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When I come across the terms ‘accountability’ and ‘responsibility’ regarding SEND pupils, I often wonder if, as teachers and senior leaders, we properly understand what they mean.

There is an overwhelming amount of information, in the SEN Code of Practice and elsewhere, regarding mainstream schools and the role they have to play in identifying and supporting pupils with SEND, much of which is then conveyed through schools’ SEND and inclusion policies. Yet there seems to me to be an avoidance of accountability for the progress and attainment of SEND pupils in schools, regardless of whether or not they have an Education, Health and Care Plan.

Why? Is it simply because we’re not clear as to who is ultimately responsible for SEND pupils in our classrooms? Or is it just easier to make staff who are already working closely with these pupils, such as TAs, accountable for their progression, thus enabling us to focus on other pupils who ‘really need our support’ – ie. those whose results will make a difference to our school data…?

Considerable confusion

With many SENCos now part of their schools’ senior leadership team, there seems to be a greater focus on the achievements of pupils with SEND and better understanding of how to identify SEND. There are, however, exceptions, with a number of SENCos still not recognised as senior leaders. A failure to grasp the importance of bringing these individuals on board to address what the SEN Code of Practice clearly outlines will give rise to a school setting that doesn’t fully appreciate or value its SEND pupils.

The upshot of this is that the SENCo is held accountable and responsible for the progression of every pupil with SEND who attends the school, which can in turn lead to further problems and considerable confusion.

The SENCo will be asked to report on the support systems in place for SEND pupils, and provide information on said pupils’ progression. To do this, the SENCo will typically communicate with teachers to address planning and provision concerns regarding their SEND pupils – yet it will often be a TA who is actually supporting the SEND pupils in question. If so, then in some cases accountability for the pupils’ attainment will rest with them, since they’re the ones administering the teaching and running the intervention sessions. Yet as practitioners, we know that it’s officially the teacher – be they a class or subject teacher – who is responsible for the teaching and learning outcomes of their pupils, including those with SEND.

‘Quality first’ teaching

How is it that so many schools are willling to hold TAs responsible for the learning outcomes of SEND pupils by teachers, SENCos and senior leaders? Surely we need to be aware of specifically who should be held accountable for what in terms of SEND pupils’progression and attainment?

On many occasions I have witnessed TAs being told that they need to receive specific SEND training, or asked to attend a course such as the TEACCH programme in order to enhance the outcomes of the pupils they support.

There’s an obvious irony here. We might understand the TA’s role as being there to ‘support’ SEND pupils, but we hold them responsible if a pupil has not made sufficient progress in their learning outcomes. Is it not the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that a pupil with SEND meets the success criteria previously established in their planning and provision mapping? The teacher must take ownership of the situation in relation to their SEND pupils, and see to it that he or she can access the best teaching practices, regardless of whatever individual help they might have received from support staff in achieving their set goals and targets.

It’s therefore vital that SENCos and senior leaders alike take time to address what the SEN Code of Practice states in terms of their responsibility towards pupils with SEND – and particularly how they should approach the task of ensuring that ‘quality first’ teaching in schools is upheld. Teachers, no matter what their particular perception of the job may be, are the ones who are ultimately accountable and responsible for all SEND learners.

About the author

Talit Khan is an independent SEND consultant; for more information, visit

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