No more SENDCos. The role needs a new title and status

‘Coordinator’ simply doesn’t reflect the demands, responsibilities and importance of the role in today’s school system

‘Coordinator’ simply doesn’t reflect the demands, responsibilities and importance of the role in today’s school system

8 Apr 2024, 5:00

In the landscape of education, particularly in the realm of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), the role of leadership holds paramount importance. However, the person with the most direct and day-today responsibility for ensuring pupils with learning needs receive the education they deserve often lacks the status and authority the role should command.

Judicium research recently published in these pages revealed that two in five SENDCos are not on their school’s SLT, causing discrepancies between school leadership priorities and the reality of leading SEND.

A subtle yet significant linguistic shift is required to truly embody the essence of effective leadership in this domain. It’s time to reconsider the title ‘coordinator’ commonly assigned to those leading special needs provision in schools, and instead embrace a language that reflects the strong leadership necessary to ensure pupils with SEND are truly included in school decision-making.

‘Coordinator’, often abbreviated to a diminutive Co in SENDCo, inherently suggests a primary focus on organisation and coordination rather than robust leadership. While coordination undoubtedly plays a crucial role in managing SEND provision, it does not encapsulate the breadth and depth of knowledge and skills required to lead effectively in this area.

A SEND leader knows students’ and works with staff across the school to make students’ school days manageable and their classroom time productive. A SEND leader understands the intricacies EHCPs and local authority and national funding streams. They are often the first port of call when a child is dysregulated. They work with families, agencies and medical professionals. They are (too) often called upon to appear before tribunals. And ultimately, they are accountable for the wellbeing and progress of some of our most vulnerable and some of our most challenging learners. 

This is leadership, and leadership transcends mere coordination; it encompasses vision, strategy, advocacy, collaboration and accountability. What we need is strong leadership in order to drive systemic change.

They should be SLT members and paid on the leadership scale

For these reasons I am advocating for two significant changes: First, the SENDCo title should be replaced with that of SEND and Inclusion Lead, and second, all SEND and Inclusion Leads should be members of SLT paid on the leadership scale.

Reframing the title and expectations in this way would reflect a system-wide commitment to prioritising the holistic development and progress of SEND pupils, ensuring they have equitable access to education and opportunities for achievement.

And by including SEND and Inclusion Leads in senior leadership teams, we can ensure that this crucial work is integral to decision making at the highest level, that every policy is scrutinised for its inclusivity before it is implemented and that every action is taken with its impact on every learner in mind.

To meet the diverse needs of SEND pupils and enable them to progress similar to their non-SEND peers, educational leaders must possess not only organisational skills but also the ability to inspire, innovate and advocate for systemic change.

All educational leaders should see themselves as SEND leaders, but we don’t and can’t all have the expertise to do that well. It’s only by working with SEND and Inclusion Leads as decision-making equals that we can hope to do so.

Moreover, recognising and valuing the leadership qualities inherent in the role can attract individuals with diverse skill sets and experiences, enriching the pool of talent dedicated to supporting SEND pupils.

The time has come to retire the term ‘Coordinator’ and embrace a language that reflects the essence of strong leadership in special needs provision. By doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every child, regardless of their abilities, receives the support, guidance and opportunities they need to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.

SEND provision is not just about coordination; it’s about leadership. If there’s one simple policy that can deliver systemic change, it is to recognise and remunerate that accordingly.

If the next government is committed to improving SEND education, then a valued SEND and Inclusion Lead in every school could be the most impactful measure at their disposal.

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  1. Wendy Baverstock

    A step in the right direction. SENCo time must be protected and not diluted with a million other responsibilities, whether they are on SLT or not. Too many SENCos are not given enough time to do the job and are pulled in too many different directions with the demands of classroom teaching on top, making the role almost impossible. If more SENCos were on SLT, perhaps they would have more influence to fight for protected time to do the role properly.