This month, nursery manager Jo Morris from Playsteps in Swindon talks through the challenges faced by those doing the SENDCo role in early years settings:
Of all the roles that we undertake in Early Years, few are as challenging as that of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCo).
There are many elements involved in the SENDCo role, including early identification of needs, supporting parents and staff, acting as an advocate for the child, liaising with other agencies and, of course, there’s the never-ending paperwork!
We work with many agencies including speech and language therapists, educational psychologists, paediatricians, health visitors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, community nurses, opportunity groups, Portage and Local Authority advisers.
It’s often very difficult to access the help and support that the children need, all agencies are stretched and with the introduction of funding for eligible 2-year-olds in 2013, the pressure on settings has increased significantly.
It can take months for a child to be seen, meaning that we are the only agency that is in regular contact with the family. We must be realistic with families about how quickly their child might be seen; one huge frustration is that having identified concerns, observed and assessed to get evidence and had those conversations with parents to gain consent for referrals, the whole process often comes to a halt for a long period after the referral has gone in.
Although settings continue to put support in place, this delay can increase the family’s anxieties and concern about their child and the only people they know they can talk to at any time are their child’s key carer and SENDCo. Parents look to us for answers, support and practical help to enable them to support their child.
There are often challenges in communication between agencies, the endless unreturned phone calls, the weeks of waiting for reports to arrive, the missed appointments and the poorly attended Team Around the Child (TAC) meetings because agencies just don’t have the capacity to attend them.
As the lead professional for a child with an Early Help Record or Education, Health and Care Plan, it is the SENDCo’s responsibility to coordinate all the agencies, write the plans, chair the TAC meetings, write and circulate the minutes, update the plans and make sure that everyone does what they are supposed to. It takes a huge amount of time, which often means that other work get sidelined. Most early years settings don’t have the luxury of a full-time SENDCo, so this role is undertaken by someone with many other day-to-day responsibilities.
Another challenge for some settings are the costs incurred for SEND support. Without involvement and reports from other agencies, it is almost impossible to access any funding and this means that settings often end up paying for 1:1 support, training and specialist resources. This puts a strain on the setting’s budget, but without these things they can’t meet the children’s needs.
This is particularly true for 2-year-olds with SEN; agencies such as Autism Support Services often can’t see children before the age of 3 because they don’t have the capacity to. The wait for a paediatrician appointment is up to a year and educational psychologists aren’t always able to see such young children because they have so many 3- and 4-year-old children to see as part of the statutory assessment process.
We know that early identification of needs is vital in helping children reach their full potential, however, although we are identifying needs early and putting in as much support as we can, this delay in accessing other agencies means that the gap between the children and their peers often widens before they are seen. These delays are not the fault of the individual agencies – when they are involved they are generally very good – they just don’t have the capacity to deal with the numbers of children needing appointments.
Another challenge for settings can be finding the right practitioners to support SEND children. 1:1 support for a child with SEND is an incredibly demanding role and it may involve physical care such as tube feeding, intimate care and positioning. Children may have communication difficulties, social interaction difficulties, lack of awareness of danger or exhibit behaviours that put themselves or their peers at risk of injury, all of which require specialist support. There are a multitude of medical and developmental needs that children may have and the SENDCo and practitioners must gain a thorough understanding of these conditions to put appropriate strategies in place; good 1:1 support workers are worth their weight in gold.
The importance of getting it right, despite the challenges, cannot be underestimated. On a personal note, I’m always aware when we begin to identify concerns and have those sensitive conversations with parents that I may be the first in a long line of professionals that the family might encounter. So, it is crucial that I get it right because it sets the tone of the family’s SEND journey.
Despite all the challenges, the role is incredibly rewarding, I have laughed, cried and shared some amazing times with our SEND children and their families. The pride when we can see that we have made a difference is incredible.
Watching the children make progress, from the tiniest development to watching a child with significant delays joining in with their friends at the end of year concert goes a very long way to countering all the challenges. The SENDCo role is certainly not for the faint-hearted, but then again, which aspect of Early Years is?!