It’s really time to get school-parent partnership right. If we hadn’t realised already that parents and carers are the vital cog in the wheel of successful provision for children with special educational needs, school closure should be a timely reminder of the need for a truly partnered approach for any school that prides itself on successful inclusion.
Schools are now totally reliant on parents to ensure children receive any kind of education. Parents are no longer the poor relation, the after-thought. They are the teacher, the motivator, the problem solver. As well as the parent. And in many cases, the person trying to balance parenting with working from home with trying to decipher curriculum content.
For a SENDCO, good communication with parents and carers is vital if a school considers itself to have an excellent provision for children with SEND. But schools have been closed since March 20th. What lessons can be learned from school closure in terms of communicating with parents of children with SEND?
Effective parent partnership is essential
Parental involvement is positively associated with achievement (Hill and Tyson, 2009), socioemotional development (Kreider et al, 2007), behaviour in school (Powell et al, 2010) and longer-term positive benefits (Kreider et al, 2007):
‘It is generally accepted that without the positive cooperation of family and school, it is not possible to reach the high demands set for educational outcomes by a demanding society’
Government guidance on this has been clear for over half a century, with educational legislation consistently promoting parents as equal partners in a school’s provision for all children, but especially for children with SEND.
Parent partnership for children with SEND is key
As spelt out very clearly in the Provision Map webinar on supporting pupils and families, parental partnership is particularly important for children with SEND. By treating parents as experts, it helps the school to understand the child (Gwernan-Jones et al, 2015). By keeping parents informed about curriculum work, it allows school work to be effectively consolidated at home (Dale, 2008). By supporting parents, it helps parents to feel confident in supporting their child’s needs at home. It ultimately makes a ‘significant difference to what can be achieved’ (Bartram, 2018). An engaged parent improves outcomes for children with SEND (Eleftherakis et al, 2015).
Schools need parents more than ever
More than ever, schools are reliant on the cooperation of parents and carers for the successful education of the children and young people on their roll. Parental experience of a school’s communication during school closure is of course varied, but in the best cases parents now have communication from a school professional at least weekly, as opposed to 3 times per year (recommended in the Lamb Report and enacted within the Code of Practice 2015). How are parents finding this (in many cases) increased contact? What is this communication looking like now?
Schools are closed – but contact is up
I conducted a couple of polls on social media 4 weeks into school closure, looking to find out whether contact with schools had increased or decreased since learning became remote for the vast majority of students. I asked this question to both SEND professionals and parents/carers of children with SEND, as 2 distinct groups (but not discriminating by sector and stage). 140 parents/carers answered; 101 SEND professionals.
Parents and carers of children with SEND:
SENDCOs and SEND professionals:
Full results are shows in the tables, but in a nutshell:
- The most common response was that contact had increased since school closure (67% SEND professionals; 43% parents/carers)
- SEND professionals believed in greater numbers that contact had increased, suggesting a difference in perception between themselves and parents/carers (67% – 43%).
- 80%+ of parents and professionals acknowledged a difference now in the frequency of contact since school closure.
What kind of contact?
So what of this increased contact? Parents who left a comment on the poll talked of weekly phone calls, of schools using Twitter accounts and Google classrooms. Of work packs and Zoom calls. Now clearly these things won’t be needed in the same way when we go back to ‘normal’. But will we just go back to working with our pupils and leaving the parents out of the picture, as we’re so guilty of?
I don’t want to take a moral high ground here. I’ve frequently, during a busy week in which most of the things on my list remained incomplete, failed to take the time to inform parents of changes, let alone listen to parents and use their views to inform the work we do in school. Failing to use parents makes my work as a SENDCO less effective.
An opportunity for change
I’m convinced we can change school-parent relationships as a result of the current school closure. I’m convinced that creative approaches, with parents at the centre of them, will be needed if we’re to successfully transition students back into full-time schooling. I’m convinced that empowered parents, with an even better awareness of their child’s ability and attitude to learning and with better-developed relationships with school staff, won’t accept anything less than being a full part in provision.
The Lamb Report (2009) called for:
‘a radical recasting of the relationship between parents, schools and local authorities to ensure a clearer focus on the outcomes and life chances for children with SEN and disability’ (Lamb, 2009).
If the nation’s schools closing isn’t the catalyst for this radical recasting, I’m not sure what is. Contact three times per year? I strongly suspect this is no longer acceptable.
In the next blog: how to ensure effective parent-school partnership when schools reopen
Bartram, David. 2018. Great expectations: Leading an effective SEND strategy in school. Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd.
Dale, Naomi. 2008. Working with families of children with special needs: Partnership and practice. London: Routledge.
Department for Education/Department of Health. 2015. Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0-25 years. DFE-00205-2013.
Eleftherakis, Theodoros G., Kourkoutas, Elias, Vitalaki, Elena and Hart, Angie. 2015. Family-School-Professionals Partnerships: An Action Research Program to Enhance the Social, Emotional, and Academic Resilience of Children at Risk. Journal of Education and Learning. Volume 4, Number 3.
Gwernan-Jones, R., Moore, D. A., Garside, R., Richardson, M., Thompson-Coon, J., Rogers, M., Cooper, P., Stein, K. and Ford, T. 2015. ADHD, parent perspectives and parent–teacher relationships: grounds for conflict. British Journal of Special Education. Volume 42. Issue 3.
Kreider, Holly; Margaret, Caspe; Kennedy, Susan; Weiss, Heather. 2007. Family Involvement in Middle and High School Students’ Education. Involvement Makes a Diference: Evidence that Family Involvement Promotes School Success for Every Child of Every Age. Harvard Family Research Project. Volume 3.
Lamb, B. 2009. Lamb Inquiry Special Educational Needs and Parental Confidence. Annesley: DCSF Publications.