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Are You Providing Parents With The Information They Actually Need?

What should schools do to ensure parents get the information they need – and can act on it?

Babs OHara
by Babs OHara
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I worked in a primary school for 10 years, a significant number of them as SENCo and inclusion manager. During that time I met with hundreds of parents and heard of many others who said that although they were being provided with more information, they were confused by the messages they received.

I was also informed that this information could change, depending on who they asked. Even where parents felt that they had a handle on what they were being told, their search for accurate information could take a long time.

Parents are still not being given a clear picture of what their child’s diagnosis or education care and health plan means in real day-to-day terms. There are parents who are ‘lost in the system’, and while there might be some who are highly informed and ‘push’ for additional support. I have yet to meet a parent who’s been able to fully access the SEN support system by themselves.

The latest SEND Code of Practice states that, “Local authorities, in carrying out their functions…in relation to disabled young people and those with SEN, must have regard to the views, wishes and feelings of the child and the child’s parents; [and] the importance of the child or young person, and the child’s parents.”.

This sounds like a renewal of the intention to ensure that parents and carers should be fully involved in the education of their children – the 2001 Code of Practice made it clear that all should work in partnership with parents – so what exactly has changed?

Building a clearer picture

To give parents the important role they should have within the decision-making process, and allow them to participate fully in their child’s education, we can move beyond current thinking about labelling and diagnosis. While there is a place for this, the most important thing is to meet the needs of each child.

To do that, it’s obviously important to understand what the needs of the child are. This can be done through classroom and playground observations, but also by asking parents and teachers for their views. Parents offer a different angle from which to view the child, which can lead to a fuller understanding of the child’s needs. With this clearer picture of the child, the available support can be matched more closely to help with their progress, independence and growth – though it’s important not to forget their social and emotional well-being too.

Regular contact, even once a term, enables parents to feel more included, and gives them a chance to share information of their own. Even when you have nothing new to pass on, still ‘check in’ with parents regardless, even if it’s only to say that there isn’t anything to report!

Bridging school and home

Give parents practical tips to help and support them with their child; don’t feel that the knowledge you have is just for the classroom. It’s likely that parents will benefit from knowing what’s working in school for their child and implementing it at home. If using a fiddle toy works for them in class, why not suggest they use one when doing homework?

Be careful when using education sector terms or acronyms around parents – it’s easy to forget that parents might not understand what they mean! Where appropriate, however, discuss the implications of the child’s diagnosis honestly, what the ECHP is and does and what ‘SEN support’ actually means for their child. Explain that these are about the child’s needs and ensure that they’re met to the best of the school’s ability.

Finally, think about how the child and their parents can be supported by the class teacher without the teacher having to increase their workload. Things like a home-school book can make parents feel included with minimal input of the part of the school, while also providing a great way for the school to find out what’s happening at home.

About the author

Babs O’Hara has been a primary teacher and SENCo for a number of years and is the founder of Empowering Parents UK – a company providing support and advice to parents and schools

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