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The role of the governor for special educational needs

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At The Key for School Governors, we answer questions every day from governors about how they can best fulfil the expectations of their role, including duties regarding provision for pupils with special educational needs (SEN). So, what does good governance of SEN provision look like?

Keeping SEN provision on the agenda

Governing bodies in maintained schools have statutory responsibilities for SEN provision, while those in academies and free schools have similar duties under their funding agreements. In practice, these duties can be delegated to a committee, the headteacher or an individual governor – the SEN governor. This is not a statutory role, but experts say there are strong arguments for one governor taking a lead.

Lorraine Petersen is an education consultant and the chair of governors at Treehouse School in London (and was formerly the chief executive officer of nasen). She believes that all governing bodies, including those of special schools, should appoint a governor to oversee the strategic direction of SEN provision, and ensure that SEN stays on the agenda. Lorraine suggests that, ideally, the full governing body should focus on SEN provision at least once a year. And while the SEN governor’s role is not to have detailed knowledge of individual children, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the types of requirements the school needs to meet at any one time. For example: What are the key educational challenges? What interventions does the school use, and what impact do they have?

Jackie Beard, a National Leader of Governance with experience as an SEN governor at Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School in Cheshire, advises that a good SEN governor will build up a close working relationship with the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) and SEN team. At Jackie’s school, the SEN governor and SENCO meet monthly to discuss SEN provision. The SENCO also gives an annual presentation to the committee with delegated responsibility for SEN.

A shared responsibility

It’s important, though, to note that SEN provision is not exclusively the domain of the SEN governor. The current SEN Code of Practice says all governors should know about the school’s SEN provision, including how funding, equipment and personnel resources are deployed. The quality of this provision should be continually monitored by the governing body.

Antony Power is a governor at Carwarden House Community School, a special school in Surrey for children with moderate learning difficulties. He says that in special schools, even when there is a nominated SEN governor, all governors should have a good general knowledge of SEN. They should also keep up to date with the needs of the children in their own school.
According to Lorraine, governors also need to ensure that SEN funding is spent on interventions that have a measurable impact on the achievement of pupils with SEN. They should also be aware of overlap between groups of children. For example, are children with SEN also eligible for pupil premium funding?

Monitoring progress

In mainstream schools, governing bodies are responsible for ensuring that teachers are aware of the importance of identifying pupils with SEN and the need to provide appropriate teaching. Antony stresses this is vitally important for schools to get right and to monitor rigorously. Failure to meet children’s needs can hinder their progress, and this may threaten their ability to stay in mainstream education.

Lorraine also recommends that governing bodies rigorously monitor progress measures to ensure the school is providing well for children with SEN. Jackie notes that at Holmes Chapel school, the SEN governor observes lessons alongside the SENCO. The purpose is not to judge the quality of teaching, which is not a governor’s role, but rather to observe the interaction between the staff and the pupils with SEN, and how the pupils are learning.

Governors’ legal duty for pupils with SEN also extends to ensuring that parents are notified when special educational provision is being made for their child. The SEN governor at Holmes Chapel attends parents’ evenings whenever possible, giving parents a valuable opportunity to raise and discuss any SEN issues they may want the governors to be aware of.

This is an edited version of an article featured by nasen in its
March 2014 edition of Special magazine.

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