The Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) has been instrumental in helping our schools for many years to help students with special educational needs and disabilities (SENDs) learn, grow and develop.
In my experience at Lewis Charlton Learning Centers, helping SEND students learn through hands-on practices and techniques. Staff will assist students in the class in completing assignments, contacting teachers, and informing parents of their progress. At the same time, students will be grouped together, for example, if a SEND student has difficulty reading so that someone is always there to read to them.
However, these ways of working changed completely as a result of the creation of COVID-19. The pandemic forced students to almost study and work from home, including those with educational needs. This meant that our SEND students could not have access to the regular support they would receive from their SENCOs and classrooms, such as reading by staff or a classmate, affecting their education and ability to learn.
Without resorting to the usual support methods, we had to adjust SENCO to ensure that we were providing it to our students. For me, this required new systems and platforms that I had never worked with before. However, when I came up with solutions, I immediately realized the benefits that my students could bring.
What about the SEND review?
In late March, the government’s long-awaited presentation of the SEND Green Paper set out a vision to improve the provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Along with plans for a simplified EHCP process and improved inclusion in general schools, he also called for better and early identification and intervention and support and assistance.
But like many in my position, I am disappointed that this review has taken too long and lacked clarity. Many schools are at the breaking point to help with too many children and without enough support to do so. There is no mention of intersectionality or the tangible support that schools can receive. Overall, the overall figure does not allow schools to choose what provision, support, funding or training they will receive as part of it.
While we await the full implementation of the Green Paper, SENCOs must continue to adapt and use innovation and continue to adopt assistive technology. We have a great role to play in helping students find independence in their support, helping them create a sense of success.
Learning support technologies play a role
I’ve been testing OrCam Learn at Lewis Charlton Learning Centers. It is an AI-enabled learning solution that includes interactive reading, comprehension assessment, analytics, and reporting, which engage with students as they read and learn; developing understanding, fluency and confidence. This tool means that we can immediately remove many of the challenges for our students in and out of the classroom, giving them the ability to overcome any limitations, giving them access to the support they need to unlock their full potential. We can also give them more freedom and independence to learn without being available SENCO or a classmate.
With so much technology available and forced, the role of SENCO is definitely changing. We are no longer just teaching and developing skills, we are installing new solutions, explaining how new platforms work, and finding innovations that can help our students thrive.
But technology cannot be taken in isolation, we also need an education system, training and development program that will reflect these changes.
SENCOs need to know what technology is available to students, and how to use it. This is not only for the benefit of the students, but also for the SENCOs. Poor funding and a lack of staff and inclusiveness can be seen in many struggles to provide the care and support students need, which is why I created an organization to address these issues, Inclusion Infusion. Providing them with tools to work and grow independently could be key to helping alleviate this, ensuring that SENCOs can provide the best education for all.
Technology has changed many roles in different sectors and now, thanks to the pandemic, this is what is happening for SENCO. While it is gratifying that the government is paying more attention to SEND supply, our students today cannot wait for these changes to take place. We need to accept that we need to embrace innovation and new ways of working so that we can create a better and freer education system for SEND students everywhere.
Rebecca Garside Lewis is SENCO and head of curriculum at the Charlton Learning Center, director of Inclusion Infusion and co-director of Sunflower Education CIC.