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Navigating the Start of a New Academic Year for SENDCos

by Eddie Rayner

By Catherine O’Farrell

Over 700,000 students will returned to school in the UAE. With the world’s largest private school market (The National, 2021) our teachers, principals, and SENDCos are set for large numbers and a fast pace as the academic year takes off for 2022-2023!

Here are some tips for SENDCos to ensure that you are fully prepared and ready to hit the ground running as your school opens.

Review your School’s Inclusion and Safeguarding Policies
Review your school’s policies at least every two years. Ensure that you are fully up-to-date with new legislation and guidelines from your regulator. It is always a good idea to include guidelines from the country with which your school’s curriculum is affiliated.

For example, Victoria International Schools of Sharjah (ISS) incorporate new guidelines from the Policy to Empower People of Determination here in the UAE, as well as guidelines from the NCCD Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability, which is a governing body for inclusive practice in Australia.

Ensuring your policies are reviewed and suitable to your specific setting ensures that your practice will reflect the most recent innovations and governmental guidelines for real-world practice in the school.

Some policies to note as a SENDCo are: Inclusion / Admissions / Safeguarding / Governance & Training.

Review your School’s Website
It is important that your website reflects what you actually do in the school. Remember, this is the first port of call for parents and it is the first impression that lasts. If your website is dated or has old information, parents will not have an accurate view of the school.

Responsive web design vector – computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone. Idea for your website presentation.

School policies should be available on the website. The School’s Vision Statement and/or objectives should include a commitment to providing inclusive education to Students of Determination. The school’s policies and procedures for the admission of Students of Determination along with links to legal documents and laws should be prominent. Messages and images should demonstrate and promote the inclusion of students.

Co-ordinate with the Admissions Team
As schools open we are welcoming sometimes thousands of students, some new, some returning. In order to ensure that you have a full understanding of each and every student’s needs, methods and tools for entry assessment should be in place; they should be age appropriate and reflect the student’s stage of development. This information can help you, as a SENDCo, and the teacher to plan for the student’s arrival, ensure that any risk assessments are in place (if appropriate) and make a smooth pathway for the student as they embark on their journey with their new class.
Don’t forget to update KHDA/SPEA/ADEK portals where necessary for any complex cases.

Set up SEND Monitoring
Fail to plan – plan to Fail
SEND progress tracking is always a point of concern for SENDCos. If you set up your trackers and start progress monitoring from the first week you will set the ball rolling with positive momentum for your whole team.
These progress trackers will inform your audit of need and planning of provision, including staffing throughout the year.

Get into Class
As a SENDCo, the first weeks should be focused on getting into classrooms and meeting the teachers and students. Remember to be flexible and pragmatic – which I think are traits of every SENDCo the world over!

Set up SEND monitoring meetings with all class teachers, talk to the students, and do as many informal observations and class visits as you can.

Remember, a student on week one may look very different from a student on week three.
Give teachers and students time to settle in and find their feet. It is a good idea to refuse any SEND referrals for at least two weeks (except for complex cases) so that students can have a little time to get familiar with the school and the routines – this applies to teachers too!

Set up SEND Provision
Begin to develop your Inclusion Register as soon as you can. Within the first few weeks try to ensure that all students have their barriers to learning identified. Ensure that emergency procedures and risk assessments are in place where necessary and start building your whole school, costed provision map – supplemented by class provision maps which include baseline and outcome projections. Try to attend planning meetings and advise on curriculum mapping, differentiation, and modification.

Set up your IEPs
Once you’ve allowed teachers and students (and yourself) time to get settled and familiar with everyone, get going on your IEPs.

Remember to write SMART targets, include the parents in goal setting, and most importantly ensure that you have the student voice in your IEP. They should be child friendly and shared with parents, teachers, SEND teachers, and the student. You can share a child-friendly IEP with students from KG1 upward and use them as a reward chart – this can be hugely motivating for students. If your goals are truly SMART, the student should find success through all of their IEP activities, which fosters motivation while genuinely removing barriers to learning.

Don’t Forget your LSAs
Make sure that your LSAs have police clearance, a job description, an MoU where necessary, and are monitored termly. Ensure that your LSAs have access to training and empower them through collaborative planning with the class teacher.

Preserve Thyself!!
With a million things to do at the start of a new academic year, it is not uncommon as a SENDCo to feel overwhelmed. The nature of the role is diverse, complex, and hugely challenging. We find ourselves being pulled from pillar to post as teachers struggle to understand their students’ needs and leaders want to see plans and IEPs as soon as the doors open!

Be mindful of how you spend your time, it is precious.
It is useful to pause before you start every task in these first weeks and ask yourself: “Is this a valuable use of my time – what will the impact of this activity be?”

If the answers are not clear, put that activity to the side and action priorities.

It’s OK to say no. Don’t succumb to the pressures of teachers who are challenged by complex students, support where you can but be mindful of the ‘breaking in period’. Students can be just as overwhelmed by their new setting or class as adults and may express this with undesired behaviours for the first couple of weeks. Very often, more often than not, these behaviours diminish once everyone settles into their new routine.

Make lists and RAG rate them in terms of what you can manage given the time you have.

Don’t forget to step back and breathe regularly. A SENDCo can find themselves running from end to end of campus regularly and often we forget to take breaks, eat or even go to the loo! Pause and take time for mental wellbeing regularly. If you burn out you can’t support your students or your teachers: remember the meme about the airplane – you’ve got to fix your own oxygen mask first!

Finally, Enjoy

Embrace your new students, revel in their summer stories and their enthusiasm. Steal from their abundant energy supplies and enjoy the new year full of opportunities and promise!

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