Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, West Midlands

SEND: The Power of Parent Partnership

It’s been ten years since the Lamb Inquiry published its final report into parental confidence surrounding SEND systems.
The report focused on four areas that were deemed critical in repairing faults in the system; placing outcomes for young people at the center of the system, giving a strong voice to parents in decisions made about their children, and more focus on the needs of young people and greater accountability.

Despite this report, the last ten years were not the most fruitful time for complex changes, namely due to the lack of resources available in a time of austerity.

This time created a growing gap between schools, parents and other local services. Schools took on more and more responsibility as external programs were cut and this created a heavy burden. Parents increased their confidence and knowledge and as a result, rightly asked for what their children need. And although working towards a common goal this time and experience has led to an ever-widening gap between service providers and their users.

No one questions the intent and desire of many people in schools and local services to help and support children, but miscommunication and fractured programmes failed to get parents and service providers together to discuss what is best for the child in question in the midst of differing experiences and expectations of said child

For parents, this mental load of conflicting or non-existent communication makes their lives harder, their journey more stressful and we cannot miss the rising incidents of mental ill-health for families loving and living with additional needs.

Each service knows the child differently and may have different approaches of reaching their objectives for them. In turn, the child also shows different sides of themselves to different people. In the absence of a formal diagnosis, EHCP or support plan the space to communicate these different knowledges, opinions and objectives reduce dramatically. Which can have a detrimental effect on the very thing we are all trying to achieve; which is help children with SEND grow and develop in ways they are comfortable with.

Lets take a look at this practically, let’s take a young girl who is possibly on the spectrum; she understands the rules of school; to get to work and learn. She may be good at finishing the work, polite and undisruptive. To teachers and SEND staff in schools she may seem quite comfortable, if a little shy. However, at home before school, or after a taxing day, she may be withdrawn or experience melt downs and find it difficult to summon the strength to come to school for another day.

When this is brought up to the school as an issue by the parent there may be some resistence on the part of the school, as they are meeting their requirement of delivering meaningful learning. However, this mental load on families needs a place and time to be discussed with schools, so that that they can feel that there is a space for their concerns and that they can address the possibility that their child is masking in a complex environment for them.

Another example might be a family who has a child diagnosed with ASD, who are thrown into meetings and appointments where their knowledge and indeed impression of their child is questioned. The very human nature of us all means we are different in different settings and this must be taken into account.

In so many instanc,es parents feel that they are judged, questioned and undermined by the school system and other agencies, but talking as a teacher, I am aware that this is not the intention of my colleagues, so what can we do to improve this experience? and improve this ever-widening communication gap? what can we do to reduce the mental load, for everyone?

I suggest that as teachers and services we;
1. Listen, even when we don’t understand

2. Schedule regular updates, going both ways from school to parent and parent to school if there are simply concerns and not necessary answers in the form of a diagnosis, parents’ evenings are not ideal for this sort of exchange

3. Observe the child with fresh eyes, how do they communicate, what is their body language saying that their verbal communication is not

4. Engage with outside agencies and services if possible or recommended, remembering to be open to listening

5. Collaborate and communicate with the shared goal of putting the child’s needs first

6. Try a well-being day once a term, where staff and parents can discuss things outside of the curriculum.

7. Put ourselves in the shoes of parents who are living and loving someone with Neurodiversty.

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