The role of a SENCO in schools is a huge one, and has become ever-more demanding.

The introduction of the new Code of Practice in 2014 has elevated this role even higher and the demands are massive.

Beth Bennett, writes for Teachtalks:

As well as working with children and their families, identifying needs and organising interventions, supporting and training teachers and support staff, liaising with external agencies, tracking achievements and spending, keeping up to date with ideas and reading, running and documenting review meetings, one of the most time consuming roles is keeping the paperwork that is required up to date, and there is a lot of it. Recently, I experienced why this is so important.

Our Local Authority EHC Panel meets fortnightly to make decisions on whether or not to

  • agree to a statutory assessment request
  • award an EHC Plan and at what funding level
  • grant extra funding for necessary equipment/respite and other requests
  • agree to consultation with the next phase schools/colleges
  • transition a Statement of SEND to an EHC Plan or not (this will no longer be the case after 2018)
  • commissioning Post 16 placements for young people with SEND
  • lunchtime supervision requests
  • fund childcare inclusion and childcare support
  • adopt or reassess young people with EHC Plans from out of area

As well as the main representatives on the Panel, including the Inclusive Learning and Virtual Head (LAC), the Inclusion Services Manager, the SEN Support Services Manager, an SEN Officer and the Principal Education Psychologist, our authority invites Headteachers from all schools (including PRUs, hospital schools and special schools) to sit on the panel on a rota basis. This works out at about once every two years for each one.

I sat on one of these panels recently and I would like to share my experience with you here.

A week before the panel meeting, I was given access to all the paperwork that would be reviewed. The agenda listed 44 cases to be reviewed and assessed by the panel in an afternoon. Having been given plenty of notice beforehand of the date I was to attend, I had set aside reading time. This is crucial. Most of the cases were between 60 and 110 pages in length and a few were much longer. I read all the paperwork and made notes to support me in the meeting. There was a summary sheet provided by SEN Officers on the front of every case, which helped me a lot. I was also provided with guidelines for decisions, the Matrix descriptors used to decide need and funding levels to match against evidence.

This is where the upkeep of paperwork is so important. The panel do not meet the young person and all they have to make their decision is the paperwork in front of them. Some of the panel are aware of long term involvement and can remember certain cases/families/young people, however the decisions they make are based on evidence provided. If the evidence is not there, then the decision is unlikely to go in favour of the young person or school.

During my reading of the cases, I realised that there was a range of competency in filling in the forms, some with a great deal of specific detail and some with hardly any. There were gaps in some applications, with certain key areas not mentioned. This meant the panel could not make a definitive judgement. Some cases were sent back to the school/college for further detail to be added and resubmitted.

I was a tad nervous on entering the room with all these experts in SEND. I need not have been. As each case was considered, there was a conversation and all panel members were invited to voice their opinions. It was not just a case of turning up and observing. I was also able to ask questions about things I was unclear about.

So, what did my experience teach me?

  • the voice of the children/young people and their families is listened to
  • the evidence presented is crucial
  • all aspects must be covered in the submissions and in succinct language (rambling does not make it easy to unpick the detail)
  • do it properly the first time or it will come back to you
  • I am not alone, there are many schools working with children and young people similar to those in my school, and in many cases in more difficult circumstances
  • The panel is human and includes those working at the coal face
  • Education providers will be held to account if their paperwork is not up to scratch or they refuse an admissions request but give no reasons
  • Positive feedback is given where good practice has been evidenced

I am aware that each Local Authority approaches their SEND responsibilities in a range of ways and not everyone can have the experience I did. It taught me a lot and gave me an insight into what happens when I send off the reams of paperwork on a regular basis.

I would urge all SENDCos who have never done this to arrange to at least observe their EHC Panel at work.

Beth Bennett

Deputy head/SENCO in a Primary school in Yorkshire. @f33lthesun

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