"The Role of SENCO Should Have the Word Hero in Front of It." Interview With a Director For SEND

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • About the roles and responsibilities of a Director for SEND.
  • Strategies to reform the SEND sector and resolve the increased needs in schools.
  • About the significant issues that confront the SEND system.
  • How to find and apply for the latest local authority SEND jobs.

The SEND sector is in urgent need of reform, with local authorities experiencing financial pressures and increasing deficits in education budgets. In March 2023, the SEND and alternative provision improvement plan set out plans to change the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and alternative provision system in England. However, with so many challenges and obstacles in the way, we’re giving a voice to SEND professionals from across the sector to hear their thoughts about how meaningful change can happen and what it’s really like to work to work with the sector right now. 

In this exclusive interview, we caught up with Conrad Bourne, the Director for Special Educational Needs (SEND) and West Midlands Deputy Regional Lead for Whole School SEND.

An expert in his field, Conrad has juggled many roles in his 15 year career including Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), Specialist Teacher and Specialist Leader of Education (SLE).

Since 2020, Conrad has been the Director for SEND at the Mercian Trust, on a mission to provide the best education for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. He is an expert in the field, with a vision for the future of SEND and solutions to resolve the increased needs in schools.

Conrad was recently named the Winner of the NHS SEND Awards 2024, in the category of ‘Excellence in SEND Leadership’ and is currently contributing to a book about innovation in SEND practice.

Throughout the interview, you will learn about how Conrad navigates and tackles the current challenges in the SEND industry, the not-so-typical career of an expert in the SEND sector, and his words of wisdom and optimism for the future of SEND.

Tell us about your career journey so far Conrad

My substantive role is Director for SEND at The Mercian Trust that I have held since 2020. I have also been seconded for one day per week, for the last three years, to Whole School SEND as Deputy Regional Lead for the West Midlands.

I am a secondary school History Teacher by training and I have had over fifteen years’ experience as a SENCO and Senior Leader, in schools. I am also a Specialist Teacher and Assessor for Specific Learning Difficulty (Dyslexia).

What does your role as the Director for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) consist of?

My role carries three key responsibilities:

  • Strategic leadership and development.
  • Supporting academics and staff.
  • Collaboration and advocacy.

Strategic leadership and development

I formulate and drive the Trust-wide SEND strategy, ensuring consistency and effectiveness across all academies. I also collaborate with other trust leaders to integrate SEND provision within the broader educational vision and objectives.

It is part of my role to ensure our Trust schools remain legally compliant, employ best practices in SEND, and implement them within the Trust.

Supporting academies and staff

I provide guidance and support to academy leaders and SENCOs to implement effective SEND practices, and facilitate professional development opportunities for staff to enhance their knowledge and skills in supporting students with SEND.

I’m also responsible for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of SEND provision within each academy and identifying any areas for improvement.

Collaboration and advocacy

Building strong relationships with external stakeholders such as local authorities, health professionals, and parent carer forums, is crucial in the SEND sector, as is securing appropriate funding and resources to support the SEND needs of students across the Trust.

I believe in championing and advocating for the rights and inclusion of students with SEND within the wider community.

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

My role as Deputy Regional Lead for Whole School SEND provides access to a range of national and regional network updates from the Department for Education and SEND systems leaders. 

I collaborate closely with organisations at the forefront of SEND system change such as lead local authorities involved in the SEND Alternative Provision (AP) change programme pilots.

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

Keep your world small; you can only influence the things you can control and don’t overcomplicate the things you are trying to achieve.

What challenges or obstacles have you faced in your career?

Overcoming my impatience, especially when relying on external services for provision of support for children and young people. It can be a great frustration to rely on something that is out of my control.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Untypical! I do have additional privileges in this role, the main one being the opportunity to be creative among a varied group of professionals. During any one week I may be working with clinicians, SENCO’s, Department for Education staff, project leads, combined local authority teams etc. I soak it all up and disseminate this to our SEND staff in a way that hopefully supports them in their role with our young people.

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?

The most successful organisations from across any sector are the ones that take the brave decision to make changes, even at the height of their success. If you wait to change when things go wrong or decline, then invariably the change may be less successful.

The SEND sector has to face the reality that the direction of travel for local authorities will be less, not more, in terms of future provision while increased needs will be present in schools. Schools will need to solve these problems themselves and be creative in the process. It can be done with some resolve and resilience. 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Supporting our staff - particularly when the workload can be overwhelming. There is far too much admin imposed on SENCO’s and much of it becomes an artefact as soon as it's produced. For example, what does a costed provision map do other than place a monetary value on pupil provision!

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

All roads lead back to having a good working relationship with parents. The SEND Code of Practice is spot on in telling us that parents and carers will have a better understanding of their child than school staff will. Not utilising that knowledge in shaping the support for SEND students is a mistake I see far too often.

What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

Creating a multi-disciplinary clinical team in The Mercian Trust and removing the barriers of waiting times for assessment that far too many young people face, and parents endure due to the postcode lottery of local provision.

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

Go for it! The role of SENCO should have the word Hero in front of it.

What are your plans for the future?

I’ll be too busy living to make plans. That sounds a bit rock’n’roll doesn’t it!

As a thank you to Conrad for taking the time to complete this interview, we donated £100 to children's hospice Derian House at Conrad's request. 

SEND jobs

If you’re looking for your dream SEND job, you’ve come to the right place! We work with hundreds of local authorities across the UK and regularly place Directors of SEND into some of the best temporary, permanent and interim positions on the market. So, why not upload your CV to be the first to hear about upcoming opportunities?

Or if you have local authority SEND experience and fancy an informal chat with our award winning Divisional Manager, Richard Shorrock, simply give us a call on 01772 954200. 

If you found this blog insightful, why not check out more content like this?

Local authority SEND recruitment services

As a leading SEND recruitment agency in the UK, we support local authorities all over the UK with their recruitment needs. We provide unparalleled expertise in SEND recruitment and offer a variety of opportunities to match you with the best possible talent. If you’re struggling to fill a vacancy, why not give us a call on 01772 954200 to discover how we can support you?

Share your experience

Every individual brings a unique set of experiences, thoughts, and insights to the table. We believe in giving a voice to a community of professionals to inspire positive change and champion reform in the SEND sector.  

If you work in the SEND sector and would like to share your own personal and professional experiences, we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you have a different perspective, could offer a fresh angle, or want to challenge assumptions. 

Simply reach out to our Head of Content, Nicole Sherwood, to discuss a collaboration which makes your voice count. 

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