"Every Teacher is a Teacher of SEND." Interview With a Director of SEND

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • About the roles and responsibilities of a Director of SEND.
  • Strategies to improve the SEND sector and support the needs of children and young people with SEND.
  • How to find and apply for the latest local authority SEND jobs.

In this exclusive interview with the Director of SEND for 13 primary academies, Chris Rigby shares his proactive approach to tackling the current issues in the SEND sector.

The 2023 Pearson School Report showed that 69% of Teachers said the current education system is ineffectively supporting Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) pupils in their aspirations and achievements. According to the report, 63% of teachers say their school’s insufficient support for children with SEND is a barrier to pupil learning. 

With a long and successful career in the SEND sector, Chris is no stranger to change in the SEND industry and the need for reform. As Director of SEND for the last 5 years, and previous experience as a Local Authority SEND Manager, SEND Teacher and SENCO, Chris has crucial insight into the industry.

As an experienced practitioner and expert in his field, Chris sees the value in empowering school staff to make a difference for children and young people and delivering improvement where needed. He is passionate about adapting to the needs of children with SEND, rather than changing the entire system and expecting every child to conform to expectations.

Throughout this interview, you will discover what Chris believes to be the best strategy to tackle issues in the SEND industry and prioritise the individual needs of children and young people with SEND.

Tell us about your career journey so far

The roles I have undertaken since qualifying in 2008 include teaching and SENCO roles in both specialist and mainstream, SEND Locality Manager, SEND Area Manager, SEND Governor, MA in Inclusion studies.

During my 5 years in my current role as Director of SEND, I was also design team member for the LEANS (Learning about neurodiversity in schools) project with the University of Edinburgh and I’m a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) instructor and deliver the 2-day youth course.

All of these roles have provided me with a rich and detailed insight into the current dilemmas and competing agendas faced in our schools at teacher, school, local authority and multi-academy trust levels.


What does your role as Director of SEND consist of?

I lead on and oversee SEND across 13 primary academies within 5 different local authorities. My role is to empower staff to take ownership of removing barriers to learning and implementing early intervention whilst ensuring academy leaders (SENCO’s and Principals) understand, implement and are fully compliant in relation to the SEND statutory framework.

To achieve this, my role requires the development of effective systems and processes that align with the graduated response and focus on early intervention.

Ensuring staff embrace the ‘every Teacher is a Teacher of SEND’ mindset by leading and implementing an evidenced-based and high quality Continuous Professional Development (CPD) training model which provides a deeper understanding across SEND and empowers staff to develop their practice with a social model mindset.

How do you keep up-to-date with changes in the SEND industry?

The only books I really read are related to the SEND industry in some way as well as subscribing to websites that keep me up to date on a range of guidance, research and statutory updates. 

I also love a good podcast! One of my favourites is the SENDcast which also explores a range of best practice and policy updates.

What’s the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned in your career so far?

That you will never know everything about SEND! I’ve learnt how important it is to be curious and open to broadening my perspective and understanding on a daily basis.

What challenges or obstacles have you faced in your career?

On a personal level, throughout all of my time working in education, I have found it extremely difficult to switch off. For example, as a Teacher I would spend all summer preparing my classroom and planning for the year ahead and neglect other priorities in life (relationships, eating, sleeping, relaxing).

This has come at a cost and has really affected my mental health and wellbeing and in 2021, I was diagnosed with ADHD. This has really helped me to understand that mental health problems can arise from untreated, unmanaged and, often, undiagnosed ADHD.

I still have challenges in managing and maintaining positive coping strategies and clearer cut off times from work, but feel I have much more clarity in my ability to implement these consistently.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I will leave my house between 6:15am and 6:30am and travel to one of my academies which are all a 60 to 90 minute commute. Upon arrival, I check emails, map out my day and then I like to check in with staff and catch up on pupils and provision we may have looked at last time.

My day can vary so much from one day to the next, but will generally include some meetings which may be with other directors, someone from a local authority, principals, SENCO’s, parents or other professionals.

I may deliver some training on a wide number of topics across the SEND landscape and may work directly with staff or even pupils to provide support around identifying needs and implementing reasonable adjustments and/or provisions.

I regularly check my emails throughout the day and return any phone calls as needed. I try to leave work to have enough time to take a gym class on the way home and then get home to see my little boy before he goes to bed at 7:15pm.

Reform in the SEND sector continues to be a huge topic of discussion. How have things changed or progressed in the SEND sector since the start of your career?

When I started working in the SEND sector, it was under the old SEND Code of Practice where the pupils with the most complex needs received a Statement which was just under 2% nationally. 

Since the current SEND Code of Practice (2014), figures have significantly increased. We know national figures of EHCP’s have now risen to 4.3% and the national average of EHCP’s in a mainstream setting is currently 2.5%. 

Across our academies, the figures range and can go up to nearly 7% which is almost triple the national average.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Spinning so many plates at once; some are for now, or the near future and others may be for use at a much later date. Whatever I’m juggling, it’s always about revisiting the core values of why I love working in this field so that I don’t lose sight of what is important.


What do you feel can be done to better support the needs of children and young people with SEND?

Being responsive to the evolving needs of our pupils can be challenging with the lack of specialist placements and funding so we need to be creative. Being responsive is part of our anticipatory duty to implement reasonable adjustments and adaptations to reduce the substantial disadvantages that some pupils experience compared to their peers of the same age.

One example is how we can utilise any spaces in our settings. This includes developing nurture rooms for children who require an alternative curriculum with lots of opportunities to develop skills they may need support with.

A safe, consistent environment like this is ideal due to the smaller children to adult ratio. This means that staff can spend more time supporting pupils to develop skills they can use to succeed in the classroom and at home.

Skills to ensure the needs of children with SEND are met, include:

  • Attention, listening and concentration skills.
  • Joining in with group activities; friendships and relationships; sharing and taking turns; social skills.
  • Understanding our emotions and how to manage them.
  • Being resilient and confident learners in the classroom.

These vital building blocks to learning can be achieved through short, exciting bursts of learning which are gradually built up to last longer.

What measures have you taken to improve the SEND sector?

We do lots of language building activities to support children’s language development, and we play lots of games to build on turn taking, sharing and patience, confidence and self-esteem.

Where we’ve managed to do this, children are supported to access this so that their concentration and social skills can be built up through play.

Another example of our academies responding creatively include liaising with Occupational Therapy services and Sensory Integration providers to determine how we could best create multi-purpose sensory spaces to support a wider range of needs.

For one academy, we applied for a capital works grant which more and more local authorities are making available due to the lack of specialist placements. We were really pleased that this bid was accepted and we are now starting to develop two rooms that will offer the pupils sensory stimulation by utilising a range of objects and sensory integration resources within a soothing, safe and protected space.

This will support them to emotionally decompress which in turn will reduce anxiety levels, support greater sensory regulation and increase their ability to achieve their learning potential through more focused and regular classroom participation.

Whatever we do, it is vital that we apply a social model mindset approach where we look at how we can adapt the environment, adult support and curriculum to meet the needs of the child rather than expecting the child to conform and adapt to the expectations of a typical and rigid curriculum.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

I would say our journey with better understanding Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs (SEMH) and how we respond to these needs effectively. We now take a proactive approach by providing daily social and emotional based opportunities to give our pupils the skills and tools they are missing.

We recognise that all children can benefit from calm down strategies, whether they have sensory processing challenges or not, as even very young children can feel stressed and anxious, especially during times of change or upheaval.

Therefore, a key focus has been on upskilling and developing staff knowledge and expertise through a range of Continuous Professional Development. These include: all academies having at least one trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA), sensory circuits and other sensory supports, lego therapy, social stories, comic strip conversations and many more.

We are also currently in the process of developing whole academy approaches to emotion coaching, zones of regulation and restorative practice. This relational approach allows staff to refer to a common language and see moments of pupil dysregulation as coaching opportunities.

These approaches are instilling consistent and effective ways to help pupils at their academy to better manage their emotions and develop their own unique toolkit to self-regulate.

Staff can use these approaches in the classroom or anywhere else at the academy. Collectively, these are a great way to encourage independence in self-regulation for children of all ages, with a little training. 

Being able to recognise the triggers and then cope with anxiety with a few key strategies is a skill that will benefit children for life.

Do you have any tips or advice for anyone considering a career in SEND provision?

It is an incredibly rewarding field to work in but it is also highly emotive so be proactive about your self-care!  Have your own toolkit to help manage stress levels and improve your emotional well-being to keep you well centred on a daily basis. Also, share information as well as ask for it when needed.

You might not think of yourself as an expert but chances are good there's at least one person who will need your help understanding something and would appreciate being able to come back to you later instead of starting from scratch.

What are your career plans for the future?

I would love to set up and run my own specialist setting one day! I’m not sure how or where but that would be the dream!

SEND jobs

If you’re searching for your next local authority SEND job, why not take a look at the latest vacancies, or simply upload your CV to be notified when a relevant position becomes available. 

Local authority recruitment services

As specialist local authority SEND recruiters, we support local authorities nationwide with their temporary, interim and permanent staffing needs. 

We can supply SEND staff for service redesign, tackling annual review backlogs and SEND/EHC Case workers to amend plans or hold annual review meetings. 

If you’re struggling to fill a vacancy, why not get in touch with one of our team to see how we can help?

South of the UK - Richard Shorrock

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Who is Spencer Clarke Group?

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