Exclusion and the strategic leadership role of Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) in England: planning for COVID-19 and future crises
Researchers at the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter have won a British Educational Research Association (BERA) Small Award to study the role of SENCos during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study forms part of a multi-stranded project researching exclusionary pressures and practices in schools in England from the perspectives of senior school leaders (Done & Knowler 2020a, 2020b), SENCos, parents (Done et al. forthcoming), pupils and educational professionals, e.g. educational psychologists.
Such practices include formal exclusion, ‘off rolling’ (Ofsted 2019), ‘strategic school exclusion’ (Machin & Sandi 2018) and separation of ‘vulnerable’ children from their peers within school.
Not all SENCos are in senior management teams and their capacity to influence decision-making varies. Anecdotal reports suggest circumstances produced by COVID-19 may have exacerbated such pressures and tensions.
Dr Elizabeth Done, University of Plymouth, and Helen Knowler, University of Exeter) wish to learn whether, and how, SENCos participated in COVID-19 induced school planning for lockdown, provision for ‘vulnerable’ pupils, and full school reopening, and explore SENCos’ perspectives on exclusionary pressures during this time.
Liz and Helen are involved in SENCos training through the university-based National Award for SEN Coordination and are, therefore, keen to ensure the SENCo ‘voice’ is heard. They have previously investigated the discursive tensions evidenced in policy around inclusive education and SENCo-directed statutory guidance (Done 2019; Done & Murphy 2018; Done, Murphy & Knowler 2015).
The researchers have dubbed their overall research strategy across the multiple strands a ‘wavelength’ methodology where the objective is not a unifying analytical narrative but, rather, a ‘tuning in’ to very different ‘voices’ in order to illustrate the complexity of the field.
The SENCo strand of this research comprises a national quantitative survey of practicing SENCos, focus groups and in depth interviews with SENCos in southwest England. The research asks:
- How have SENCOs been involved in planning for offsite provision and for onsite provision for ‘vulnerable’ children during CV-19 lockdown conditions?
- How are SENCOs involved in SLT decision-making about post-COVID-19 provision?
- How are SENCOs working to prevent exclusion and off-rolling during COVID-19 lockdown conditions?