Three times per year and beyond: effective parent partnership for SENDCOs
A quick look through the SEND Green Paper shows the word ‘parents’ featuring alongside ‘frustration’, ‘frustrated’, ‘little choice’,‘low confidence’ (in the system), ‘no choice’, ‘difficulty and delay’.
This consultation document is nothing if not honest about the extent to which the current system is letting parents down.
What does this mean for a SENDCO? In fairness to SENDCOs, some of the criticism within the Green Paper is aimed at things not quite within the SENDCO’s reach:
- A ‘financially unsustainable’ system;
- ‘Difficulties and delays…in securing support’;
- Difficulties ‘navigating the system’.
However, some of it is very much within the remit of the SENDCO:
- ‘Parents…lose confidence that mainstream settings will be able to meet the needs’;
- ‘Parents are not always made aware of the support that their child is accessing’;
- ‘Parents and carers want greater confidence (in their local school)’.
The SEND Code of Practice
Let’s go back to what the statutory guidance tells schools to do:
- Inform parents (6.2)
- Actively involve parents (6.7)
- Include the views of parents (6.19)
- Listen to and actively involve parents (6.20)
- Take parents’ concerns seriously (6.46)
- Agree a support plan jointly with parents (6.48)
- Evaluate the current support and interventions with parents (6.54)
- Provide ‘regular reports’ for parents (6.64)
- Meet with parents at least three times each year(6.65)
6.65 Where a pupil is receiving SEN support, schools should talk to parents regularly to set clear outcomes and review progress towards them, discuss the activities and support that will help achieve them, and identify the responsibilities of the parent, the pupil and the school. Schools should meet parents at least three times each year.
So, how can SENDCOs take the issues acknowledged in the Green Paper, consider them alongside their own Code of Practice duties, and restore the confidence of parents?
Use the following 4 principles as a guide:
1. Systematise informing parents
As a first step, look at your own current habits of informing parents. When you provide some intervention, is parent-communication always factored into the planning? You might share with the parent what they can do at home to further develop the skill that the intervention is targeting.
2. Systematise ‘three times per year’
A further step of progress may require reflecting on your duty to meet with parents at least three times per year. Are you relying on parents to tell you if they have an issue, or are parents proactively invited to talk to you? Is this done in a manner supportive of their needs and/or availability (i.e. through offering a blended approach of in-person/remote meetings)? This may well mean, at three times per year:
- Offering an appointment for all parents, in which the current support and progress is discussed;
- Following up on agreed actions following the meeting;
- Providing a brief written record of the meeting for parents.
It doesn’t need to be – and in many schools simply can’t be– the SENDCO who leads all these meetings. Within the Code of Practice, we are told:
6.67 These discussions should be led by a teacher with good knowledge and understanding of the pupil who is aware of their needs and attainment. This will usually be the class teacher or form tutor, supported by the SENCO.
In a primary school, the SENDCO’s job here will be to lead effective professional development, and share information appropriately, so that class teachers are able to have a SEND-focused conversation with parents.The SENDCO will most likely decide which of these meetings to attend alongside the class teacher.
In a secondary school (or other setting with subject-specialist teaching), the SENDCO may be the adult who knows the child best. Where this is the case, it’s for a SENDCO to decide how many of these meetings they can take themselves, how many can be delegated to other adults(Heads of Year, class teachers with a high percentage of pupils with SEND, colleagues within the inclusion department, etc.). Where this is the case, information sharing amongst all relevant colleagues becomes paramount.
3. Be regularly available
Three times per year will be plenty for many parents and nowhere near enough for others. Where a child is masking at school and struggling at home, the chance for a parent to speak with a SENDCO in 13 weeks’ time will be unhelpful at best. It’s also true though that parental communication is asignificant investment of time for SENDCOs, whose duties are broad and who often wear other hats in school.
SENDCOs therefore need to be both regularly available and not overwhelmed with parent meetings. Meeting parents needs to be recognised asone of the best uses of SENDCO time, yet something that must be sustainable.
One way through this is to be available at certain points in the week, without fail, for parent surgeries. It may be that 2-3 times per week, you protect one lesson for 2 x 20-25 minute parent meetings. You advertise these so that parents have a good understanding that you are available; if possible, you manage the booking of these through the school office so that you don’t even have to coordinate the appointments.
4. Move beyond informing – and reword your parental communications
The first recommendation here was about keeping parents informed– a key part of the SEND Code of Practice and something referenced through theEducation White Paper’s ‘Parent Pledge’.
We should move past this for true parent partnership. Your systems need to allow parents to be true partners, to be listened to and have their views acted upon. This may involve rewording communication with parents, from ‘we are going to…’, to ‘we plan to, and would like your opinion on…’. It will involve, as mentioned above, sitting down with parents at least 3 times per year, but it will also involve considering the spirit in which these meetings take place.
It shouldn’t be merely a presentation to parents, but rather a 2-way conversation, informed by a secure understanding of the pupil from an adult who works with them in school, and the adult who knows them best.