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workforce survey

Millions of children and young people with SEND risk missing out on vital support

New research published today by nasen and Bath Spa University has found that millions of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will be left vulnerable for decades to come if the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) workforce isn’t given more time, resources and support to meet the needs of all children with SEND.

The new report, The National SENCO Workforce Survey: time to review 2018-2020, estimates that 55% of primary SENCOs and 70% of secondary SENCOs are not allocated enough time to complete their role effectively - with 75% and 79% of primary and secondary SENCO's highlighting that they were routinely pulled away from their role to perform other duties. 

The survey also highlights that between 2018 and 2020, SENCOs time allocation has seen only slight increases at just 18 minutes per week and 54 minutes per week for primary and secondary phase respectively. Based on this trajectory, it would take almost 150 years (primary) and more than 40 years (secondary) for all SENCOs to become full time - a recommendation outlined in previous SENCO Workforce reports to fully support the needs of children and young people with SEND.

Professor Adam Boddison, Lead Author and CEO at nasen said: “Meeting the needs of children and young people with SEND must be a national priority. We cannot risk them falling through the cracks, particularly following the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In England alone, we are talking about over 1.3 million children or 15.5% of all pupils.

“SENCOs are highly specialised in their ability to support children and young people with Education, Health and Care plans (EHCP) and those requiring SEN support. Yet our report with Bath Spa University clearly shows three key areas where SENCOs’ progress has been hampered. This includes providing SENCOs with more time, resources and support; supporting senior school leaders and the wider workforce to better understand the vital role of the SENCO and ensuring that SENCOs routinely have the opportunity to influence strategic decision making in schools and settings.

“It is critical that changes in policy and statutory guidance are urgently accelerated. The forthcoming SEND Review presents an important chance to make much needed progress and we are calling on the DfE and wider policy makers to make this opportunity count for our learners with SEND.”

The report, which examined responses to two SENCO surveys in 2018 and 2020 to create a clear picture of the national SENCO workforce, revealed other concerning statistics, including:
•    Two thirds of SENCOs (66%) report not being part of their schools Senior Leadership Team (SLT)
•    Only two in five primary SENCOs and one in five secondary SENCOs felt their role was manageable for one person
•    The proportion of SENCOs who feel their role is understood by the wider education workforce stands at just 30% for primary SENCOs in 2020 and only 17% for secondary SENCOs

Hannah Moloney, Co-author, SENCO and SEND researcher, said: “As a research team, we are desperate to see SENCO time protected in law so that children and young people with SEND can have the support they need and deserve. If we continue to ignore the issue of time needed to execute the SENCO role, we will see high levels of fixed-term and permanent exclusions and children and young people leaving education with poor mental health and with reduced chances of securing meaningful employment. 

“Given the fact that children and young people with SEND represent over 15% of children in schools, it is an ongoing tragedy that we are not doing more. Protecting SENCO time is a very cost-effective and powerful way to immediately impact a positive change overnight in every single school and setting nationwide.”

The report reiterates critical recommendations for the Department for Education, initially made in 2018, that include: creating legal protections on SENCOs’ time; ascertaining and standardising minimum time requirements for the role; and developing guidance for governing bodies and school leaders to facilitate the vital impact of SENCOs on the outcomes of children and young people. 

Download: The full report, National SENCO Workforce Survey: time to review 2018-2020