Special educational needs coordinators work to raise educational achievement by leading and coordinating provision for pupils with special educational needs

As a SENCO, you'll be an experienced teacher with a passion for supporting pupils with special educational needs. Working closely with the head teacher and other senior colleagues, you'll use your leadership skills to manage provision in your school and to provide support to other teachers.

Your responsibilities will include designing and delivering interventions with pupils in the classroom and implementing the school strategy. You may also have classroom teaching duties and could be working in one school or across multiple schools.

This role is also known as a special educational needs and disabilities coordinator (SENDCO), additional learning needs coordinator (ALNCo), or an additional support coordinator. You might also be interested in the role of a special educational needs teacher. Special educational needs (SEN) teachers often progress to become a SENCO.

Responsibilities

As a SENCO you'll need to:

  • develop and oversee the implementation of the school's SEN strategy and policy
  • carry out assessments of pupils with SEN to identify needs and monitor progress - including observations in the classroom and meeting with teachers and parents
  • work with classroom teachers, the school leadership team, parents and relevant external agencies to develop, implement and monitor individual support/learning plans
  • provide regular updates on pupil progress through written reports and meetings with parents
  • make referrals and liaise with professionals outside of the school - this could include psychologists, health and social care providers, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists
  • provide advice, guidance and training to classroom teachers on supporting pupils with SEN
  • support teachers to develop schemes of work and learning programmes for pupils with SEN
  • support teachers to develop and implement effective teaching and behaviour management approaches in the classroom
  • manage and advise on the school budget and resources for SEN provision
  • develop and maintain systems for keeping pupil records, ensuring information is accurate and up to date
  • analyse school, local and national data and develop appropriate strategies and interventions
  • manage SEN teachers, teaching assistants and support staff to improve pupil progress and attainment
  • keep up to date with national and local policies related to SEN and cascade information to colleagues.

Salary

  • Qualified teachers in England and Wales earn between £24,373 and £35,971. Experienced teachers can then move on to the upper pay scale which ranges from £37,654 to £40,490. Teachers in London receive an additional allowance.
  • All teachers with responsibility for SEN pupils receive an additional allowance of between £2,209 and £4,359.
  • You'll also receive a Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) payment, of which the exact amount will be determined by the school you work for.
  • As part of the senior leadership team you could earn a higher salary of between £41,065 and £114,060.
  • Salaries are similar for qualified teachers in Northern Ireland, ranging from £22,243 to £37,870 on the main and upper pay scale. You'll receive an additional SEN allowance of between £2,062 and £4,075. As in England and Wales, you'll also receive a Teaching Allowance (TA) payment, ranging from £1,903 to £12,272, depending on your level of responsibility.
  • In Scotland, you're likely to be a principal teacher if you have responsibility for SEN strategy and provision. The pay scale for principal teachers ranges from £48,836 to £56,571. There are also additional allowances for working in remote schools.
  • Your salary will depend on how much teaching experience you have and the level of additional responsibility assigned to your role. Another factor is whether you're working in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Income data from NASUWT - The Teachers’ Union. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

In most state schools, further education colleges and alternative provision settings you'll work 39 weeks of the year, with the typical teaching day starting at 8:30am and finishing between 3:30pm and 4pm. This can vary depending on the school and local authority. You may have different hours if working in an independent (privately funded) school. An extended teaching day, teaching on Saturdays and longer vacation periods are common.

In addition, you'll be required to work some evenings for meetings and events such as parents' evenings. It's also likely that you'll need to work outside of school hours and term time to complete tasks such as administration, planning, data analysis and report writing.

Opportunities for part-time work are available.

What to expect

  • The role can be highly rewarding, as you'll have the opportunity to directly contribute to pupils receiving the support they need to achieve their potential.
  • Meeting the needs of different pupils can be a challenge, particularly if there are constraints on school resources and the support available from external agencies.
  • You may be based in more than one school and may also have a teaching timetable, so you'll need to balance your work as a SENCO alongside your other responsibilities of teaching and preparing for classes.
  • In addition to working with pupils, parents and teachers, the administrative responsibilities of the role are significant. Completing referral forms, writing reports and maintaining accurate pupil records can be time-consuming, and you may need to work outside of school hours to complete these tasks.
  • You need to be proactive during your studies and early on in your teaching career to gain the SEN knowledge and experience you need to progress to a SENCO role. You may need to ask to attend SEN training and for opportunities to support the SENCO and work with children with SEN. Keeping up to date with policy developments is also important, particularly in areas of growing interest and provision such as mental health.

Qualifications

You must be a qualified teacher to work as a SENCO.

To achieve qualified teacher status (QTS) in England and Wales you'll need an undergraduate degree in any subject and a postgraduate teaching qualification (a PGCE). There are different postgraduate training routes available including school-led and university-led courses.

It's also possible to do an undergraduate degree which will provide QTS, such as a BA or BSc in Education. This is a more common route into primary school teaching. Some universities offer programmes that qualify you to teach in secondary schools and include a subject specialism.

For more information on entry requirements and routes into teaching, see teacher training and education.

In Scotland, you can obtain qualified teacher status through a four-year undergraduate degree in education, or by completing an undergraduate degree in another subject followed by the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE). For more information, see Teaching in Scotland.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you'll also need a further postgraduate qualification called the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NASENCO). If you're an experienced SEN teacher you may be able to get a job as a SENCO without the award, but you’ll be required to complete it within three years of taking up your post. For some roles, it can be an advantage or even a requirement to have already completed the award. Most teachers study for the award part time alongside their job. For more details and a list of providers, see the information provided by the National Association of Special Educational Needs (NASEN).

Search postgraduate qualifications in special educational needs.

To work in some specialist roles, you may also need to undertake other qualifications. For example, an accredited Early Years SENCO award could be an advantage if you would like to work in either a maintained or independent Early Years setting.

Skills

As a SENCO you'll need:

  • a strong commitment to raising educational attainment for children and young people with SEN, including working with pupils directly and supporting other staff to do so
  • a willingness and ability to develop specialist knowledge and keep up to date with local and national policy and developments
  • influencing and negotiation skills - to influence school strategy and policy, secure sufficient internal resources, and secure the necessary support from external agencies
  • leadership skills - to inspire and motivate other teachers, model good practice, and develop a whole school commitment to supporting pupils with SEN
  • interpersonal skills - for building relationships with parents, teachers, and external professionals
  • written communication skills - for writing learning and support plans, reports on pupil progress, and training and guidance for staff
  • organisation and time-management skills - needed for prioritising and balancing a busy and varied workload
  • empathy and emotional intelligence - in order to recognise and be sensitive to the needs of pupils and parents
  • analytical and problem-solving skills - necessary for analysing school, local and national data and developing appropriate strategies and interventions.

Work experience

Experience teaching and supporting pupils with SEN is essential. Experience in different settings and with pupils of different ages may be beneficial. Leadership and management experience in a school setting will also be important. As a newly qualified teacher (NQT) you should seek opportunities to develop your skills and experience working with pupils with SEN in your school and other pastoral responsibilities.

Experience working with or within other organisations that support SEN pupils may also be valuable. For example you could shadow or volunteer with health or social care providers, a therapist or educational psychologist.

Before you qualify, you could gain experience in a teaching assistant or support role or through volunteering with children or young people with SEN. You could also contact local schools that support SEN pupils, both mainstream and specialist, to see if you could visit and observe lessons.

Employers

Most SENCOs work within mainstream schools. This includes both local authority maintained schools, academies and free schools, and privately funded schools. SENCOs work in early years, primary, secondary, and further education settings. Opportunities may also exist within alternative education provision, such as Pupil Referral Units (PRUs).

This is a role which exists primarily in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Similar roles exist in Scotland, but job titles and qualification requirements can vary.

Look for vacancies at:

Some specialist agencies including Edustaff and eteach recruit for teaching positions.

Professional development

You'll be required to complete the National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NASENCO) within three years of starting your role.

You could also progress to a Masters degree, such as an MA in education or inclusion. In many cases, you'd be able to transfer the credits you've already obtained from the NASENCO, depending on when you completed your qualification.

In some parts of the UK you can also progress from the NASENCO to do the Advanced SENCO Award or the SENCO as Leaders Award, which would support your progression to more senior leadership positions within your school or across multiple schools. Nasen also runs a leadership programme which would enable you to complete a National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership which focuses specifically on special education needs and disability (SEND). For more information see NPQSL - SEND Leadership Programme.

You may also choose to do further specialist courses or qualifications depending on your role or the area of SEND you would like to move into.

These could include:

Professional associations like the National Education Union also provide courses and events for all teachers to develop teaching, professional and school leadership skills.

Career prospects

Experience as a SENCO will prepare you to progress to other roles in school leadership. For example, you could become an inclusion manager, with responsibility for SEND but also other areas such as behavior management, attendance, pupil premium and safeguarding. You could also go on to work as an assistant head teacher and eventually head teacher.

You could also develop your career by moving into a leadership role within a SEN school, or alternative provision setting.

Some SENCOs move into education consultancy and training roles. As an education consultant you could use your teaching, leadership and specialist SEND experience to support schools and local authorities to develop the curriculum, policy and provision for SEND pupils. You could also teach current and aspiring SENCOs in further or higher education.

You could also use your experience to go on to work for a local authority in a school liaison role, or as a SEND officer overseeing the fulfillment of statutory responsibilities towards SEND pupils.

If you wish to take your career in a related but alternative direction you could undertake further specialist qualifications and train as a therapist or educational psychologist.

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