SENCOs voiceless as IT glitch hits 'invaluable' online forum

An “invaluable” online forum that supports thousands of special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs) has been unavailable for months because of an IT error at the Department for Education.

The National SENCO Forum normally gives SENCOs access to help from colleagues around the country through an email chain. The forum has been going since 1995, and now has 2,500 members, processing around 400 messages a month.

It has been hosted by the DfE since 2010, but during work to upgrade the department’s online platforms on November 18 the forum was suddenly and without notice taken offline, with all its functions disabled.

The home page, which is still visible, says the forum was created “with the aim of providing an opportunity to discuss issues and share practical advice of help to SENCOS in carrying out their roles”.

Although forum co-founder Professor Klaus Wedell said he believed it was a genuine mistake on the part of the government’s IT team, he complained that the DfE had not shown “enough commitment or sense of urgency” in fixing the system over the last two months.

Wedell, who was the first professor of special needs at the Institute of Education in 1979 and now works with SENCOs as a special needs school governor following his retirement, said the forum is “vital” in helping SENCOs share their experiences and relate to others in similar positions.

He described the situation as “ghastly”, as forum leaders are unable to get in touch with users to explain what has happened to the resource, which he describes as a “lifeline” for those who use it.

“There just doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement of the extent of the damage that is happening as a result of this, and of the unfairness and the feeling that it cannot possibly be right that a SENCO should not get the support they need just because the IT department can’t solve a problem,” he said.

“They are not, or appear not to be, able to generate a practical solution and my feeling is that it cannot be right that all this work on behalf of these kids and their families should be held up by a technical problem.”

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

Gareth Morewood, the forum’s vice-chair, said members had been left feeling “abandoned” by the loss “invaluable resource”.

“The SENCO role can be a very isolated one. Having a network of colleagues and professionals to ask for support and get immediate responses is hugely powerful,” he continued.

“The loss of the forum has been a significant blow for many colleagues who are unable to seek accurate advice and support at a time when special educational needs provision is constantly under threat.”