Budget cuts push heads to double up as SENCOs

A headteacher is training as a SENCO in the evenings because her school can no longer afford to employ a separate member of staff in the role.

Others heads are also doubling up as lunchtime supervisors and kitchen staff as school finances are squeezed tighter.

Special educational needs experts have warned the conflation of the headteacher and SENCO role could leave vulnerable pupils without an advocate, especially if they were at risk of being excluded.

The disclosure follows more than 2,000 headteachers staging an unprecedented march to Downing Street last Friday about budget cuts (see case studies below).

Tracy Taylor, headteacher at Bramber primary school in West Sussex, told Schools Week she had started a part-time university course to become a SENCO.

“It’s ridiculous. Now I’m doing that as well as everything else. The stress levels are high. We’re doing it for the children.”

Taylor said she has been forced into the decision after her school expanded from six classes to 10 but she had been unable to increase staff because of funding cuts.

The SEND code of practice states every school must have a qualified teacher who is appointed as the SENCO.

Their role includes responsibility for SEN policy and provision in the school, providing professional guidance to colleagues, working closely with staff, parents and agencies such as the local authority and therapists, advising on the school’s delegated budget and ensuring the school meets the Equality Act.

However the code states the SENCO only needs to achieve the “National Award in Special Educational Needs Co-ordination” within three years of their appointment. This means heads can take on the role with no training to start with.

Katherine Walsh, regional SEND leader for south central England and north west London, said the role was a “big ask” of a headteacher.

The SENCO ensures their pupils are not overlooked by senior leaders if they are not working to the expected standard in tests, she said.

The head also has no “critical friend” who can challenge their decisions and even prevent a pupil from being excluded, if they are also the SENCO, added Walsh.

But many heads took to Twitter last Friday to say they or colleagues were unable to attend the march because they were SENCOs or lunchtime supervisors.

One assistant headteacher, who did not wish to be named, said the senior leadership team helped run the kitchen because of a lack of staff.

“It’s very stressful. It means we have to stay later and arrive earlier.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said more members are saying they have extra roles as playground monitors or SENCOs.

Heads will have less time to dedicate to the “vital work of school improvement,” he said.