Kathy Brodie addresses some common concerns that you might regularly encounter if you’re an Early Years SENCo…
I’ve previously written about a few of the basic roles that you need to be involved in as a SENCo. Here, I’m examining in more detail some of the concerns that you, as Early Years SENCo, are likely to encounter as you perform your duties.
I’ve focused on three areas – talking to parents; working with other professionals; and making observations for special educational needs. These are the most common areas that SENCos tell me they have problems with.
Once you, or a member of your team, has identified that there may be a problem, and there are sufficient supporting observations in place, someone must discuss your concerns with the child’s parents or carers. You may like to consider some of the following aspects:
It could be that you decide it is more professional for the key person to talk to the parents initially, with your support and guidance. This could be because the key person has a more detailed understanding of the family and their child’s needs. Don’t forget that parents can feel very worried when the SENCo approaches them, because it seems ‘official’. It may be less worrying for the key person to have a chat first and then introduce the SENCo in the second meeting.
Just as each child is unique, parents all have their own experience, knowledge and emotional needs. We must take this into account when approaching parents. For example, you may be more comfortable using technical terms if your parent is a speech and language therapist. Or you may choose to approach parents when you feel they are in a secure emotional place, rather than rushing in.
For some parents it will be a relief that someone else has confirmed their own thoughts. With others there may be a period of denial, and these parents can take longer to engage in a discussion with you. Don’t let this put you off. Sometimes these are the parents who become the biggest advocates in the long term.
Working with staff from specialist areas, such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists or health visitors, is also known as multi-agency working.
When liaising with multi-agency staff, you will find that many will be on a restricted budget, which equates to restrictions on the time that they have to come to visit the setting or have meetings.
As SENCo this means that you will have to ensure that all the observations and other paperwork is in order and that you’ve fully briefed the key person. Keep in mind the following points…
I found that multi-agency staff often asked for meetings during the really busy period between 11am and 1pm. If you don’t have lunchtime cover, do ask if you can hold the meeting at another time.
It’s much better to do that than have to keep interrupting the meeting or being distracted by the bustle of lunchtime. Similarly, make sure that you are clear about how long the meeting will be, so you can assess the level of detail that you will be able to present.
Making sure that meetings start and finish on time is professional, so do ensure that the conversations are on topic and don’t waste time.
Ensure that all the interested parties are there when organising, or taking part in a ‘team around the child’ (TAC) meeting, where several agencies, including a school representative, may attend. There is a possibility that different agencies will report to different authorities, for example, some may be National Health while others will be local authority.
It is best not to assume that they all know who is involved. Check with the organiser, if you are not organising the meeting yourself.
It could also be that parents have paid for a private assessment, which you’ll need to take into account. If you are leading the meeting as SENCo, you will need to ask parents about everyone they have seen or talked to about their child. Jointly decide who you need to invite to the TAC meeting.
Multi-agencies all have targets to meet with limited time and budgets. Do be aware that there can sometimes be conflicting agendas and you may need to balance them somehow. For example, the physiotherapist may like you to do three hours of therapy exercises a week, and the speech and language therapist may also want you to do their programme three hours a week, but you only have an inclusion worker for one hour a week.
If the programme doesn’t make it clear what you need to do, do ask questions. It could be that the instructions have been missed from the photocopy.
Similarly, do ask what the acronyms stand for if you are at all uncertain. Very often other professionals use acronyms without thinking and they may change over time. For example, professionals often refer to Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC).
For some parents, going to see the ‘specialist’ can be a massive step. You may need to provide moral support to encourage them to take their child to an appointment, whether it is with the speech and language therapist, the doctor or an assessment unit.
This is especially important if your local authority operates a system whereby it puts parents who do not attend an appointment to the bottom of the waiting list again.
It is ideal if you can attend the appointment with them. It is a great opportunity to learn about assessments, and gives you the opportunity to ask questions about how this can be supported in your setting.
Very often the key person or SENCo makes copious notes, in great detail, only to find these take too much time to go through and only get a glance from the multi-agency staff.
Contrary to regular observations, these observations are for a specific outcome. Research and record these prior to starting the observation. There are several things to consider when doing these types of observations…
Who will be reading the observations and what will they want to know? If it is for a speech and language therapist, you will need to make exact and precise notes on utterances. For example, does your child miss the beginnings from words, the ends of words, or is it a lisp? If the observations are for concerns about social interactions, it will be more important to note when and where your child talks and who they talk with (adult, child, sibling?). It is always advisable to have a conversation with the professional who will be reading the observations prior to starting. You can then ask what is important to include and what is not necessary.
The level of detail and types of details will depend on the reason for the observation. If it is an initial observation, then you should consider recording everything in the environment. For example, where did you take the observation? (In the book corner with two other children present).
You may wish to include more details of the general environment. For example, ‘It was around home-time and parents were picking children up, so the environment was noisy and confusing.’
Once you’ve set targets for the child to achieve, you can then start to make observations that address these targets specifically.
Similarly, if you have a programme from a therapist, you can make observations that will inform parents, carers and the multi-agency team about the progress the child is making.
The role of SENCo carries many divergent responsibilities and can be daunting. Sometimes you will have to work closely with other services and parents, listening to their voices and being considerate of their concerns.
At other times you may be an advocate for the child, working with multi- agency teams to ensure that the child’s best interests are always maintained.
Kathy Brodie is an Early Years Professional, author and trainer based in East Cheshire.