7th Annual SENCO Update Conference


SENCO update 7

Chris Robertson 


Laura Cunningham


Brian Lamb on The Lamb Inquiry

Sir Alan Steer


Break Out Sessions 


Alison Ekins



This is a significant annual conference for SENCos that took place just before the election. Any comments attributed to government staff will therefore apply to the policies and approaches of the previous administration and may not apply in future. There has, however, been much cross party agreement on the developments in this area.

Chris Robertson
This Optimus event has grown over seven years to become the key national conference for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators in England.  Chris Robertson, Editor of SENCO update, Senior Lecturer in SEN and Inclusion at Birmingham University introduced the day. He noted the strong interest in SEN and inclusion at this time with the Government at the time of writing having detailed plans for SEN and Disability policy as a result of recently publishing an action plan in response to the Lamb Inquiry. He suggested that Sir Alan Steer would  make links between behaviour and SEN in his talk whilst workshop sessions  would focus on implementation issues related to these two agendas as well as dealing with collaboration, differentiation and the legal obligations in relation to SEN.

At a Crossroads
Chris suggested that  we are almost at a crossroads in policy that may bring about significant changes. These may include a focus on majority policies that will cause structural change with implementation plans being reduced due to budget cuts. Lamb and Steer may be templates for emerging practice in within this scenario. A new code of practice in imminent  following recommendation 17 of the Lamb Enquiry There are now over 26 providers for the new SENCO training but a question can be raised about how this requirement  can be applied to small schools. Ofsted will also be considering the implications of SEN for inspection. The Lamb enquiry has implications for SENCOs -  in terms of simplifying SEN policy and in the requirement for governor training. Christopher encouraged SENCos to be ready for these changes.

Laura Cunningham
Laura Cunningham, Assistant Director SEN and Disability Division at the DCSF outlined the plans for DCSF policy at the time of this conference which was before the coalition government. Her perspective should be seen in the context of the then labour government. Her previous experience and background was in relation to Tribunals Appeals and also as a SEN governor of a local primary school. She considered changes in policy at government level and their implication for  the SENCO role. Particularly, the Achievement For All initiative


Narrowing the Gap
Breaking the link between SEN and low achievement  was every one's business 1.7 million school aged children  were identified  as having SEN. That is 21% of the school population. The percentage of children with SEN achieving 5 GCEs at A-C including English and Maths has doubled between 2006 and 2009. What were the factors at play and what can we do to further improve on this?  However, the gaps between the attainment of children with and without SEN ranges from 40 to 55 percentage points in March 2010.


Some schools have high achievements against the odds. What lessons can be learnt from these schools? This is also not restricted to academic achievement. For example, the School's Council may not be inclusive of all the children in the school.

Recent Government Reviews
There have been a number of recent government reviews relating to SEN:


The Bercow Review

  • The Rose Review of Dyslexia
  • A revised Ofsted framework with forms and guidance
  • The Lamb Inquiry
  • The Salt Report


These reviews have engaged with practitioners in order to find out what works and there has been largely cross party support for their recommendations. There are some common themes across these initiatives:


  • A strengthening of the workforce through training - e.g.  for SENCos and in relation to dyslexia
  • SENCos will have to have QTS thus raising their profile
  • Jean Gross has been appointed as Communication Champion.
  • Increased Parental Engagement in SEN with on-line reporting as well as a consideration of the forms and frequency of communication to parents.
  • Targeted intervention and One to One (This was subsequently dropped during the Wash Up phase of parliament)
  • A Revised Ofsted inspection framework with an improved focus on vulnerable children
  • A school will not be rated by an Ofsted inspection as outstanding unless the school performs well in relation to vulnerable children. The new framework will consider what support a school provides to enable long term goals for children as future citizens.


This puts a better spotlight on the role of SENCOs. SEN should not be seen as a bolt on as the proportion of children with SEN is high. There needs to be a focus on both attainment and wider outcomes for children with disabilities and/or SEN. The Department are working with First News who are running a campaign on learning difficulties and positive approaches - lead by Henry Winkler (the  Fonz from the American TV series 'Happy Days') who has a personal commitment to overcoming literacy difficulties.


Focus on Outcomes
There needs to be a clearer focus on both attainment and wider outcomes for disabled children and those with SEN. This is not just about exam results but also about the increased participation in the broader social aspects of school life.


The Achievement For All Project in the North West
This involved 450 schools in 10 Local Authorities in years one, five, seven and ten. Fifteen thousand children are in the project now with another cohort next year. It is lead by Manchester University and involves the National Strategies, NCSL and TDA. The budget is 31 million pounds over two years and involved:


  • Assessment and tracking with interventions focused on stretching pupils
  • Structured conversations with parents
  • Schools can choose to develop wider outcomes than just academic achievement
    e.g. a focus on reducing bullying.


The project claims a big impact that has been made quickly  in that it has been an eye opener for some professionals and teachers have learnt a lot about the children they teach. Participants have been positive as it is part of the school improvement agenda and has interlinked with other guidance.

One of the early Heads meetings has meant that the head works closely with the SENCO with a consequence that resources have been committed to the projects. Some of the findings so far are that;


  • Pupils with SEN do need an appropriate assessment of needs.
  • Some schools have found that transition is important.
  • There is a suggestion that the SEN service is separate from other services
  • There are benefits from improved communication with parents about learning
  • A suggestion that there is an integration of different initiatives with a shared responsibility for SEN and outcomes.


The AFA project is about leadership with the SENCO role being concerned with influencing senior leadership and in leading teaching and learning to raise achievement, supporting strategies for inclusion, enabling pupil voice, collaboration across schools and working with parents and external agencies.

In conclusion Laura quoted from the Lamb Report:

"In the most successful schools the effective engagement of parents has had a profound impact on children's progress and the confidence between the school and the parent. Parents need to be listend to more and brought into a partnership with statutory bodies in a more meaningful way."


Brian Lamb on The Lamb Inquiry
Chris Robertson then introduced Brian Lamb Chair of the Lamb Inquiry as someone who had a long career in the voluntary sector before leading the Inquiry for 18 months.


Brian Lamb thanked SENCOs on a personal level as a parent of two children and stated that the Inquiry did not specifically mention the SENCo role but that SENCos would benefit from the framework. In fact the time for SENCos has come due to the review that has attempted to change the structure of SEN provision. He noted the challenges and frustrations of the task that he had been set using two quotes:

'I waited 30 years to get my hands on the levers on power and now I realise they are not connected to anything.'
Sir Keith Joseph


'The state should only wish for children what a wise parent would wish for their child.'
R.H. Tawney

An aim of the Inquiry was to ensure that there was a voice for parents and the child so that they felt they are engaged in the education of their child and so benefit the outcomes for that child.


Key themes of the Inquiry
1) A greater focus on outcomes
2) A stronger voice for parents
3) A more strategic local approach
4) A more accountable system
5) A National Framework


The evaluation commissioned from Warwick University found that parent involvement had many benefits for the outcomes of children. It is about getting the listening relation with parents right. There needs to be a move forwards so that parents should not have to police the system for themselves. This will require a change in culture that requires new building blocks so that children with SEN are embedded in the system which is not the case at present. He listed the challenges:


1) Low expectations
2) Poor outcomes
3) Parents search for someone who 'understands my child's needs'

Parents are satisfied with SENCOs but they feel that the framework lets them down.

The Inquiry calls for a clearer focus on outcomes is needed via

  • School Leadership
  • Achievement For All
  • Pupils and Parents Guarantees to enable parents confidence - the consultation on this is ongoing
  • Early access to multi agency teams
    for children with more profound needs these are crucial - SENCos need to be part of these to enable interface with health and social services.
  • Development of skills and expertise
  • Teaching assistants
    TAs need to be trained properly and teachers need  to be trained how to use them. They can be considered as an additional interpreter of the curriculum.
  • Teacher skills, advanced and specialist
    We need more specialist teachers as these children. Parents and teachers need early access to specialist support
  • Children's workforce
  • Tackling bullying and exclusions


 We need better and early interventions with panels considering whether needs have been met.


Further Challenges

  • Statutorily required information is not published
  • Information is often inaccessible
  • There is poor communication with parents and not enough active listening
  • The available support does not reach enough parents


A stronger voice for parents

  • The needs to be a cultural change in the core offer
  • SEN information should be mainstreamed
  • Schools SEN policies should be simplified and parents consulted
  • There information needs of parents in relation to SEN should be anticipated by schools and services and this information should be accessible
  • There is a major problem with the deployment and standing of Parental Partnership Services within the legislation. The concept of neutrality in the role has been misinterpreted. This does not mean being neutral hence Parental Partnership Services need to be retrained
  • A Dedicated independent helpline is called for


Brian Lamb suggested that SEN information should be as ubiquitous as head lice information for parents in schools! As parental confidence increases the potential for conflict will also decrease.


Challenges in relation to this enabling a stronger voice for parents were noted as: local variation in services with a lack of clarity about the respective responsibilities of schools and LA. A limited strategic capacity and poor deployment of skills so that poor statements are produced that do not focus on outcomes. Improvements need to include the publishing of policies. Currently, 50% of schools do not have a disability equality scheme. The need for the separation of assessment from provision in statements needs more research as it has not been proved despite the concerns raised by the Select Committee. It is not easy to prove that Local Authorities have been restricting the allocating of resources within statements. There will be an increase right of appeal by parents following an annual review.


The system will be made more accountable making use of the School Report Card to include the voice of parents and pupils. School Improvement Partners will need training as will Ofsted Inspectors. Governors will need to take account of the SEN provision in the school.  A withholding judgement can be made on a school if SEN practice is held to be poor.


There will need to be more scrutiny at LA level by elected members. Better information will be gathered by the DCSF which will be shared with Ofsted. Complaints about schools and Las will go to the Local Government Organisation. SOS powers of direction will be put in place. Ofsted will keep CAA procedures under review.


Tribunals will improve their guidance and information for parents, children and young children. To ensure that money is not a barrier to parental use of a tribunal there will be legal aid and an exceptional funding scheme. Lamb would rather that parents were not present at a tribunal but if they are, they should be well represented.


A new national framework will encompass new codes of practice for Educational Psychologists and other SEN professions. There should be an evaluation of E.P. service models. The framework should encourage personalisation and early interventions, strengthening the Disability Allowance removing exemptions for auxiliary aids.


Sir Alan Steer
He chaired the Learning Behaviour reports for the DCSF and, in his presentation, he stated that SEN was at the centre of school improvement. Getting it right for SEN is central to getting it right for all learners. Whilst there is a pressure to focus on behaviour, schools are centrally about learning and he believes that there are very few children in society who cannot overcome their behaviour difficulties to learn. The challenge is to achieve consistency as there are many examples of good practice. He asked why is the system so poor at spreading good practice.


He suggested that research shows that variation between schools is large and so is the variation within school. This does not suggest that children are central to the consideration of schools.


It suggests that schools may focus on other needs.


He noted that funding problems are coming so that the profession needs to be careful with its resources. SENCos need to know what the budget is and where it is and what contingency budget is in place. Funding needs to be effectively deployed- if a need is met then funding should be moved to where it is needed!


Core belief
He stated that respect has to be given in order to be received. Parents, careers and teachers all need to operate in a culture of mutual regard and he asked the audience to consider how this could look in practice for a child or a parent. The quality of learning teaching and behaviour in schools are an inseparable issue and the responsibility of all staff. There is a need to ascertain where is the behaviour occurring and what is the incidence? Some quarters claim a crisis - but Ofsted has currently recorded the lowest degree of problems with 95% of schools being judged as ‘good' or better. Popular opinion is not always factual.


Early Intervention
Access to provision and evaluation needs to change, The funding should focus on early intervention.

He believed that there must not be ring fenced funding for schools so that money can be used strategically. He recognised that provision is not the same as access. For example, it may be difficult to make an appointment  with CAMHS and when the appointment is at last obtained, the parents might not attend. As a consequence, some children and parents need champions within the system. (e.g. parent support advisors)


A key way forward for schools is to make meaningful relationships and joint appointments with other services and schools. The current position could mean that there might be a loss of services if schools only consider the immediate needs of the schools rather than the long term needs of children in the community.


He then considered factors that enable the consistency of practice


  • 1. Learning and teaching

There is no requirement for a policy on L&T to enable the continuity of practice. For example, primary practice is often dumped during the first days of secondary education. e.g.  seating plans and management is often dropped.


This policy will have to come from the profession as part of a renewed emphasis on collegiate professionalism.


  • 2. Behaviour

A common approach to behaviour is central to supporting positive behaviour development.


  • 3. Organisation

We need to ensure that the school has the resources to respond to the needs of children and in a time  of limited resources the SENCo will need to audit the resources very closely to ensure they are harnessed to best effect.

Managing Change
In summary: Getting the teaching right is important and we must take every one with us and accept that people change at different speeds.

Break-out sessions

The following break-out sessions were listed: 

  • Creating dyslexia friendly lessons to provide for all learning styles
  • Creating strong links between schools and SEN professionals in multi-agency teams
  • The SENCO's legal obligations surrounding LA schemes for delegated SEN funding. Mark Blois, partner, Browne Jacobson LLP
  • Listening to the voices of children and young people with SEN, messages from positive psychology. Dr. Ruth MacConville, head of SEN service, London Borough of Ealing
  • Inclusion in Action: making whole-school systems work for staff and pupils to enhance planning and provision. Alison Ekins, senior lecturer in inclusion, Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Identifying and including pupils with ADHD in the mainstream classroom Gareth D Morewood, director of curriculum support [SENCO], Priestnall School, Stockport
  • Providing effective support for pupils and tackling the stigma associated with mental health Aqualma Murray, Independent child care consultant and trainer, Aqua-Empowerment Services
  • Legal implications surrounding the new practice guidance for safeguarding disabled children. Mark Blois, partner, Browne Jacobson LLP
  • Developing the common assessment framework in line with SEN procedures. RAISEonline: assessing your SEN pupils and creating strategies for raising their achievement


Alison Ekins presented one of the break-out sessions at the event, Inclusion in Action: making whole-school systems work for staff and pupils to enhance planning and provision, which I attended.

Alison is an experienced primary SENCO and lecturer from Canterbury Christ Church University outlined the 'Inclusion in Action' model which is a whole school process of school improvement to enable inclusive practice. It emphasises the co-ordinating role of the SENCo rather than the SENCo taking sole responsibility and 'doing it all'. It is concerned with developing skills amongst staff based on a rigorous approach that considers underlying factors that enable or impede inclusive practice.

It requires knowledge of available resources and being able to delegate these effectively to enable learning. Teaching Assistants should be seen in terms of their title rather than as the assistants of teachers. SENCos are strategic leaders who have a proactive rather than a reactive role in relation to the quality of teaching and learning for all learners so that individual needs are met within this context. It assumes that good practice for all is good practice for special educational needs.

The key processes include:

  • Provision Mapping that is transparent and owned by all staff
  • Information needs to be accessible to those who need to use it
  • There should be inclusive systems to support planning for all pupils


Alison stated that the "The Inclusion Action Model" is a dynamic model of whole school development in which the systems are interlinked and interactive. It assumes three stages of development with a linear list of discrete development activities:


Stage 1
Things are done by different people at different times and do not communicate with each other

Stage 2
Strategic leadership of provision

Stage 3
A model similar to total quality management where all aspects are interconnected by the classroom teachers. This is designed to be a dynamic model. She then went on to outline how this depended upon clear and common practices based on consistency in the use of descriptors of need. The process focused upon the benefits for all children.

This links in with the EPPI review of the use of adults in the classroom in that staff liked approaches that facilities flexible grouping in the classroom but it might be at odds with the reviews finding that systematic interventions around literacy based on a number of individual inputs by appropriately trained staff was found to be effective. Such an approach would perhaps not be at odds with Alison's plea for the proactive use of the data that is available to the school about the achievements of learners and using this to respond to needs in a way that is open to evaluation by the school. A shared problem solving approach to the SEN requirements can enable focused target setting on achievable goals and the celebration of their successful achievement.


Various planning and review guides taken from Alison's book with Peter Grimes were included in the extensive and thorough pack of conference materials.  

Ekins, A. Grimes, P. (2009) Inclusion, Developing an Effective Whole School Approach
Milton Keynes Open University Press


Conference Report by:
Mike Blamires

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