Ministers want special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) in senior leadership teams and to inform schools’ “strategic direction”, under plans announced in the SEND review.
At present co-ordinators (SENCOs) have three years to complete the National Award for SEN Coordination (NASENCo), which is taught at a master’s level by about 40 universities.
But the government claims the qualification has “variability” and might not provide “the knowledge and skills needed for the role”. It also sits outside the “wider” teacher development reforms.
Ministers want to “strengthen the statutory timeframe” so headteachers must be “satisfied” SENCOs are “in the process of obtaining the qualification when taking on the role”.
The NASENCo will be replaced with a new, mandatory SENCO national professional qualification. This will “improve the expertise and leadership” so staff are “well-placed to sit on a senior leadership team and inform strategic direction”.
All mainstream schools must have a qualified teacher or headteacher designated as the SENCO.
Margaret Mulholland, the SEND specialist at the school leaders’ union ASCL, said it was an opportunity to “reframe the role” so SENCOs were not “on the hamster wheel trying to do everything”.
SENCOs to be given ‘protected time’
SENCOs will also be given “sufficient protected time” to carry out their role, alongside “dedicated administrative support” to reduce the time on paperwork.
Three quarters of co-ordinators said administrative work took up most of their allocated time, according to Bath Spa University research in 2020.
A Department for Education-commissioned study in 2016 found just 25 per cent of polled academy staff thought the NASENCo reflected their needs. Twenty-two per cent said it did not, while 53 per cent did not know.
In 2014, the DfE ceased to accredit providers of the course.
Accredited providers formed their own network to preserve high standards, later called the Leading Learning for Special Educational Needs Community Interest Group.
Tristan Middleton, a director of the provider group, said it has improved the course to have more of a leadership focus, and urged minsters to keep “master’s level study as an expectation”.
Annamarie Hassall, the chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs charity that helped to found the course in 2008, said it was a “healthy position to have more than one option.
“But when I read it will replace it I thought that’s not a wise move. Immediately it starts to negate the qualification that a number of SENCOs work hard to do.”