Special role for SENCO in tertiary journey

Helen Kato

Helen Kato was taken by surprise when former student Damien Peers singled her out for mention because of her role in guiding him through secondary school and onto tertiary studies.

Helen is the Special Educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at St John’s College in Hamilton. All mainstream schools must ensure they have a qualified teacher designated as a SENCO.

The role is a pivotal leadership role for ensuring that students with high needs have the learning programmes and support they need to achieve at school.

We asked Helen to tell us about herself, why she became a SENCO and what that involves.

“I went to Taupo-nui-a-tia College, received my Master’s degree and teaching qualification at Waikato University and have been at St John’s College since 2017.

Before that I spent time at the Institute of Professional Learning at Waikato University on a contract as a literacy facilitator for the Waikato and Bay of Plenty. I was also Head of Faculty at Te Kauwhata College and English and Japanese teacher at Morrinsville College.

I moved into the SENCO role fulltime recently as it became vacant within St John’s and I thought I might be able to make a difference for the boys who struggle.

Support from the principal and board is essential in terms of time to do the work, funding for the support staff, encouraging innovation, collaboration etc.

It is the most rewarding job I have ever done.

I have been a teacher for many years and the ability to contribute to student success at a systemic as well as a personal level is magic.

The role involves working with outside agencies (both Government and private), tertiary institutions, parents, caregivers, teachers across the educational spectrum, kahui ako, deans and counselling staff, all to support the student to be the best that they can be.

Because I have never had this role at any other school, I am unsure if the special nature of St John’s College – it is a Catholic state integrated school – makes it easier for a SENCO.

However, I do think the support that comes from the board and the principal is there because of a fundamental belief in equity and fairness and support of each other within the St John’s community.

Seeing this in practical actions as well as just in theory is very positive.

The expectation on all staff to live by these principles reinforces and strengthens the SENCO role and ability to work effectively.

My advice to parents and whanau is to find a school where there is success and collaboration.

Support from principal and board and other staff is crucial, both in terms of funding and time.

I was shocked that Damien singled me out because he was so easy to work with.

I just needed to have a listening ear, give constructive, structured and focussed feedback and some flexibility in terms of deadlines and giving him time.

To be honest this was the same way I treated all the boys in his class.

I deal with tertiary providers as and when I need to.

I just plunge in and contact them with my questions, concerns and add this new knowledge to my kete for the benefit of the students in front of me now, and those to come.

I find tertiary providers to be helpful, knowledgeable, and full of information, once I have made contact with the right person.

The only mission is finding who that is!!!”