Reflections of a new SEND manager

I thought I had one of the most worthwhile jobs in the sector when I worked in prisons.

I was, after all, helping people learn skills and gain qualifications to move on in their lives.

After 19 ½ years though, I felt it was time to move on and let somebody else take over the reins.

So I moved to the London Borough of Hillingdon to become the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) Manager, where I have been in post now for 8 weeks.

Learners have such different and varied SEND needs

First, it struck me how much I didn’t know. The learners have such different and varied SEND needs. Initially, I felt a bit overwhelmed by that, but then it occurred to me that I couldn’t be expected to know everything and that I needed to take my time.

At times like this, you have to be able to turn to your new colleagues and your team for help and advice. Thankfully they have been brilliant and there is so much expertise in the SEND team at Hillingdon that I could relax and concentrate on being a good manager.

Loads of transferable skills

That’s the second thing I realised. That being a curriculum manager in the prison had given me loads of transferable skills to be a good manager at Hillingdon ACL. For example, I have good IT skills and I’m organised and get things done.

I like to reflect on how things have gone and how I could do things better. I get to apply these organisational and reflective skills in a creative way when I am developing an inclusive curriculum. The people skills I have developed have been really important.

In this SEND role the ability to work with different types of people – learners, teachers, learning support staff, carers, parents, care homes and other agencies is key. The interaction with such a wide range of people, especially the learners is what makes the role so interesting.

Previous management experience

Lastly, I realised that so much of my previous management experience could be applied to SEND and inform my learning. One of the things I had to do was contribute to the SAR and that was the ideal opportunity to ask questions and find out information.

My next big task is to do a CPD plan so I have been researching what is available. In doing that I have been reading and doing quick courses on SEND. That has helped build my confidence on SEND as well as fulfil my management role.

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So, 8 weeks on and in hindsight, this is the advice would I give myself as a new SEND manager:

  • Be proactive in seeking out information - Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues and get on the internet because there is loads of information out there. The Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) SEND Excellence Gateway and Foundation Online Learning are two good examples, but other organisations like JISC SEND materials and Mencap are great sources of information and resources.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know - Use this time as the new person to ask loads of questions and people always want to help.
  • Take responsibility for your own professional development - If you don’t know something, do something about it.
  • Go to events and talk to people - Build a network of colleagues that you share information with, talk to and share challenges and collaborate on work together.

And what do I want for the next year?

To feel settled and to make a difference by improving our provision even more. I’m beginning to realise that this role is even more worthwhile and I can make such a positive impact. And I’m having great fun doing it.

I’ll be back in touch with further reflections in January 2020, so watch this space and if you are considering working with learners with SEND, do take a look at Make a big difference: working with learners with special educational needs and disabilities for more information.

Thoria King, SEND Manager at the London Borough of Hillingdon

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