Becoming a SENCO: an investigation into why teachers become special educational needs coordinators in England

Dobson, Graeme ORCID: 0000-0002-1871-6301 (2021). Becoming a SENCO: an investigation into why teachers become special educational needs coordinators in England. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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In England, every school is required to have a named and trained “Special Educational Needs Coordinator” (SENCO) whose function is to coordinate educational provision for children with special educational needs. In spite of this, little empirical research has been undertaken to explore what motivates existing teachers to take on this important role. This study examined why teachers become SENCOs through a series of interconnected studies. The first qualitative study involved generating reasons for participating in training from a cohort of SENCOs currently training (n = 88). These reasons were then explored further through a national survey of SENCOs (n = 618). Between the qualitative and survey studies, an analysis of Department for Education data was undertaken to establish the characteristics of the SENCO population. The SENCO workforce was found to be largely female and white with a high proportion working part time. Most SENCOs are in the middle or second half of their career, and they are employed on the class teacher rather than the leadership pay scale. Only a minority hold a full master’s level qualification (other than compulsory qualifications associated with teaching and the SENCO role).

The initial qualitative study identified different drivers for those training to be SENCOs which were further organised in an ecological fashion. These drivers were used to develop a structured questionnaire which was the basis of the national survey. An exploratory factor analysis identified four motivational factors: two outward-facing factors (SENCOs commitment to ‘inclusion’ and ‘high quality provision’) and two inward-facing factors (SENCOs interest in ‘educational and professional development’ and ‘leadership voice and status’). Overall, the outward-facing factors were viewed as more important to respondents than the inward-facing factors. There were also some specific motivational differences between sub-groups. Younger SENCOs and those engaged in training were more motivated by ‘educational and professional development’. SENCOs holding school leadership contracts were more motivated by developing ‘leadership voice and status’ compared with their classroom teacher peers. Moreover, there was a significant overall difference with women reporting a higher interest than men across all factors.

Key recommendations include the need for policy makers to understand and define the SENCO role in greater detail. In the SENCO recruitment process, schools and teachers must be cognisant of each other’s expectations of the role to ensure a good fit. Both policy makers and schools must understand the interests teachers express in the role and nurture them to prevent attrition from the profession. Further research is recommended as are suggestions for using the methodological approaches in this thesis for understanding interest in a range of other teacher roles and occupations.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: School of Education, Department of Disability, Inclusion and Special Needs
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: L Education > LC Special aspects of education


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