Solutions: How to hang on to a good SENDCO

The best way to incentivise SENDCOs to stay in this demanding job is to ensure everyone values what they do and what they stand for

The best way to incentivise SENDCOs to stay in this demanding job is to ensure everyone values what they do and what they stand for

30 Apr 2024, 5:00

School A and School B are similar mainstream schools, desperate to hang on to their SENDCO.

They both give their SENDCO adequate time to do the role, pay them a respectable TLR and provide them with a number of TAs for support. They both make them part of the school’s SLT and even offer some flexible working opportunities for their wellbeing.

School A’s SENDCO stays in post, thriving in the role and driving outcomes for pupils with SEND.

School B’s SENDCO leaves, setting the school’s provision back and setting off a lengthy recruitment process.

The difference? A recent experience sheds light on the answer.

Understanding SENDCO retention

In a recent CPD day for MAT SEND leaders organised by Whole Education, 40 such colleagues were asked: Which are the most important factors that support SENDCO retention?

The respondents chose from the following options, also adding some of their own: Salary, time, seniority, relationship with the LA, workload, professional growth and development opportunities, number of TAs, quality of line management support, school culture around inclusion and flexible working

Everyone in the room had been a SENDCO and either still was or was working closely with SENDCOs in their day-to-day practice. The MATs they work in cover around 600 schools, including some of the largest.

Each colleague had 5 votes which they could use flexibly, for example by putting multiple votes against one factor if they felt strongly about it.

One factor attracted almost three times as many votes as any other: The school culture around inclusion, including from the head.

It’s a small dataset, but it suggests an interesting hypothesis with consequences that go far beyond the reach of a SENDCO.

A whole-school culture of inclusion

It’s about what happens across the school. A headteacher can give a SENDCO time and pay them well. But if they don’t feel listened to they are much more likely to leave. Your SENDCO can join SLT, but if they don’t feel they can effect change you won’t hang on to them. And no matter how many TAs support them, if wider staff mindsets aren’t inclusive it’s a poor investment.

Schools that work well for pupils with SEND are about much more than the experience, expertise or effectiveness of the SENDCO. Inclusive schools live and breathe a culture in which everyone (particularly every leader, but everyone) considers the needs of pupils with SEND with each decision  they make.

When a school leader reflects on the effectiveness of the school behaviour policy, when a teacher considers how they will teach an upcoming lesson or when a teaching assistant plans well for an intervention, they think about those pupils. When the designated safeguarding lead reviews cases, when the midday supervisors serve lunches or when the history lead prepares curriculum materials, they think about those pupils.

And as with so much school practice, that is most effective when it’s driven by the headteacher.

Holding on to a good SENDCO

Three years ago, nasen’s national survey found that 12 per cent of SENDCOs leave their role each year and only 40 per cent plan to be working as a SENDCO in five years’ time. Meanwhile, SEND registers increase in size year-on-year and more pupils with more complex needs are attending mainstream schools. A shortage of SENDCOs is something education can ill-afford.

It’s true that some will leave the SENDCO role for promotion – to SLT, headship, a MAT or local authority SEND leader or adviser role. But it’s also clear that many are finding the SENDCO role at best challenging, or at worst unmanageable.

The hundreds of SENDCO vacancies published on teaching websites attest to the fact that we still have much to do to ensure the SENDCO role is desirable in the first place, let alone one someone might want to stay in.

Perhaps that’s because it’s not valued highly enough and perhaps it’s just innately too hard. But pay isn’t the only way to signify value, and if everyone around a SENDCO embraced what their job represents, then perhaps we’ll find we had the solution all along.

More from this theme


Academy trusts: From growing pains to gains

As more leaders consider growth, what do we know about how to do this well?

Jack Dyson

Can the new teaching apprenticeship solve recruitment woes?

New route for those without an existing degree will be introduced next year

Freddie Whittaker

How schools with the poorest intakes boosted progress

Heads explain how they improved behaviour, changed leadership and reached outside of the school gates to boost results

Samantha Booth

School funding: Can a ‘magic formula’ cut spend but not standards?

Integrated curriculum financial planning has been around for years, but the government has increasingly seized on its benefits

John Dickens

The knock on the door: A simple solution to poor attendance?

We visited a school where staff did 4,000 home visits in one year to support pupils

Samantha Booth

Can childcare fill primary schools’ empty classrooms?

On-site childcare delivers many benefits for schools, but 'practical issues' face leaders considering renting out vacated spaces

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *