If you are interested in learning more about special educational needs and/or disabilities, (SEND) our upcoming webinar on that very topic could be for you. We spoke to Sarah Christopher, Portsmouth Education Partnership and school inclusion manager at Portsmouth City Council who will be hosting the virtual event to give us an insight into teaching in primary, secondary and specialist settings.
As part of the build up to the webinar, Sarah shared her own experience of teaching children and young people with SEND and explained the qualities you need to succeed in the profession.
I qualified as a teacher in the early 1990s and began working as a secondary teacher of French. I quickly became involved pastorally, starting out as a form tutor. After an opportunity arose, I moved to another school to be second in languages. I then became head of year at a school for girls, seeing three different cohorts of young women through their school.
After this I became a learning mentor, then working as a learning mentor advisor across the city. I carried on doing advisory work and moved into the local authority, working on areas such as wellbeing, anti-bullying and supporting learning mentors.
I then returned to working with young people and became a special educational needs coordinator (SENCO).
I then moved to Portsmouth to become an assistant headteacher for pupils with additional needs where I also carried on doing the SENCO role at Priory School. Following a secondment to the Portsmouth City Council to support the implementation of SEND reforms I joined the council permanently as Portsmouth Education Partnership and school inclusion manager.
After deciding that I wanted to return to working with young people, a SENCO vacancy came up at a school that I was keen to work in. Despite not having previously thought about the role, I applied and was successful.
I had a background in the emotional and behavioural aspects of SEND but needed to learn more about other aspects such as sensory cognition, speech and language, and communication. Gaining the SENCO accreditation was important to me, and I began that around the same time I started doing the job so I could learn quickly.
As with all teaching, it's about passion and commitment and putting children first. It's also important to look at legislation and guidance and apply it in a person-centred way. You need to be organised because there's a statutory framework and legal requirements you must follow.
You need to be diplomatic and a good negotiator, which helps in discussions with parents.
You also need to make good contacts and links with other services and agencies. Your primary role of SENCO focuses on the educational needs of the child or young person, but you need to link up with their health and care needs to ensure you're looking after their interests as a whole.
It may seem more daunting than it really is, but all teachers are teachers of SEND. Even if you don't think of yourself in that way, every time you adapt something to meet the needs of an individual pupil, you're doing that.
If you are thinking of taking on additional responsibilities within a school, I would encourage you to consider the SENCO role because there is often a shortage. There is only one SENCO in each school so you may not have experience, but you could shadow or talk to another SENCO and give it a go.
If you want to know more about teaching and supporting children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities, join our webinar on Wednesday 20 October 2021 from 4pm-5pm and bring your questions to the live Q&A session.