Plan, Plan, Plan !

By Anita Devi

Last month, as the busy end of term drew near, we intentionally invited SENCOs and SEND Leaders to celebrate.  As a team, we also did something unusual in the last week of term … we set aside time to plan!

During the last week of term, I made time to strategically plan with SENCOs from two medium sized trusts and with my own team.  In one trust, head teachers were invited to join us for part of the final afternoon, so SENCOs could present their ideas to their line managers, one-to-one.

The feedback was insightful:

“I usually leave this to the holidays.  I do some planning in the holidays, but then I feel bad, because it’s my time, but if I don’t do it, I start the year in a panic and feeling guilty.  Having planning time, at the end of term has been so refreshing.  I was able to liaise with other SENCOs, who were also planning AND I’m going into the holidays knowing it’s done … so really able to switch off and take some me time.  Thank you SO much.” SENCO

“Having some time with my SENCO at the end of the year was useful.  It’s clear she had reflected on the year just gone and was able to use key learning points to plan the year ahead. Hearing her ideas, also gave me an opportunity to ask questions and reflect on how this could link into wider development areas of the school.  It was useful for us to spend time thinking through the implications for SEND of EIF2019.  Really great idea, let’s do it again next year!” Headteacher

We are all different and how we approach tasks also differs.  For example, imagine you had three tasks to do.  Do you do the easy tasks first and get them out of the way OR do you complete the difficult tasks first and leave the easy ones till last?  There is no right or wrong answer.  It’s about finding what works for you.

Too often I see SENCOs focus on the operational and yet we know making time for the strategic helps to accelerate the operational.  It also enables SENCOs to make time for their own #wellbeing as well as engage the wider team.

So, what planning did we undertake at the end of term?

We focussed on three main tools:

  1. Strategic priorities. It is not possible to undertake more that three strategic priorities a year and still contribute to wider school development areas.  The three focus areas need to be thought-through, so strategically they act as catalysts and impact several areas.  The Pareto Principle of 80/20 rule suggests 80% results emerge from 20% input.  The priorities need to be clearly defined, with clear outcomes and measurements for success.  It helps to be clear on ‘who’ will make this happen, when and how plus what resources are required to make the priorities successful.

Let me give you a practical example from 2018-19.  One primary school was very aware the paper trail system they had in place for SEND pupils was cumbersome and teaching staff did not take ownership due to the complexity.  Working with the team across the school, the SENCO reduced three forms into one; which the staff all took on board and actively engaged with. Success meant better outcomes for the children and improved dialogue with parents/carers.  An effective example of  the Pareto Principle being applied.

To make choices about your time management, download the FREE SENCO Time Management Book entitled ‘Take control of your time’ #senco5aday

2. Continuous professional development (CPD) planner. A core part of the SENCO role is to train others.  The best CPD model for SEND is a drip-feed approach.  Planning this, as fully as possible before the year begins, gives SENCOS time and space to create a standard template, ensure there is breadth / depth and opportunities to delegate.  It also means you can build in gap-tasks to measure impact.  Many teachers deliver good practice in their classrooms and well thought-through CPD Plan gives others the opportunity to share what they do too.

3. Monthly key milestone plan. This is about plotting onto an accessible format, what’s coming up on the horizon and in which month.  This includes annual reviews, data collection points, parents’ meetings etc.  A good plan helps to identify time / pressure bottlenecks and when SENCOs need additional support.  This is a vital communication tool for SENCOs and headteachers.

These are just three of the strategic planning tools, SENCO can use to enhance provision, practice and their leadership of SEND.   There are others.  Maybe that’s for another time!

The SENCO role is about very much about handling Plan B, C, D … Z, but it all starts with a plan!


If schools, multi-academy trusts or federations would like to find out more about how #TeamADL can facilitate SEND Planning Days for you, do get in touch www.AnitaDevi.com

… our new website with more info will be published in September 2019!  We’ve already planned it 😊

Finally, we’ve been amazed by how many settings have bought into using the 2019-2020 SEND Leader Planner may be this can of use to you too.  Happy holidays!

Sales 25th July 2019

#senco5aday, Uncategorized

SENCO: It’s all about People!

By Anita Devi

In the last #senco5aday Blog Abigail Hawkins and I shared a framework for considering SENCO wellbeing on a day-to-day basis.  We chalked the evolving journey from the ‘5 a day’ approach to a pragmatic 3Ps: People, Place & Purpose.  In this blog, I begin to unravel further the focus on people.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” – Peter F. Drucker

#TeamSEND in any setting is the largest team.  It includes everyone from children, parents, staff, leadership, governance, external specialists and local area practitioners.  Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility.  Too often the SENCO is at the heart of co-ordinating different people on #TeamSEND, so that children, young people & their families can receive the support they need.  This raises the question, what are the interpersonal skills SENCOs need to ensure effective people management?

Broadly speaking, interpersonal skills involve the set of abilities that enable a person to interact positively and work effectively with others.  There are various ways of sub-grouping interpersonal skills (Klein et al., 2006).  However, these distil into three main subsets; the ability to motivate, communicate and build teams.  There is variance across England, as to whether SENCOs are positioned as middle management or in a senior leader role.  Khan & Ahmad (2012) researched the three attributes of interpersonal skills in relation to different levels of leadership.  Whilst their sample was relatively small, they conclude there isn’t a prevalence of any of the skills at different levels of leadership.  They are required at all levels.  However, they also state a need for top level managers and leaders to invest in building teams.  For the purposes of this blog, I assume SENCOs need all three skills of motivating others, communicating and building teams in equal measure, placing though a greater emphasis on ‘team-building’, due to the proportionate size of the team.  It is also helpful, I believe to see these three skills, as interdependent, not separate.

Ability to Motivate

From experience, if I was to define 7 steps to motivating others, they would be:

  1. Listen

A few years back, a new senior leader arrived at an educational organisation I was working at.  This leader made a choice to visit every faculty and deliver his vision speech.  He then took questions.  At one level, I appreciated his clarity and putting people at ease about his vision.  However, when asked a question about communication, he brushed it aside saying, “Communication, we can always improve on communication”.  I remember thinking, ‘What a missed opportunity?’ This was moment to listen.  In that one response, he communicated his leadership approach, much more than he realised.  It took a long time for colleagues to believe this leader was a listener.

  1. Ask open ended questions

I am naturally curious, so I ask a lot of questions.  Over time, though I’ve come to realise not everyone likes being asked questions.  That said, I have found asking open-ended questions does give the team freedom to express their views.  I guess it is also about timing, context and perceived depth of relationship.

  1. Encourage

How much better would the world be, if we made time to encourage each other.  I do not think encouragement is about ignoring issues we need to change but celebrating what’s working to sprinboard us further than we could imagine.  Success breeds success.

  1. Ask what they first step will be

The first step of a new or unfamiliar task is often the hardest.  Talking or walking people through this first step is great way to motivate them onto the next step and beyond.  Think about how computer games are programmed.  The first task is deliberately made easy to engage further participation.  Why should working in teams be any different?

  1. Dream

I’m a great advocate of Appreciative Inquiry, as a theory of change.  Two reasons; firstly, the positive core supports step 3 above.  My second reason is part of the process enables others to dream.  Not just dream, but dream BIG (open questions) and then find ways to make it happen.  Giving people space to dream is both empowering and enabling.

  1. Ask how you can help

We do this a lot in our family.  We have found it is a great way of acknowledging each other and where we are at, without over stepping boundaries and making assumptions.  It’s about more than respect or support.  It’s about honouring and giving people space to grow in a collective environment made of opposites.

  1. Follow-up

Over the years, I’ve met a few leaders who say the right things, but never follow through.  In the words of J.F. Kennedy, “Once is an accident, twice is a co-incidence and three times is a habit”.  When leaders don’t follow through, they lose respect and trust.  Authencity matters, if we want the team to give their best.



The SENCO role involves a phenomenal amount of communication, verbal and written.  I would argue the amount of information received from others far outweighs the amount of information they give out.  If you think differently, do let me know.  I’d love to hear your views.

Communication is fundamentally about the message.  It is possible to communicate but miss the message.  Five common barriers to effective communication:

  • Judging the other person,
  • Not paying attention to the person you are talking to,
  • Using technical language,
  • Giving solutions or unwanted advice, and
  • Avoiding the concerns of others.

Focusing on learning conversations and ‘managing difficult conversations’ is vital.  This NCTL resource on Fierce Conversations is a good starting point to consider how to carry out unpleasant tasks.


Building Teams

Training SENCOs at various points in their career development, I regularly talk to them about how they build teams and use leadership language that promotes greater team identity.  Schools where this is emerging or embedded as an integral part of the school ethos, SENCOs are seeing a significant shift in the quality of teaching and provision in the classroom.  SEND becomes a team responsibility.

A team needs clear values and a purpose.  For me, Section 19 of the Children & Families Act 2014 defines the values and purpose of #TeamSEND.  Self-aware leadership, good relationships and clear roles and responsibilities are the foundation of successful teams.


The role of the SENCO is often described as ‘isolated’, as within the setting they are the only one leading in this area.  As such, it become imperative for SENCOs to think about self-leadership.  In other words, how do you invest time in motivating yourself, communicating with yourself and intently seeking support from the wider team.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on self-leadership.

… till next time!  Stay focussed and keeping connecting.  The SENCO role, it’s all about people.

Self Leadership


Khan, A & Ahmad, W. (2012). Leader’s interpersonal skills and its effectiveness at different levels of management.

Klein C, DeRouin RE, Salas E. (2006). Uncovering workplace interpersonal skills: A review, framework, and research agenda. In Hodgkinson GP, Ford JK (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 80–126). New York, NY: Wiley & Sons, Ltd

About Anita

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing leaders of learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning.  Anita served on local and national posts for the National Association of Special Needs (nasen) for 10 years (2004-2014).  It is during this period, Anita started the dialogue around SENCO wellbeing at a nasen AGM.  In 2016 wrote a SENCo Time Management Book and in Anita launched #senco5aday. The same year, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, Healthwatch Trustee and Changemaker Education Consultant #TeamADL Twitter: @Butterflycolour

#senco5aday: https://www.anitadevi.com/senco5aday.php