Karen Ferguson discovers a book with plenty of practical advice for new SENCOs, and a healthy respect fo workload and wellbeing

Any aspiring or newly appointed primary SENCO will benefit from the wealth of experience Jackie Ward has drawn on to write this book. It’s an easy-to-read and realistic “how to” guide that shows a real appreciation for the reality of the job on the ground. With teacher workload and wellbeing causing so much concern across the education system, it’s a testament to Ward that this theme is the golden thread that ties all the chapters together.

The book itself seems designed with this in mind. The layout is clear and accessible, drawing attention to the interesting case studies, effective top tips and key “take aways” from each of its 11 chapters.

For a more experienced practitioner, some of the advice could possibly border on patronising. However, there are enough golden nuggets throughout to make it a good read for even the most seasoned SENCO, and in any case, positive reinforcement is always comforting in what can be an isolating role.

Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of a SENCO’s responsibilities, and Ward’s singular focus throughout is to give practical advice to move readers forward in their development of the role. Early chapters break down the support that SENCOs can give to children, parents and colleagues, with each group of stakeholders getting their own dedicated chapter. The chapter for children is linked directly to current guidelines, the one on parental support is a good starting point for signposting and meetings, and the one on working with colleagues (in reality, often the most challenging part of the job) clearly identifies their most common areas of need and provides useful advice on how to support them.

It is great to see wellbeing and workload being discussed

A later chapter on working with outside agencies will be very beneficial for any new SENCO. It sets out clearly what each agency’s role is in supporting students, and the “Pros and Cons” section is of particular interest. Knowing that the challenges of waiting lists and appointments are not just in your own area is comforting in its own right.

For me, the most interesting and useful chapter is the one entitled “Applying for statutory assessment: EHCPs” – a fantastic go-to guide with step-by-step advice on the process. Starting with who may request, and providing what is almost a checklist of what is needed before even getting started, it goes on to lay out a clear timeline of the process. The latter is clear about what to expect at each stage, how to use the EHCP once it is in place, and even how to handle appeals and mediation – an area that is not often openly discussed or shared. This will be invaluable for anyone working with EHCPs for the first time. I certainly would have appreciated it when I started.

Unfortunately, for all the focus on workload and wellbeing, the advice on how to manage it is not as strong or as practical as the advice on doing the job itself. While the book will no doubt help new SENCOs hack their way to more efficient practices, most of the specific tips for workload and wellbeing appear to rely on asking senior leaders for dispensation. In an ideal world, this should be sufficient but, especially in smaller and more rural schools, SENCOs not only have teaching commitments but other responsibilities too. Having said that, it is great to see wellbeing and workload being discussed, and the emphasis on the need to look after oneself before you can support others is something all new practitioners should be taught.

Overall then, this is a very welcome book that can only be a benefit to newly appointed or aspiring SENCOs. With guidance linked to the latest legislation, and a clear structure taking in all the role’s main responsibilities, Ward has given us an excellent tool to ensure more can get on the right track towards sustained and sustainable careers in primary SEND.