National SENCO Workforce Survey 2021
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Millions of children and youngsters with special needs risk missing out on vital support, if resources aren’t protected, new report says

Thursday, 24 June, 2021

New research published today has found that millions of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will be left vulnerable for decades to come if the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) workforce isn’t given more time, resources and support to meet the needs of all children with SEND.

The new report, The National SENCO Workforce Survey: time to review 2018-2020, from nasen (National Association for Special Educational Needs) and Bath Spa University, estimates that 55% of primary SENCOs and 70% of secondary SENCOs are not allocated enough time to complete their role effectively.

The survey also highlights that between 2018 and 2020, SENCOs time allocation has seen only slight increases at just 18 minutes per week and 54 minutes per week for primary and secondary phase respectively. Based on this trajectory, it would take almost 150 years (primary) and more than 40 years (secondary) for all SENCOs to become full time - a recommendation outlined in previous SENCO Workforce reports to fully support the needs of children and young people with SEND.

This was echoed in a 2019 House of Commons Education Committee report on SEND, which advised that the Department for Education (DfE) should appoint an independent reviewer to examine the cost implications of requiring all schools to have a full-time dedicated SENCO.

Professor Adam Boddison, Lead Author and CEO at nasen, said: “Meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND must be a national priority. We cannot risk them falling through the cracks, particularly following the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In England alone, we are talking about over 1.3 million children or 15.5% of all pupils.

“SENCOs are highly specialised in their ability to support children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP) and those requiring SEN support. Yet our report with Bath Spa University clearly shows SENCOs’ progress has been hampered.”

This includes providing SENCOs with more time, resources and support; supporting senior school leaders and the wider workforce to better understand the vital role of the SENCO and ensuring that SENCOs routinely have the opportunity to influence strategic decision making in schools and settings.

Hannah Moloney, Co-author, SENCO and SEND researcher, said: “Capturing data over the last three years on the SENCO role has led to a very clear picture about the challenges they face. These challenges are profound, often preventing the Code of Practice from being effectively put into practice in schools nationwide.

“As a research team, we are desperate to see SENCO time protected in law so that children and young people with SEND can have the support they need and deserve. If we continue to ignore the issue of time needed to execute the SENCO role, we will see high levels of fixed-term and permanent exclusions and children and young people leaving education with poor mental health and with reduced chances of securing meaningful employment.

“Protecting SENCO time is a very cost-effective and powerful way to immediately impact a positive change overnight in every single school and setting nationwide.”

Dr Helen Curran, Co-author and Senior Lecturer in Special Educational Needs at Bath Spa University, added: “Over the last three years, the SENCO Workforce surveys have consistently demonstrated the challenges that schools and, in particular SENCOs, are facing. Despite their hard work and commitment to supporting children with SEND, particularly during such challenging times, it is clear that unless action is taken to support the effective facilitation of the SENCO role at a national level, there will be a very real and lasting impact on children with SEND.”

The report reiterates critical recommendations for the Department for Education, initially made in 2018, that include: creating legal protections on SENCOs’ time; ascertaining and standardising minimum time requirements for the role; and developing guidance for governing bodies and school leaders to facilitate the vital impact of SENCOs on the outcomes of children and young people.

Download the full report (pdf).

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