Making a difference

One of the main reasons that teachers choose this profession is their desire to make a difference to the lives of the children and young people they work with. What many underestimate, is the impact the children will have on the teachers’ lives. The job can bring great joy, but it can also bring significant pressures. It is an emotionally charged profession and schools are picking up increasingly complex work with children and families.

Why are SENCOs under pressure?

We know that challenges can exist for teachers across all roles, but they can be particularly profound for Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs). SENCOs and Inclusion leaders are often at the forefront when it comes to supporting many of the most vulnerable pupils in school, some of whom have significantly complex needs. They are also liaising with parents and other agencies, and they may feel isolated as they are faced with external and internal demands.

The National SENCO Workforce Survey 2020: Time to Review 2018-2020 has identified pressures experienced by SENCOs, and has made a series of recommendations for Senior Leaders within schools, including:

  • SENCOs who are seeking to leave the role are citing workload as a primary reason. SENCOs are also lacking time to adequately reflect and evaluate the effectiveness of provision in their settings. The financial cost of these factors is high. Therefore, we recommend that senior leaders review the SENCO role in terms of time and support to encourage experienced SENCOs to remain in post 
  • Head teachers should structure and protect the SENCO role to afford the SENCO the necessary status and seniority to influence school policy at strategic level.

In the SEND Code of Practice, point 6.87 states, “The SENCO has an important role to play…in determining the strategic development of the SEN policy and provision in the school. They will be most effective in that role if they are part of the school leadership team.”

This leadership role of SENCOs will probably be developed within the SEND review, launched in December 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic. There is currently no proposed date for publication of this review which is likely to include a revision of the Code of Practice.

As the role evolves from being largely operational to one of strategic leadership, it is important that SENCOs feel confident, well-equipped, and empowered to lead and coordinate others effectively.

Where does SEND feature in the OFSTED Inspection Framework?

Although OFSTED does not give separate graded judgments on SEND provision, evidence relating to SEND provision is used to inform all other judgments. It is woven through the whole Education Inspection Framework and is featured more prominently than ever before. Likewise, although SEND is not identified as the subject of a deep dive, it features in all of them and may have a specific focus in some.

This puts additional pressure on the role of SENCOs. It is therefore important that SENCOs and Inclusion Leaders feel supported and prepared to make decisions confidently. This could be achieved through dedicated supervision time.

However, unlike many other disciplines linked to education, such as, educational psychology, social care and across health services, reflective supervision is still relatively rare in schools.

What is reflective supervision?

Reflective supervision is a regular scheduled time when two or more professionals meet in a purposeful, restorative, confidential and supportive space. It is non-judgmental and allows for acknowledgement, support, empathy and kindness. It provides the opportunity to receive professional guidance and development through structured conversations.

How does this work for SENCOs?

The benefit that reflective supervision brings to clinical and therapeutic roles would likewise impact positively on SEND provision in schools. The SENCO’s need for personal and professional support is more important now than ever with the increasing complexity of the role.

In Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2010, it is identified that “Effective supervision is important in promoting good standards of practice, and supervisors should be available to practitioners as an important source of advice and expertise. …Working to ensure children are protected from harm requires sound professional judgements to be made. It is demanding work that can be distressing and stressful.”

The supervision, therefore, needs to be facilitated by someone who understands the pressures and challenges faced within the role. Dedicated supervision time is provided by a trained senior educationalist who provides the space to talk, reflect and process emotions in the face of those challenges. Situations can be explored with a focus on how they impact on outcomes and working relationships.

This has the effect of enhancing confidence and competence, thereby improving relationships and the SENCO’s capacity to do the job well. Through being listened to, the SENCO will feel comfortable, respected, and empowered.

The mental health and wellbeing of SENCOs is important, and support through reflective supervision is valuable whether they are experienced or new to the role.

My work in reflective supervision

In my practice, I have been focusing on a new and evolving role in delivering reflective supervision for SEND leaders and their teams. This is particularly effective in providing the space, time, and support to SEND practitioners, to pause and reflect on their work, to process the complex issues they are being faced with, and to offload some of the stresses they are consequently carrying around with them.

This is proving to be time well spent. The value of being able to talk, to be heard, and to have the opportunity to evaluate their work in a safe and confidential space is palatable in each session. It is giving each individual time to feel supported, to feel that they are not alone, and to leave with the confidence that they are working as effectively as they can.

As a senior SEND advisor, I provide a sounding board. I listen, provide feedback on what I hear, and offer advice and support that helps explore challenges faced and ways to manage them in a non-judgmental setting.

This service is provided on an individual basis for an hour, fortnightly or monthly, although this may vary depending on the setting. Supervisees then receive a record of each session and are often provided with further reading or useful resources to aid their work.

If reflective supervision is of interest to you, I offer a no obligation 15-minute conversation to discuss how it may work in your setting. Feel free to get in touch and we can arrange a mutually agreeable time.

Further reading: Wellbeing – Why don’t schools offer staff supervision? An insightful article by TES into the parallel needs of teachers who also need to have someone or somewhere to offload, be heard and release the emotional stresses that come with their daily interactions with children.