With the Christmas break on the horizon, new- to-role SENCOs will have had a busy first term getting to know new pupils and parents and familiarising themselves with how their schools SEND policy looks on the ground and where they want to take it next. By this point in the year you will also normally have had interactions with at least one specialist from outside your setting, but with us still in the midst of the pandemic these interactions may have taken a completely new format both for SENCO and specialist! So how can you get the most out of working with specialists both during this most unusual of times and beyond?
Their time (and yours) will often be limited and depending on your local offer may also have implications for financial resources so really the key is preparation to maximise what you can achieve together. So once you have decided what you want to know/need support for, which specialist can provide that and have got informed consent from guardians, it’s the time to start considering how you can work most efficiently with them.
Given lockdown, it is harder for specialists to gather information in the way that they might usually (when you are in school if one person doesn't know something, you can usually just pop in and see another member of staff). With restricted access to schools, schools working in bubbles and some specialists still working from home, it makes it harder to get this information so it's worth considering in advance:
● Who knows 'the most' about the student - this might be more than one person.
● Who knows what their strengths are and when he/she is most successful? Who is the student's champion?
● Who knows what the specific concerns are and when they are being displayed? (across different lessons, school/home, in class/at break etc.)
● How can all of this information be conveyed to the specialist? Will one person become the information holder, can meetings with each person be arranged or maybe one meeting with everybody? Will this be in person or over a video call?
● How will you record the information you receive?
● How will you then disseminate it and with whom?
● How and when will you review? If there is a team supporting, then coordinating dates can be a nightmare so get them in the diary early.
If a pupil has more complex needs it may be that they are supported by multiple services which is where the ‘Co’ part of SENCo is really needed to ensure that working doesn’t become disjointed. Each specialist will bring with them a unique knowledge to the process, but it is the final consensus which is crucial to ensuring the best outcomes for your pupils. Part of this will also be ensuring that you develop a shared language, the term assessment, for example, may not mean the same thing to a SENCo, educational psychologist and a paediatrician!
What is crucial for effective partnerships between multiple specialists is a shared purpose, a willingness to re-visit and challenge existing practice and the ability to listen and value other’s perspectives. This way you can move beyond a basic level of co-operation and move towards integration between services. You can also find a more detailed exploration of different levels of joined up working on page 51 onwards in the SENCO Induction Pack.
Additionally when we think of specialists coming into school we often envision them working intensely with one or two pupils with high levels of need, but it’s important to remember that specialists can also be utilized beyond case work to support us to achieve more strategic goals. Consider identifying a few key priorities for your school development plans for SEN and ask the specialist what they can offer to facilitate each priority. (This will also help you understand their skills set and they may be able to offer far more than you expect!)
Finally, within all of this you also need to ensure space is made for meaningful input from the pupil themselves. Whilst for some this can be direct involvement in meetings with specialists, be led by what they feel comfortable with. Pupil voice is not a box that gets checked by having them sit through a two hour meeting where they are too intimidated to share their thoughts. Depending on the age range and level of need of the pupils you work with you could adopt a range of different methods for gaining their input during or prior to, including options for non-verbal communication to ensure your pupils have their voice heard.
So, whether you are new to the SENCO role, new to the school or returning to a school life that looks very different from this time last year, remember:
● Preparation is key when time is precious.
● Establishing a shared purpose gives multi agency teams a focus point to come back to.
● Pupil voice is the golden thread that should run through all our interactions with specialists.
● Where possible, think beyond case work, how can specialists impact the whole school.