How to ensure effective parent-school partnership when schools reopen

In the last blogpost, I mentioned some of the literature that shows fairly definitively that parent/carer involvement is a highly significant factor in children making progress in school. I pointed to some of the research that shows it being particularly true for children with special educational needs and disabilities. What does best practice look like for parental partnership? With a unique transition from home to school this year following the impact of coronavirus, what will good practice look like from SENDCOs interested in outstanding parental partnership?

We now know that transition will begin for some after May half-term . There is some excellent material being written about managing this transition back to school for pupils with SEND, such as from Natalie Packer and Lynn McCann. They rightly consider the vital question of how to support children in their return. But what of the parents? If we know their involvement is key, how do we prepare them to be active partners in their child’s return to school, in such a potentially anxious time for parents?

To consider what good practice in this context looks like, it is important to know what good practice looks like under normal conditions.

Outstanding parent partnership under normal circumstances

  1. Ensure the basics of communication are done well – parents must know who they should contact and how they should contact them. They require written communication about targets, interventions and progress. Taking a whole-school approach (DfE-00205-2013), communication must come from the wider school staff, not merely the SEND team.
  2. Move beyond three times per year – have a frequently open door, with opportunities for parents to meet the SENDCo at least 6 times per year. This will be a combination of 1-to-1 meetings and more informal, group meetings or coffee mornings. Be wary of reducing communication when children are in secondary school, as typically occurs (Povey et al, 2016) when children leave primary school. Consider on a case-by-case basis which parents need a regular phone call or chance to meet, above and beyond what other parents require.
  3. Educate and support parents – provide sessions for parents about the school curriculum and about their child’s SEND (Kreider et al, 2007). This should include opportunities for the parents to network with one another, sharing their experiences. Consider parents’ feelings here, which may (but may not) be negative towards their child’s SEND (CACE, 1967). Communication with parents, particularly around the beginning of a process that involves the child going on the SEND register, should be particularly thoughtful and conducted in person where possible.
  4. Use parents – Interventions can be further supported at home. Whenever parents are being informed about an intervention or target, be explicit with ideas about how this might be supported at home. Get parental input on the advice that is given to all teachers about meeting their child’s need, bringing them in in some cases to meet with the child’s teachers. Use parents’ knowledge of the child to help the school to understand them more fully and to better meet need (DFEE 1994a, 2:28).
  5. Co-produce with parents – Consult with parents when changes are being proposed to provision, and learn from them about whether they believe changes should be made (Lindsay et al, 2016). This may involve establishing an SEND parent group that meets regularly, as well as having SEND parent representation at the school and/or MAT Governors’ level.

The principles of good parent partnership aren’t abandoned because of school closure and the eventual return to the school building. However, there are nuances to what these principles look like in practice, which are worth considering.

Outstanding parent partnership as schools reopen

  1. Be clear and be neutral

Make sure the plan to keep children as safe as possible in school (hand washing, class sizes, etc) is put into writing. Let parents have this and reference it often.

Be neutral where possible about your school’s and/or the Government’s decisions around reopening. Show that you are the person enacting the decision and helping it to happen as safely as possible, rather than the person responsible for national policy. Keep personal opinions for your Headteacher (and if necessary the unions!)

2. Be communicative

Review your normal communication with parents. It will need increasing dramatically for the majority of schools. Consider how to do this in a realistic manner:

A group text or email about the day, to a large group of parents (i.e. of children with SEND or all parents)

Putting slots on your own calendar that you dedicate for meeting with parents (i.e. 5 x 20 minute slots per week). Make these slots known to parents. Parents will take comfort from the opportunity even if they don’t take it up. It will help them to know that your door is open.

Praise praise praise. Ask everybody everyday which child did something praise-worthy. Use your school systems (postcards, merits, certificates) to go heavy on the praise. Make sure these school systems allow parents to see this praise.

3. Be supportive

Allow opportunities for peer support. It may be appropriate to hold some kind of coffee morning for parents (in person or online), or to use an engaged parent to set up a WhatsApp group independent of the school.

Identify a small number of parents who need much closer (i.e. daily) contact from school. Consider how this might be shared for different children, i.e. between colleagues, the child’s class teacher, etc.

Ask your parents what support they need. Offer appropriate sessions, either via resources going home, an online meeting or in person, as appropriate. These might be on wellbeing, managing behaviour, managing stress, personal wellbeing (i.e. the wellbeing of the parent).

4. Be appreciative

It will feel like more of a risk than normal sending their child to school. When the time comes, and without putting undue pressure on parents, acknowledge this with a thank you.

5. Be balanced

Continue your systems for those not able to attend: year groups not yet invited back; the medically vulnerable; etc.

The principles remain but the actions need some nuance. With a nuanced approach based on a sound and supportive set of principles, parents and carers can feel an empowered, involved and reassured part of the transition process.

References

Department for Education/Department of Health. 2015. Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0-25 years. DFE-00205-2013.

Department for Education and Employment. 1994. Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs.

Kreider, Holly; Margaret, Caspe; Kennedy, Susan; Weiss, Heather. 2007. Family Involvement in Middle and High School Students’ Education. Involvement Makes a Difference: Evidence that Family Involvement Promotes School Success for Every Child of Every Age. Harvard Family Research Project. Volume 3.

Lindsay, G., Ricketts, J., Peacey, L. V., Dockrell, J. E., & Charman, T. 2016.. Meeting the educational and social needs of children with language impairment or autism spectrum disorder: the parents’ perspectives. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. Volume 51, Issue 5.

Plowden, B. 1967. Children and their Primary Schools. London: A report of the Central Advisory Council for Education.

Povey, Jenny, Campbell, Alice Kate, Willis, Linda-Dianne, Haynes, Michele, Western, Mark, Bennett, Sarah, Antrobus, Emma and Pedde, Charley. 2016. Engaging parents in schools and building parent-school partnerships: The role of school and parent organisation leadership. International Journal of Educational Research. Volume 79.

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