Mission Impossible – The Life of a SENCo

In the latest missive from Scarborough, my octogenarian father decries the lack of emotional and spiritual prominence in today’s schools.  He is right to be worried about an educational system that has marginalised those subjects where awe and wonder are prominent or ethical debate is encouraged.  The continued refusal to accept RE as an EBacc subject will mean this wonderful subject (I would come back as an RE teacher) is minimalized and often undervalued as headteachers desperately try to make savings.  Meanwhile, world religion and religious zealots continue to thrive!

However, my father will be pleased that good schools will always ensure there is an ethos of inclusive spiritual experiences.  Structured assemblies, the variety of good speakers speaking from their own perspective, students choosing and valuing their different charities and the use of our quiet room by our different faiths gives me hope.

There are many kind people who say the fabulous privilege of being a headteacher is akin to being the England football manager, an impossible job; Chocotzarht writes a fabulous timely blog about the incessant demands of being a headteacher.  However, my most difficult rewarding job was being a SENCo for seven years in Birmingham in the late 1990s.  This was the time of the entry into the profession of the teaching assistant, now correctly titled learning support assistant; often viewed with suspicion by the staffroom they have made a major difference when given structured support and clear classroom guidance, providing immense value for money.  This was also the time of the demise of the special school and subsequent introduction of complex vulnerable young people into schools that were ill prepared to adequately provide for them.  The role of the SENCo was and is the impossible job of trying to provide support for frustrated young people who by the time I met them had had seven years of school failure.  However, when I first became SENCo there were no league tables, no demands for results at all costs and success could be viewed in a more rounded perspective than simply three levels of progress in eight GCSE subjects, none which necessarily fit the skillset of the young person in the classroom.

To be a SENCo in 2015/16, now an assistant headteacher with responsibility for additional needs, is the most demanding, difficult, emotionally draining job with huge expectations from the still suspicious staffroom demanding that you will provide immediate support and answers for all student complexities, including a list of needs such as:  English as Additional Language, Tourette’s, varying medical needs and the nonstop demands of ADHD.  All this with falling budgets and headteachers under huge pressure that no one student can be left behind in the academic wacky races that have precluded vocational courses from the points make prizes success or fail, sack or bonus, league tables.  To be a good SENCo you have to be an advocate for the most unloved, and often unlovable.  You have to keep your moral compass even when the staffroom is demanding they be excluded from the school.  You are often the last bastion of hope for the lost and lonely, parenting the dysfunctional parents, counselling the exasperated staff and starting as fresh daily with students who habitually let you down.  Added to this is the 280 page SEND statutory document that appeared at the beginning of the year and the need to be relentlessly organised and prepared to organise meetings with the non-existent other external agencies.  To work in this unfair, unequal system there are the heroes/heroines of our school, coordinating the impossible optimistic leaders in an often cynical pessimistic system.

To my ex colleagues in SEN, I say thank you for the inclusive progress you have ensured with special school children who have often thrived in our mainstream chaos.

To Debbie and her team, I salute you!