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What is the NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators?

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Date published 21 March 2024

The Department for Education has announced a new National Professional Qualification for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (NPQ for SENCOs).

Ambition Institute will be delivering this 18-month leadership programme from September 2024.

This article explores the NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators. You will learn why focusing on special educational needs and disabilities is so important; how the NPQ will benefit you and your school; and what the programme covers.

The importance of effective special educational needs provision

Around two in five children will be recorded to have some kind of special need at some point between reception and Year 11 (Jo Hutchinson, 2021). As of January 2024, 1.5 million pupils in England have a special educational need (Department for Education, 2023).

We know that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities have some of the largest attainment gaps. At age five, children receiving special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support are already one year behind their peers (EPI, 2023).

This growing need for specialist provision mean that leaders of SEND play a vital role in the success of schools. By championing inclusivity and implementing quality SEND provision in schools, leaders can ensure all pupils have equal opportunity to access education, ultimately improving pupil outcomes.

In recognition of the need to develop expertise around SEND provision, the government has introduced the NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators.

The programme provides the opportunity for teachers and school leaders to:

  • Influence whole-school teaching by supporting staff to develop adaptive expertise, allowing them to meet the needs of all pupils through high-quality teaching.
  • Lead positive change by identifying current challenges in SEND provision and putting in place rigorous solutions to these challenges.
  • Implement a whole school SEND strategy which is designed around the needs of every pupil, including those with SEND.
  • Advocate for a school culture which values inclusivity and gives all pupils equal chance to engage with learning and achieve their potential.
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How will the NPQ for SENCOs benefit me and my career?

The NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators shares elements of the frameworks from other leadership NPQs, focusing on core leadership domains such as culture, teaching and behaviour. This gives you the opportunity to learn the evidence base around effective school leadership and position yourself as vital to school decision making.

The community sessions built into the programme will enable you to collaborate with other leaders as part of a supportive network. The connections you make will last beyond the close of your programme and will be important to your future leadership development.

The NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators replaces the national award for special educational needs co-ordinators (NASENCO). All SENCOs are required to complete the NPQ within the first three years of their role, if they haven’t previously completed the NASENCO.

The programme is also an opportunity for all leaders to develop their expertise in leading SEND provision within their setting.

What is in the NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators programme?

The programme is designed to build expertise around core problems SENCOs face in their role. You will study nine courses, : one each half term.

  • Culture
  • Teaching
  • Behaviour
  • Identification and assessment
  • Provision and intervention
  • Professional development
  • Working in partnership
  • Implementation (explore)
  • Implementation (prepare; deliver; sustain)

Ambition Institute’s programme begins with Culture. Each course will link back to principles established in this first course. This recognises that an inclusive school culture and shared values underpins the success of any SEND strategy.

The Teaching and Behaviour courses will introduce you to the universal principles of what good teaching and behaviour management look like. This will allow you to apply these principles to later courses which delve into the detail of the roles and responsibilities of SENCOs.

The Identification and Assessment, and Provision and Intervention, courses will develop your understanding of what makes effective identification and assessment of pupils with SEND, and how to manage this across your school.

In the Professional Development course, you will develop an understanding of effective professional development within your school to improve staff expertise and outcomes for pupils. Through Working in Partnership, you will learn how to work beyond your school with families, local authorities and specialists to meet statutory requirements, build capacity and improve your SEND provision.

The programme concludes with two courses focused on implementation. These recognise the importance of SENCOs advocating for and implementing meaningful change in their setting. You will select a problem to solve in your setting, before putting in place a robust solution and monitoring and evaluating that continuous improvement.

All courses will be delivered through the lens of leadership. You will learn how to manage effective whole-school SEND provision and intervention as a strategic leader to meet the needs of all pupils.

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What does this mean in practice?

  • It means accessing professional development designed and delivered by SEND specialists, including current SENCOs and experts from across the sector.
  • It means developing the core leadership skills to implement a robust whole-school SEND strategy.
  • It means identifying specific challenges around SEND provision in your setting and putting in place rigorous solutions founded on evidence.
  • It means building a network of SENCOs and leaders facing similar challenges in different contexts.
  • It means improving retention by developing the confidence of non-SEND specialist teachers and leaders to support pupils with SEND in their classrooms.
  • It means creating an efficient SEND identification process so that pupils receive the support they need to reach their potential.
  • It means creating a positive school culture by promoting inclusivity and supporting staff to develop adaptive expertise, allowing them to meet the needs of all pupils through high-quality teaching.
  • It means becoming an expert in SEND through access to the latest evidence and research and having the confidence that you know what good SEND provision looks like.

Most of all, it means excelling as a strategic leader of SEND in your school to create a safe and supportive school environment for all pupils to thrive.

How will I learn?

Our NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators is designed to be flexible to fit alongside your schedule. Training is delivered with a 'little and often' approach to support knowledge retention, and you can learn at a time and pace which suits you.

During the 18-month programme, you will benefit from:

  • Two full day conferences (6 hours each).
  • Nine courses (each lasting six weeks and loosely aligned to a school half term) – each course has three pairs of ‘study’ and ‘apply’ modules.
  • Seven two-hour clinics (facilitated sessions).
  • One two-hour assessment clinic.
  • Five communities (one hour and 15-minute group sessions).

Content is delivered through a blended learning approach. This includes a mix of real-time interactive sessions, face-to-face training, peer-led sessions and self-guided courses.

You will have access to Steplab, the innovative learning platform specifically designed for teacher education. Watch the video below to see how it works.

Applefields SEND Secondary - 071-C0509_AI-min.jpg

How will I be assessed?

At the end of your 18-month programme there will be an eight-day assessment period. During this time, you will sit an ‘open book’ style assessment where you will respond to a short case study. We will provide a webinar and live clinic in advance of your assessment to ensure you have all the support you need to excel.

Who is eligible?

The NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators is designed for SENCOs, aspiring SENCOs and those with leadership responsibilities.

Suitable roles include:

  • SENCOs - The programme is mandatory for SENCOs who will need to complete the NPQSENCO within the first three years of their role.
  • Aspiring SENCOs.
  • School leaders, for example senior leaders or headteachers.

Is funding available?

Department for Education NPQ scholarship funding is available for the NPQ for SENCOs to all publicly funded schools and 16 to 19 educational organisations in England.


Join us on the first cohort of NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators in autumn 2024. Register your interest now.

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Join us on the first cohort of NPQ for Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators in autumn 2024.

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