The SENCO role was envisioned as management responsibilities rather than one of positional leadership: the core purpose being the “responsibility for the day-to-day operation of provision made by the school for pupils with SEN” (Teacher Training Agency 1998). There leadership responsibility was to “create and foster commitment and confidence among staff to meeting the needs of pupils with SEN” and the ability to “command credibility.” The shift in thinking is evident in the current Code of Practice (DfE/DoH 2015) which states “The SENCO has an important role to play with the head teacher and governing body, in determining the strategic development of SEN policy and provision in the school” (DfE/DoH 2015 6.87: 108).
Cowne (2015) observed that the role of SENCO’s has developed and changed over the past decades towards one of strategic leadership. In the current Code of Practice (DfE/DoH 2015) positional leadership rather than managerial responsibilities is emphasised as well as recommending a position for the SENCO on the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). This is because participation on the SLT facilitates involvement in developing a strategy for SEN provision in schools. Through meaningful discussion with other senior leaders, the SENCO, in my opinion, plays a greater role shaping practises beyond their traditional remit of coordination and supervision.
Whilst being on the SLT is advisable as noted by Cowne (2015), it is not statutory causing this recommendation to be a continuing matter for debate (e.g. Moewood, 2008; Oldham and Radford, 2011; Tissot, 2013). Tissot (2013: 34) argues that the “failure to make this a requirement leads to deviation in practice and supports a tension between the theoretical agreement that SENCOs are senior leaders and the day-to-day work done when making school-wide decisions on priorities and practise.” Hallett and Hallett (2010:1) tacitly support Tissot stating “the SENCO is not always placed at the centre of school development, in the way it seems to have been envisaged.”
Ekins supports Tissot’s view arguing that SEN should not be thought of separately but play a key role in the whole school development of teaching and learning. My is view that a SENCO who is not on the leadership team will inevitably end up with a managerial role and have less ability to shape strategy with regard to SEN. Tissot (2013:39) goes further, claiming that “the lack of SENCOs on leadership teams is stifling the vision of the role as well as its implementation in practise”.
With no clear answer, it is very much left to the subjectivity head teachers to decide the level of SENCO involvement. Layton (2005:57) states that the agent of change in a school is the head teacher, but added “sustained change is only possible when one leader, in this case the head teacher, distributes leadership authority, roles and responsibilities among colleagues such as the SENCO.” From this body of discussion, I believe it would be difficult for a SENCO to aspire to a positional model of leadership without being empowered by the head teacher to be a member of the senior leadership team. And it would be hard for the head teacher to distribute that leadership authority to someone who was not on the leadership team. Perhaps as Rosen and Webb (2011) noted, the increasing formalisation of the role with new SENCOs like myself expected to achieve a national award could be seen as a compromise by government to raise their profile without them being a member of the senior leadership team.
...(download the rest of the essay above)