What were the main aims of the initiative?

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos) play a very important role in leading the co-ordination of provision for children and young people with SEN and/or disabilities (SEND) in schools in England. The importance of SENCos in schools has been reiterated in the new Code of Practice (DfE and DoH, 2015) and in the Children’s and Families Bill (2014). In =September 2009, it became law that every new SENCO in a mainstream school should gain the Masters Level National Award for Special Educational Needs Co-ordination within three years of taking up the post. The National Award for SEN Co-ordination allows teachers to become leaders in inclusion.


The University of Winchester has been providing this successful training programme since 2009, when the award was introduced in England. The course is designed to support the continuing professional development of Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos). The University works to build on teachers’ existing skills, in order to ensure that they are able to fulfil the requirements of the National Outcomes Framework for SENCos, and that they grow in confidence in their role in leading on inclusion.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The National Award is available for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators across the South-East of England. The University of Winchester has approximately eighty students on roll each academic year.

In this course, students learn about the importance of their role as a leader. They gain an understanding of the professional context of their role and are supported in the strategic development of SEN policy and procedures. They develop their skills as a co-ordinator of effective support for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities. The students learn how to provide support and training for their settings and develop their skills of working in partnership with pupils, families and other professionals.

Students are expected to critically reflect on a range of additional educational needs and the issues surrounding improving educational outcomes for all pupils.

Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators complete three modules in order to gain their award (60 credits at Level 7).


What issues/challenges does the example address?

The action research that SENCos undertake often examines inclusive practice in their settings and allows practitioners to demonstrate how they have made a difference to the ethos of their school as a result of their research.

Recent research undertaken by SENCos has examined the following topics:

  • Collaboration with outside agencies to support a pupil with autism to achieve improved outcomes in school: what works well and what are the challenges?
  • An evaluation of the importance of training Teaching Assistants (TAs) and its effect on their levels of confidence, using the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) training materials for speech, language and communication needs (SLCN);
  • A critical evaluation of the SENCo role in current legislation and the impact of the new Code of Practice on professional practice;
  • The Role of the SENCo in Critically Evaluating SEN data to inform and develop planning for the setting;
  • The re-assessment and development of a school provision map to create an effective working document;
  • The Dyslexia Friendly Classroom;
  • A whole school approach to special educational needs and disability in response to new legislation;
  • Changes in the new Code of Practice: are they an improvement for families of a child with SEN?



How was the Initiative implemented?

The University works in Partnership with Local Authorities in the region. There is a partnership between Hampshire County Council, Portsmouth City Council and Southampton City Council.

The activity undertaken across one academic year encompasses:

  • University and Local Authority (LA) based learning networks, with face-to-face days provided in different venues which include personal study time;
  • Three written assignments and an audit of provision;
  • Online training and support;
  • Face-to-face tutorials and mentoring.


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

Students report increased confidence in being able to lead on inclusion. The impact of the course is evident on three levels: a) the SENCo’s confidence, professional identity and learning b) their school setting and c) the learners. Action research projects often demonstrate a positive impact on the inclusion of children and young people in their settings.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

A formal evaluation at the end of each module allows the University to identify how well students have achieved in terms of their marks but also there is an opportunity for students to evaluate the impact on their professional identity and/or learning:

I feel more confident in terms of my understanding of SEND since starting this course. It has had a positive impact on my teaching pedagogy and my love of learning new things has been re-established.
Increased understanding of my role and its implications.
I felt at the beginning I was swimming through treacle and everyone would know more than me. The University sessions have given me the belief that I do belong here and have justified my place on the course. At the beginning I just wanted to learn how to do my job and the Award was just something that I needed to do. Having now done the reading, I not only understood all I read – I enjoyed it too!
I particularly found being reminded of the words that are used can frame people’s understanding of an issue very interesting and I have been a lot more careful of how I speak to children and families about their needs and to my colleagues.

Students have also given feedback on the impact of the course on their setting:

Increased opportunities to liaise with SENCos from local schools, which are always beneficial.
I am now able to discuss different options with parents, students and staff which I was not aware of before.
I am able to support staff in adopting the principles and practices of the new Code of Practice.
It made me feel more confident when dealing with others.
I have made some initial changes to the way a variety of practices are carried out and I am currently monitoring these to analyse and change accordingly.
I will adopt a much more collaborative approach.

In addition, they have considered the impact of the course on the learners that they are responsible for:

I am now thinking about them as people who are not just learners in school, but who might have interests and needs outside school, and how improved openness and communication with parents might impact on their outcomes.
Their needs will have a much better chance of being fully identified.
It has given me the ‘big picture’. I feel I am now an expert in EHC Plans.


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

The Programme Leader attends the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN) Provider Group. This is a very collaborative and supportive way of working for all those involved in delivering NASENCo training.

The University has completed the Provider Group Quality Standards Framework and has been awarded the Registration Approved kitemark.

Registration Approved kitemark


What are the main learning points?

The Provider Group Quality Standards Framework is a very helpful tool to ensure that the course meets the requirements of all students. If starting this course anew, this tool should be used from the outset.


Are there further information about supporting materials?

Link of the course on the University website:


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Send a message

Julie Wharton, Senior Lecturer

University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, SO22 4NR, Telephone: 01962 827481

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