes true inclusivity or not is the least of my issues with those two educational paradigms. But that’s another rant for another blog post. The image below (and which also proudly adorns my office wall) represents my understanding of true inclusion more concisely than I can put into words, so here it is:

https://twitter.com/TeacherToolkit
https://twitter.com/TeacherToolkit

When I use this image to explain my ethos on educational inclusion to others I like to accompany it with the following clarifying and qualifying statements; some small print, if you will. Firstly, if you have achieved ‘true inclusion’ simply by not having a wide range of abilities and needs within your establishment, what you have actually achieved is exclusion. Secondly, it only counts as true inclusion if every dot in the inclusion circle is experiencing the same quality of education as all the other dots in the circle. Do all students have access to as much of what they need as they need to be successful learners? Do they all have equal access to the highest quality resources? experiences? members of staff??? If not, what you have actually achieved is some form of internal segregation or integration. Thirdly, I would be distraught if my convictions regarding true inclusion were perceived as being anti-special school. I am staunchly pro-special school (although I find the use of the word ‘special’ to be, at best, rather patronising, possibly actually pejorative) and believe that they play a vital role in ensuring that all children achieve equal quality of learning experience. If, despite a culture of true inclusivity, a student would receive greater quality of educational experience in, for example, a more sensory environment, then that is where they should be. It is the stigma attached to attending special school that needs to be eradicated, not the special schools themselves. True inclusion is the enterprise of ensuring all children receive the most appropriate education, not the enterprise of putting all of the children into the same building.

So, what have I actually achieved in this post? If nothing else it has been wonderfully cathartic, but hopefully I have also made  few clear statements of intent:

  • I agree that the majority of children should be educated in mainstream schools but feel that we currently perpetuate a system of internal segregation for many children with additional educational needs.
  • Special schools play an important role in ensuring educational inclusion at the societal level. They probably need renaming though.
  • My vision of true inclusion sadly does not require a specially appointed coordinator. This may be a ship that I have to go down with.
  • I am conscious that this post may have raised more questions than it has answered. Please be in touch! I love talking about this stuff. Also, I intend to tie up all of those loose ends in future blog posts.

Finally, it is probably clear that my manifesto is actually an amalgamation of ideas that I have begged, borrowed and stolen from all sorts of organisations, authors and philosophers. I intend to keep a bibliography of sources and influences, along with a historical timeline of educational inclusion, in the tabs along the top of this page. Just as soon as I get around to it. Chill your beans. INCo14.

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10 thoughts on “A good SENCo works their way out of a job.

  1. Hello! I have really enjoyed reading your blog and have found it very interesting. I completely agree that this is the ideal, and as an LSA I would absolutely love to not be needed in class to individually support a child as they were participating independently. Though there is so much more to school life than just learning, such as supporting children with social and communication problems during lunch and break times, as well as mobility needs and personal care. Would a teacher have the time to support with these examples as well as planning, preparing and implementing lessons, marking work and dealing with the day to day challenges of a class of children?

    • Good point – the last thing we want is a one-size-fits-all approach. And I’m not suggesting there’s a quick fix; i just think there’s a better way of doing things. I think in lessons that teaching should be done by teachers (and anyone that is teaching – as good LSA’s often are – should be recognised as teachers) and there should be a focus on developing a students independence and autonomy. For students with physical and personal care needs I’ve begun to investigate the possibility of having PA’s to support them with the practicalities of the school day. There would be no expectation for them to be involved in that student’s learning; they would be part of their access to the school and work, not learning. As for break and lunchtimes… I think there’s a tendency to simply supervise the children at these times, but a team of break/lunchtime supervisors who were skilled (and numerous!) enough to actively support the students’ social and emotional development would be ideal i think! Ensuring there is good, well staffed extra curricular provision at these times, and it is an ideal time to work on social/emotional development targets, would require staff with non-teaching but possibly play work qualifications. This is the first time I’ve thought about this! I’d love to know your thoughts.
      Lastly, my ideas are very much geared towards the secondary mainstream environment. I don’t feel that I know enough about primary to comment one way or the other (though i’ve heard there’s a primary school in Manchester that is doing something very similar!) and that special schools would possibly need a different approach entirely!
      Thanks for your comment 🙂

      • I completely agree that all children should be taught entirely by a fully qualified teacher and that LSA’s should be there to support, not teach. My background is in primary education, where I feel that children with additional needs could need more input from an LSA in terms of keeping them on task or maybe some pre teach sessions (eg lessons tend to move on quite quickly, some children could benefit from some pre teach sessions to help them participate in the lesson). I do agree that LSA input should be gradually withdrawn as the children move up the school, to promote independence and prepare them for secondary school. Though this may not be realistic for all children. What are your thoughts on resource or specialist provisions within mainstream schools? I have worked in some settings where this has been very successful, children participate in lessons but have a base to go back to- particularly good for children with ASD who may have sensory processing problems or need a break from the high expectations within a mainstream class.

  2. I have very little experience of primary, especially IN/SEN-D in primary, so I’m not sure how the ideas I’m suggesting on here would apply. I think it’s probably very different! We do pre-teaching and over-teaching here for our low ability and falling behind students but it is delivered by subject specialist teachers… other SENCo’s and similar have stated that this isn’t always a possibility due to the cost and teaching capacity of teachers but we have achieved it here!

    It would be dangerous to apply a blanket ‘no TA’s/no withdrawal’ rule when all children are so different to each other and I agree that the approach isn’t going to be suitable for all children. I do think it depends very much on the individual school though; if the structures for learning and for behaviour are rigorous and designed with all students in mind the environment will foster true inclusivity. This also raises the ‘special school’ question again – if, despite a truly inclusive environment, a student is still not able to access their lessons alongside their peers… are they in the right type of school?

    I too have seen some really successful resourced provisions and units within mainstream schools and realise the opportunities that this brings for some students. I’ll do a proper post on my thoughts about this at some point… it’s too complicated for here! But, in short, i lean towards developing a system where there are lots of different specialist schools and provisions and parents are able to choose the one that is going to provide the highest quality education for their child. There has been a huge push for inclusion as an under-one-roof provision over the last decade or so and this has resulted in a ‘last resort’ attitude towards special schools, and this is a big barrier to achieving a truly inclusive education system, in my opinion. For some students a truly inclusive mainstream school may be best, for others a smaller setting, more sensory or with specific resources might be best. For some it might be a resourced provision within mainstream – physical/sensory disabilities, SLCN and ASC in particular, where they possibly need some specialist input or a base but otherwise learn alongside their peers – but it does raise a big question mark for me when it comes to students with more significant learning disabilities. Why not special school? That said, there still needs to be a balance between ensuring all students are in the setting where they will receive the highest quality education and experience BUT also ensuring our schools are diverse communities where children learn equality, acceptance, compassion and understanding in order to create a society of tomorrow that is fit for purpose for all of its people. That’s my thoughts in a nutshell! It’s a coconut shell, sorry. It’s a complex issue though!

  3. I just found this. I think the idea of employing PAs for students whose needs are entirely/mostly physical is brilliant. I had LSAs in both primary and secondary school, and in my experience, (albeit about 15 – eek! – years ago) they had a tendency to become over-involved in issues which would ordinarily be addressed by a teacher, such as behaviour/discipline and which sets I should be in. As a student, this made me feel more “different”, and therefore more excluded. A PA, who was not involved in classroom activity, who could have maybe helped me at the beginning and of the lesson to get my things out and put them away, and at break so I could use the toilet, but otherwise stayed outside, might have been more appropriate.

    • Thanks you so much for your response, that’s great to hear! Hopefully we can develop a system where all students are (and, importantly, FEEL) fully included AND are taught directly by teachers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Nicole 🙂

  4. Hi Nicole,

    I love your illustration that shows Equality, Equity AND No Barriers. Do you know where I could get permission to use that in a local newspaper we produce called the Eastside News?
    I would need a high resolution version of the image, too. I would happily credit the illustrator.

    Thanks, Kristin

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