SEND: Meeting with parents and carers

Written by: Garry Freeman | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The SEND Code of Practice requires schools to involve parents in decision-making about their children’s education. Garry Freeman considers how teachers and others can hold effective, impactful meetings with parents/carers

We as professionals need to remember that parents/carers are the experts on their child and according to Chapter 1 of the SEND Code of Practice (DfE, 2015) you must to involve them in decision-making.

In order to build parents’ trust in you, your teachers, your leadership team, and your school as a whole, your ultimate goal is to build the relationship before you need it.

We need to ensure our meetings and/or communications with parents and carers are productive and interactive, based preferably on a whole-school approach.

Communications

Getting in touch: I offer my contact details and invite parents/carers to contact us to arrange meetings or to discuss their concerns and give them the means to do so. We pro-actively offer contact details such as a school email address and/or a direct phone contact number, and we remind parents that both are available on the school website.

Availability: We are honest on the potential limits of our availability. We explain that we have classes to teach and other commitments, but we provide details of the best times to contact us when we know it is more likely that we will be available.

Responding: We guarantee that the member of staff, or someone on their behalf, will respond to parents within 24 hours (and it is usually much sooner). We must get back to them as soon as possible, otherwise all the hard work we have undertaken in trying to build a relationship will be for nothing. Our aim – in particular my aim as the SEND leader in a school with a high proportion of SEND and disadvantaged young people – is to embed a positive parental experience for adults who all too often themselves had negative experiences at school and do not always trust professionals.

Face-to-face meetings: By far the best method of communicating with parents and carers is holding face-to-face meetings. With the busy lifestyles we all lead, sometimes this is easier said than done. Try to be as flexible as possible, choosing times and locations which help the parent or carer to be present. We consider it unreasonable to expect a parent to turn up for an in-school meeting during the working day when it may lead to them losing money. Ask them about their availability and try to work around their schedules as much as possible. This will demonstrate that you are willing to be flexible and act as a building block in establishing a relationship.

An honest approach

We need to be open, clear and direct in communications with parents and carers who, like their child, will often need information and support to enable them to make decisions with you. This information and support should include:

  • Clarity on what their child’s needs are. Explain the specific problem area, such as difficulty with reading or spelling, but avoid making generalisations about their needs and the impact these are having. Reassure them that you are not dismissing their child’s needs by reference to laziness, poor behaviour or poor parenting.
  • Focusing on what their child can do and how the support you are giving is designed to remove any barriers their child has. For example, they may talk incessantly, call out inappropriately, and often get into arguments with their peers, so you support them by building a calming activity at the start of the class or praising them for good behaviour. Explain that these techniques can also be used effectively when supporting their child at home.
  • Being clear and direct on the progress you, as a school, expect their child to make by explaining the desired results and timeframes in which you expect their child to achieve them. For example, you expect their child to be able to read a whole book within the next four weeks or be able to spell 10 words in two weeks.
  • Quietly, patiently and respectfully listening, making mental notes of how to respond.
  • Keeping your cool. The key is to respond to the parents’ issues firmly but politely.
  • Reassuring the parents that if it would help, you will enlist the help of your SENCO or headteacher if you cannot resolve the situation or anticipate there may be further problems.
  • Explore: Asking questions and above all listening to the parents’ concerns. It is important to listen to understand rather than listen to reply. As the parent explains their concern(s), repeat their points as appropriate to show that you understand.
  • Focus: Once you have all the information around the parents’ concern(s), try to identify what you believe is the main issue for them, clarify and summarise it, and above all ask them if you are correct in your understanding. Accept that they may wish to correct you – and then summarise again until the parent is happy.
  • Plan: Having established the focus of their concern(s), the key is to discuss and agree action points as a way forward. Be open and transparent with everyone, particularly about any need to involve other school colleagues or external professionals. Be realistic about your agreed plan, map-out a realistic timescale and how and when you will feed back progress on agreed action points. In order to develop trust even further, point out any foreseeable barriers and what you can do to overcome them.
  • Review: It is crucial that everyone involved leaves the meeting with the same understanding of what the problem was, what actions you as a school are going to take, and how the impact and effectiveness of your actions will be monitored. You could offer to confirm all of these either in a letter or an email – again, give a timeline for this.

Handling conflict

Unfortunately despite your best efforts, the reality is that some meetings may become heated. When this happens, try to diffuse the situation by:

Avoiding jargon

In your discussions, keep all information simple and straightforward, avoid jargon and any acronyms you may customarily use in your role. Some parents may be confused by all the terminology so you should take time to explain terms such as “SEND”, “data”, “expected progress”, “Progress 8” and “end of key stage tests” at your meetings.

Similarly, parents may be concerned if you talk about SEND and that their child has a “disability” so be prepared to reassure the parents by explaining what this means in terms of their child’s SEN so that there is complete understanding for all concerned. Clarify that if their child has an SEN or disability, this can be a positive acknowledgement leading to more support to remove barriers and improve their child’s attainment.

The structured conversation

This can be the framework for our whole-school approach. It is designed to engage parents with what they may perceive as a “hard-to-reach” school or member of staff. So, what are the key elements of a structured conversation?

If you have the facilities, offer to record the progress and agreed action points of the meeting on a “live screen” as you proceed, and then provide a printed copy of a meeting record before parents leave. This will again improve and embed parental trust in you and the school.

The SEND Code of Practice speaks of co-production between home and school – a whole-school approach on effective parental meetings based on structured conversations is what can make the concept of co-production come to life and have real positive impact for our students and their families.

  • Garry Freeman has taught for 41 years. He is a SENCO and assistant principal in West Yorkshire. He is a National SEND System Leader, an Associate Consultant and Chair of Nasen’s 0-11 Advisory Group. Garry tweets as @gfreeman2012. You can read Garry’s previous best practice articles for SecEd via http://bit.ly/2qdL56J

Further information & resources

  • Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years, Department for Education, January 2015: http://bit.ly/27yye0p


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