SENCO forum is back up - but only for some

The National SENCO Forum has been partially restored nearly three months after it was taken offline by the Department for Education – but eight other special needs advice forums have faced the same issue.

The forum, which allows 2,500 special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) to contact each other for support through an email chain, was disconnected during work to upgrade the DfE’s online platforms on November 18.

Just hours after Schools Week published a story about the problems on Friday, the DfE’s IT team apparently managed to restore the service, but the site’s advisory chair Christopher Robertson claimed many members are still completely cut off from the forum.

People with email addresses connected to BT, Virgin or AOL still have no access to the vital service, which has been running since 1995, and the DfE has not given an estimate for when this problem will be fixed.

“It’s all been partially and ineffectively restored. I have no idea how many of our members can access it and how many can’t,” said Robertson. “This is seems to be a barrier that the IT team is not able to overcome, or present a timeframe for overcoming. It’s frustrating but it’s not surprising.”

He is demanding an “immediate short-term fix” with ongoing IT support as well as a longer-term solution to establish a new platform to ensure the forum is protected from being disconnected in the future.

He also said school staff are struggling to access eight other e-forums, which also went offline in November. They include forums for teachers of children with severe learning difficulties, visual impairments and deaf children, as well as one forum for those working in sensory impairment services and four specifically for special needs IT specialists.

Last week, the DfE said the SENCO Forum is a “valuable online resource”, and that officials were “working closely with members of the forum to get it up and running again as quickly as possible”.

A spokesperson said the DfE had nothing further to add on a timeframe for fixing the ongoing problems today.

“They say they are committed to working with us to put a new platform in at some stage, but that stage has not been mapped out in any way, shape or form,” said Robertson.

“There’s a commitment to working with us to achieve a solution in the longer term but I’m afraid the longer-term could mean 18 months, by which time the community that has been building for over 22 years is likely to have been destroyed completely.”