How to be a successful SENCO in seven steps

Written by: Pearl Barnes | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The SENCO role is complex and challenging, and it is crucial we get it right. Pearl Barnes offers insights into how to achieve success as a SENCO and how to be a SENCO-supportive school

What is good practice for SEND is good practice for all children – and when the work of a SENCO is done well, it benefits the whole community.

For more than two decades, I have worked with schools, teachers and headteachers to embed that message in classrooms far and wide, as well as providing coaching and on-going support to SENCOs themselves.

The role of a SENCO is so rewarding, supporting children and young people to reach their full potential, providing that dedicated time which helps them thrive academically and personally, but I would be lying if I didn’t say the role of a SENCO can be hard work at times.

However, with some helpful advice and the right support (tips for those who support SENCOs too!) you can maximise the positive impact in school and beyond, without feeling the pressure – too much!

1, Create a solid team around you

The role of a SENCO is a tough one, particularly under the dual pressures of budgets and time and especially for those who hold the position in addition to existing teaching duties. It is therefore essential that a SENCO does not work alone and is given the appropriate support to fulfil their duties.

If you are a SENCO, is there someone on the support team who can assist you with any administrative challenges? Are lines of communication open between governors and senior leadership? If not, this is something to immediately address.

Ideally, as per recommendations made by the National Association for Special Educational Needs (Nasen), the SENCO should be part of the senior leadership team, and be able to openly discuss strategic challenges, progress, and opportunities for students with SEN with their senior staff.

Likewise, if something seems to be going wrong at a higher level, as a SENCO, you need to be able to speak with school governors.

2, Consider the timeline

Before your next term, academic year, or even new position at a school, do your very best to coordinate what lies ahead by creating a detailed timetable. By having this on hand, you will quickly establish a reliable guide for yourself; something solid to anchor your work as a SENCO and help you plan.

Include dates for Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP) reviews, points for gathering data, assessments, parents’ meetings and so on, and work around this. This will help you ensure you hit the right targets at the right time – for example, by being able to share data about a child’s progress in time for a parents’ evening, rather than this coming too late to discuss things and make a difference.

3, Get your register right

Every year, and throughout the year, all SENCOs need to get their SEN register right. Map-out your provisions against the needs of the children on the register. Identify gaps in provision and work to address these gaps. Look at the needs of every child and ask yourself why they are on the list, what their individual barriers to learning are and how they can be supported to achieve their potential.

I recommend a scientific approach to this work and reminding yourself that your register is not fixed. While some students might eventually be taken off, others may need to be added. Keep your register fluid but always be sure you know why pupils have been added to it.

4, Ensure everyone is on the same page

As a SENCO, establishing clear communication between you, classroom teachers, senior leadership, families, and children is understandably essential.

Given that one child with SEN might have 10 or more teachers involved in their education, it is easy to see why a whole-school approach makes sense. This work involves finding out what is happening for children with SEN in classrooms, and at home.

Are the teachers in your school universally supporting the needs of individual children and young people appropriately? Do teachers understand what their individual differences are and have a range of strategies to support these identified needs?

Are teachers provided with the information they need to support the pupils with SEND in their care? For instance, Pupil Passports which outline the strengths and needs of individual pupils, or Behavioural Support Plans which outline specifically how to support and modify the identified behaviours of pupils with SEMH or autism.

Make sure everyone looks beyond the labels and supports each child as an individual.

5, Question, question, question

Advocate for the children in your care. Question the data and approach at every level.

The monitoring of data, through the assess-plan-do-review graduated approach enables the needs of children to be constantly monitored and the opportunity for change, if needed. Interrogate or question the data; if expected progress isn’t being made, why not? What needs to change to ensure expected progress is made?

Look at what approaches are being used. Are teachers able to meet the individual needs in the classroom and if not, why not? What can they do differently to achieve the desired outcomes? Can you substantiate why a certain intervention has been adopted at a specific stage? Are you able to state the desired outcomes of your interventions, and know how they have been achieved? Have you considered alternative interventions, or do you know why you have ruled them out as less effective?

Where an urgent change in support is needed, consider calling a case conference where all the staff around one child can share their knowledge and observations; never underestimate the value of face-to-face meetings around a table.

6, Listen to your students

Leading on from my previous point, it should go without saying that the best way to understand students, and what they need to help them thrive, is to listen carefully to them. Pupil voice is essential for instilling positive change. Take time to seek it out and consider ways to capture this – whether through informal conversations, feedback sessions or joint meetings with family members.

Have an open-door policy or drop-in sessions where pupils are encouraged to drop by and share their concerns, as well as celebrate their successes. You could attend breakfast or lunchtime clubs and chat informally with students. Provide a safe space for students to go to when stressed and encourage them to share their experiences in a relaxed and nurturing environment.

7, Think: transitional arrangements

Amid all the calls, meetings, reviews, strategies and daily grind, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the core SENCO role – and, indeed, the core role of teachers more generally: to help prepare our students for the real world.

As you progress through the year, keep all upcoming transitions for your students in mind. Naturally transitioning out of primary, compared to transitioning out of secondary, are very different processes yet both periods can make or break a pupil. Are they prepared? What support do they need? Are parents, families, and/or carers on board?

Support students into the real world by offering them opportunities to experience real-life situations; arrange to take them shopping after they have developed a shopping list for a meal they are to prepare for another class. Provide positive experiences of public transport and reading timetables. Provide skills for independent living such as how to keep to a budget or healthy eating. Work with the community around you to support the transition to that community.


With finite time and resources, and what can feel like an infinite number of things to do, SENCO success may feel hard to come by sometimes. Spinning plates between individual pupils, subjects, data-sets, and staff peers can leave a SENCO reeling. Yet the opportunities to make positive, life-long impacts for children are endless.

Success lies in recognising that, by working together, seeing the bigger picture, and showing up for our students, SENCOs and those who support them are integral in helping the next generation reach its full potential.

  • Pearl Barnes is a SEND specialist working across the whole of the UK supporting children and young people with SEND in all settings including primary, secondary and special education. Pearl won Nasen’s Award for SEND Leader. For more information on the 2022 Nasen Awards visit

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