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SENCOs voiceless as IT glitch hits ‘invaluable’ online forum

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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.”



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5 Comments

  1. Jane Brook

    I have found the forum invaluable as a means of staying up to date with developments including research. The role of SENCO in schools can be extremely isolated and the forum provides a place to raise issues and share good practice. I only hope the forum is up and running soon. At this time of educational cuts it can be difficult for SENCOs to attend courses and the forum has provided an alternative

  2. Christopher Robertson

    This is the first disruption to SENCO Forum activity in its 22 year history.

    Sadly, it comes at a time when SENCOs are playing such a key role in implementing the government’s SEND reforms. Evidence of this abounds in Local Area SEND Inspection reports. Many of these show that while Local Areas are struggling – in terms senior level strategic leadership – to make the reforms work, SENCOs are doing an excellent job in providing front line support for colleagues, children, young people and their families.

    As chair of the Forum I receive daily emails asking where the ‘lifeline of independent support’ has gone. I hope this article alerts members to the problem and helps to remind the Department of Education that ‘a fix’ is long overdue.

    In addition to ‘being there’ for SENCOs 24/7, the Forum community wants to work with government to enhance the quality of SEND provision throughout the country.

    Christopher Robertson
    Chair, SENCO Forum Advisory Group

  3. Liz Johanson

    The role of SENCo is often a lonely one. I am the only SEN member of staff in my school and rely heavily on the forum to discuss many SEN issues and, crucially, to check that I am interpreting policies and procedures correctly. The SENCO forum fills this void and I personally feel even more isolated without it. The members’ experience and knowledge on all things SEN are vital in helping me to ensure SEN pupils are fully supported.

  4. I have been a member of the senco-forum since 1998 when I first started out as a SENCO and it provided me with an invaluable source of on-going CPD. Being able to post a question and know that someone will offer advice/support/suggestions etc was invaluable to me in the early days and also as I progressed in experience. The forum allows you to share concerns and keep up-to-date and to benefit from the wide experience of other forum members who are incredibly generous with advice. Another valuable feature of the forum is the facility of being able to track back into previous postings to see what has been said in the past. I have now moved into assessing rather than teaching and the forum is still a key part of my professional life. Apart from that, I have got to ‘know’ people on line over the years and correspond outside the forum with some of them. It has been the best source of CPD that I have had in my 33 year teaching career and is a great loss.