Special education needs coordinators (SENCO) are integral in providing support to students who need “extra help and guidance with their learning”.
Before learning the nuts and bolts of becoming a SENCO in the further education (FE) sector, it is crucial to understand what the role entails. One key element of working within this sphere is “identifying individual needs and being responsible for creating a safe, stimulating and supportive learning environment”.
To work as a special educational needs (SEN) teacher in the FE sector, you will need to have qualified teacher status. A SEN teacher has the ability to teach individual pupils or work with small groups.
Career progression from the SEN role will lead you to the SENCO role. To become a SENCO, you must complete the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination within the first three years of embarking on an SEN post.
This accreditation will enable the participant to “reflect upon and improve their practice whilst learning more about the coordination of special educational needs, policy and supporting the individual needs of children and young people”.
The SENCO role is crucial in terms of bringing about the significant culture change required by the new special educational needs/disabilities legislation that came into force from September 2014.
A SENCO offers advice to other members of staff at a college regarding SEN issues and procedures. The role also involves liaising with the college’s senior management team.
The SENCO plays a key role along with the head of the FE college and governing body “in determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision and will be most effective if they are part of the school leadership team”.
SENCOs must abide by the UK government’s code of practice. The SENCO role is integral to ensuring that the code of practice and SEN regulations are rolled out successfully within a college.
It aims to provide “guidance on the statutory duties on further education colleges, sixth form colleges, 16-19 academies and some independent specialist colleges approved under Section 41 of the Children and Families Act 2014 to identify, assess and provide support for young people with special educational needs (SEN)”.
The code of practice is comprehensive in its scope and explains that those working in the FE SEN sector should help students successfully transition to college life.
Its key take-home messages are that those working in the SEN sector must:
Similar to SENCOs, education coordinators play a key role in supporting students during the transition process when starting at college. They are expected to engage appropriately and effectively with students across a wide range of issues.
What sets the two positions apart is that an education coordinator works collaboratively with student groups that do not include those with special needs. A SENCO works exclusively with those with special education needs in line with the college's SEN strategy and policy.
In both roles, communication skills are crucial.