What Skills Do You Need to be an Early Years SENCo?

  • What Skills Do You Need to be an Early Years SENCo?

Kathy Brodie explores the roles and responsibilities of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator…

The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) is a complex role that requires a diverse and sometimes opposing set of skills. In this, the first of two articles on the subject, I will explore the roles and responsibilities of the SENCo, focusing on their practical implementation.

It should be stated clearly from the start that it is not down to you, as SENCo, to do everything. Your role may include plenty of hands-on experience, but it is the staff who will know their key children best, and who will be the first to notice the effects an intervention or programme is having. They will be able to make detailed observations and assess these accurately. The skills, knowledge and experience of your staff will be fundamental in the support of the children. Your role as the SENCo is to coordinate, manage and support their work. In small early years settings, of course, you may be key person and SENCo, in which case you’re likely to be much more involved in the practical processes.

A varied role

The roles and responsibilities of a SENCo are the most varied of any job you’re likely to have in an early years setting. There are many skills required, so I have grouped them under three areas: coordinator, knowledge expert and liaison manager.

The first refers to an ability to coordinate the paperwork the SENCo role generates.

This may make the difference between a child getting funded support and receiving the correct type of help, or ending up with nothing. As a SENCO, you should review the current paperwork regularly, to make sure it’s still suitable for purposes of the current cohort of children in the setting. You will be responsible for:

● writing and maintaining SEN policies and procedures;

● creating and maintaining a SEN register; n ensuring that the records of individual children are up to date and accurate;

● monitoring records.

Some of the records you will need to keep updated are:

Individual Educational Plans (IEP) and play plans. These are, in part, records of your children’s achievements, but will mainly include targets for them to aspire to. The targets are usually negotiated with multiagency staff and parents, so they are relevant and suitable for the child in question. There is no shortcut to having relevant, pertinent IEPs, and it will take time to get the targets right.

As SENCo, one of your prime responsibilities is to ensure these plans are updated in a timely manner, with agreement and signatures from parents. The review frequency will vary from child to child, to meet individual needs. This can sometimes make keeping track of all the paperwork reasonably complicated, and you may need a clearly laid out diary or tracking sheet. It’s important that all the staff know where this is, and can understand it, so they can support their children effectively if you’re not there.

Plans and programmes from multi- professionals. For example, the speech and language therapist (or physiotherapist or occupational therapist) may have specific targets for a child to work towards, which could be integrated into the setting’s daily routine. Similarly, you should make sure that any targets you set for your child are in a suitable format for other multi-professionals to understand. Doing so means you can create an integrated, holistic plan for your child that can be easily updated.

It should be noted that it’s vitally important to include children’s voice wherever possible, either directly through asking their opinions (if they’re able to give them), or from the implication of their actions, such as their enjoyment of a particular activity.

If you do find that the paperwork is taking the majority of your time, investigate to see if someone can support you with the administrative tasks. This could be as simple as notifying other professionals of impending meetings or ensuring that parents are aware of IEP meetings. However, it’s still ultimately your responsibility as SENCO to ensure that the paperwork is suitable for purpose.

Being the expert

The second area requires you to be the SEN expert in your setting. This can be daunting, especially when everyone is coming to you for all the solutions. However, it doesn’t mean you must know everything – rather that you know where or how to get the information required and then disseminate it. This could be via contacts at the child development unit at the local hospital, from courses, parents or your own research.

Other times when you will have to be the expert are:

Staff training. This could be cascading information after attending training, or organising external training to meet a particular need. In either case, as SENCo it’s your role to ensure that the training is appropriate in level and content.

When supporting parents and signposting them to specialist advice. This may include provision from the local authority, suitable charities and other support organisations, such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS).

Knowing which specialist service to contact to support a child. For example, you may have to decide whether it’s more appropriate to contact the physiotherapist or the occupational therapist. You can make these decisions more effectively by being aware of the subtly different roles that these two sets of professionals have. This can be through formal training courses, or getting to know your local professionals and discussing their specialist roles.

Keeping yourself updated. As expert, it’s up to you to keep up to date with local and national changes in SEN practice and provision. You can do this in a variety of ways, for example, signing up to email updates (CASPAR from the NSPCC is a good general site), subscribing to magazines or joining the local SENCo cluster.

Learning to liaise

The third area, arguably the most challenging part of the role, is being liaison manager. You will also have to liaise with the myriad of people who may be internal or external to your setting, for example:

Liaising with parents so that you have an effective and positive partnership. This is critical to getting the right outcomes for the children in your care. This relationship will be different with every set of parents. You will have to be sensitive to both parents’ and children’s needs, and you may have some difficult conversations about decisions that need to be made. This can feel like an enormous responsibility, so it’s sensible to allow time to have thorough discussions with all parties involved before making such decisions.

Within your own setting and with your own staff. For example, negotiating when their roles are that of inclusion workers and when they are general members of staff.

Liaising with multi-professional staff. This may occur in the form of Team Around the Child (TAC) meetings, or meetings with individual multi-professionals if you have concerns about a number of children in the setting. For this type of liaison you will need your staff to provide up-to-date observations and assessments, and to know about the progress of each child on your SEN register. You will need to be skilled in negotiating conflicting requirements, such as having time and staff available to administer both a speech and language programme and a physiotherapy programme every day.

Liaising with your colleagues. You may be required to liaise with the rest of your setting about your work with other agencies, especially to ensure continuity and smooth transitions. In this case you will need to understand how your work will be continued into the future, and the type of information that colleagues further up the setting will require. For example, you may have to explain to others the reasoning behind the programmes implemented, or the ways that a speech and language programme has been embedded into everyday sessions.

The range of skills and knowledge needed to be an effective SENCo is vast, but they are manageable. The support of your staff, parents and other professionals will help you to develop these skills, but you will accomplish the most by always remembering that you are the advocate for your children.

Next up, read Kathy’s article on the more challenging aspects of the SENCo’s role.

Kathy Brodie is an Early Years Professional, author and trainer based in East Cheshire.