Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) have played a key role in our schools for many years, helping students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) learn, grow and develop.
In my experience at Lewis Charlton Learning Centers, helping SEND pupils learn has been achieved through hands-on, in-person practices and techniques. Staff will help students in the class complete homework, keep in touch with teachers, and update parents on their progress. At the same time, the students would be grouped so that, for example, if a SEND student was struggling with reading, someone was always there to read for them.
However, these ways of working have been drastically changed due to the emergence of COVID-19. The pandemic has forced pupils to learn and work virtually from home, including those with educational needs. This meant that our SEND students could not have access to the usual support they would receive from their SENCO and the classroom, such as staff or classmate reading, impacting their education and learning ability.
Without access to traditional methods of support, we as SENCO have had to adapt to make sure we provide for our students. For me, this required learning new systems and platforms that I had never dealt with before. However, once I got comfortable with the solutions, I quickly realized the benefits they could bring to my pupils.
What about the SEND review?
The launch of the government’s much anticipated SEND Green Paper in late March outlined the vision to improve provision for children with special educational needs and disabilities. Along with plans for a simplified EHCP process and better inclusiveness in mainstream schools, it also required better and earlier identification, intervention and support for needs.
But like many in my position, I’m frustrated that this review took too long and the lack of clarity it gave. Many schools are at the breaking point with too many children to support and not enough help to support them. There is no mention of the intersectionality or tangible support that schools can expect to receive. An overall figure of what will be plowed in general does not allow schools to see what offer, support, funding or training they will receive as part of it.
While we continue to await the full implementation of the Green Paper, SENCOs will have to continue to adapt and use innovation and to adopt assistive technology. We have an important role to play in helping students find independence in their support while helping them build their own sense of success.
Learning support technologies have a role to play
At the Lewis Charlton Learning Center I tried OrCam Learn. This is an AI-enabled learning solution that includes interactive reading, comprehension assessment, analytics and reports that collaborate with students as they read and learn; developing understanding, fluency and trust. This tool means we can instantly remove many challenges for our students in and out of the classroom, enabling them to overcome any limitations by providing them with access to the support they need to unlock their full potential. We can also give them more freedom and independence to learn without a SENCO or classmate being available.
With so much technology available and imposed upon us, the role of SENCO is undoubtedly changing. We are no longer just there to teach and develop skills, we are also installing new solutions, explaining how to make new platforms work, and finding innovations that could help our students thrive.
But technology cannot be adopted in isolation, we also need an education, training and development program that reflects these changes.
SENCOs need to know what technologies are available to students and how to use them. This is not only for the benefit of the students, but also for the SENCO themselves. Underfunding, understaffing, and inclusiveness can see many struggle to be able to provide students with the attention and support they need, which is why I have created an organization to help address these issues, Inclusion Infusion. Providing them with tools to work and grow independently could be the key to alleviating this problem, ensuring that SENCOs can provide the best education for all.
Technology has changed many roles in different industries and now, thanks to the pandemic, we are seeing it happen for SENCOs. While it is encouraging that the government is focusing more on the SEND offering, our students today are looking forward to these changes being implemented. 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 is SENCO and curriculum leader at Lewis Charlton Learning Center, director of Inclusion Infusion and co-director of Sunflower Education CIC.