education, special needs

Making Schools Listen: Amplifying Parent Voice In Education

This is a record of an #SENexchange online discussion on Making Schools Listen: Amplifying Parent Voice in Education. This aligns with value 5 of the School of Joy Approach – community and coproduction. A few years ago I co-wrote a post with Claire Ryan on school/parent partnership. I wrote it from the perspective of the school. Since then our we have gone through the EHCP process as a parent. You can read a bit more about that here.

I have to say whilst I try to keep all content on this site positive this issue is very emotive. I decided on the topic following a difficult week working with two of our children’s schools. Some of the contributions are hard to read as a school leader, but that is why I host the chat – to learn and to gain perspectives I may have overlooked. I hope both teachers/school leaders and parents can learn from this post. Comments are anonymised and edited.

Getting School to Listen Parent voice and SEN

What are the benefits of parent voice and schools working together?

Parents are the experts of their own children. By enhancing parent voice and working together parents and schools can learn from each other to ensure the best support of the child. Positive relationships between school and home also have many positive impacts that can shape a child’s view of school and education. This doesn’t just affect that child but future generations.

Positive relationships between school and home also have many positive impacts that can shape a child’s view of school and education. Click To Tweet

If given the chance parents can share vital information that the child is unable to share with school, what works what doesn’t work. This is especially important for pre-verbal children. Working together ensures consistency and maximising opportunity for learning and wellbeing

Improved outcomes for the child. There is a risk parents/school are prioritising different things and undermining the work of each other without realising otherwise. It is essential communication is clear, whatever the chosen method. This can apply to different departments within schools i.e speech and language therapists, head of departments.

Working together creates a bank of shared expertise. By communicating and agreeing strategies skills can be practiced and generalised in different settings, this could be communication, self-regulation or life skills. Parents provide continuity that doesn’t always come with professionals. Often teachers will change in September and if there is trust between home and school this transition can be eased.

Advertisements

What are the barriers to a successful home/school partnership?

There can be “partners” on both sides who are unwilling to share their needs, experiences and ideas. Some teachers and even school cultures may not fully embrace inclusion. Mindsets of individuals can have an outsized impact within a school. If a school leader, teacher or TA is not fully onboard with the ethos and values it can damage the education of many children. This may also be the case with parents not accepting the needs of other pupils in the class, and the potential or perceived impact on their child.

Inconsistency and false promises can impact on trust between all parties concerned, if parent voice is a tick box exercise. Time invested wasted as zero positive outcome therefore one party disengages.

Not taking the time to share success stories and positives. If communication is mostly negative, there can a narrow focus on behaviour, targets and plans rather than appreciating the whole child and their strengths and talents in a range of contexts. Schools can often overlook the fact that parents highest priority may not be academic progress.

One tweet stated that not sharing the school’s success stories could be a barrier. “I found out by accident that my kid’s residential room mates had been chosen and invited for a few lunch playdates into his Autism unit so he would feel comfortable.”. A great initiative that wasn’t shared.

Time pressures can be difficult for both parents and teachers. Unless a teacher has PPA that day they can often only phone 0730 or 1530, when parents are getting their young people ready or picking them up. Many school staff do not get/take long or regular breaks. My sons teacher said she had lunch with pupils facilitating a social group. Parents may not read or respond to notes in the daily diary or email or are unable to, a mutually accepted communication system needs to work – this takes engagement from both sides. Individual teachers may be held back by school policies.

This tweet is similar to what Katharine Birbalsingh tweeted. Parents not supporting what we are trying to do in school or don’t see it as their “job” to read with their children etc.

Telling me my child is fine at school. Define fine! Communicate when he hasn’t accessed a class, when he is struggling. When he really gets support and intervention and what this looks like. Parents need to know exactly what the day looked like and what their child experienced. Likewise it is really helpful for schools to know how the morning went before school and how the child slept ect.

Advertisements

What are some common issues that lead to home/school conflict?

Schools say they are going to do something, or that they are doing something, when they are not. Schools saying ‘You need to trust us’. Don’t ever say that. Parents don’t need to trust you. Trust you to do what exactly? They know you’re trying to help their child but they know their child isn’t your only priority, so you’re really asking them to leave you alone.

There being an imbalance with regard to the home, school relationship. There should be no hierarchy. I think some schools really make it difficult by being inflexible. Many reasonable adjustments could be made without any fuss.

Different priorities, as teachers the outcomes we need the young people to meet may not be what is important to the family. Both parties can be guilty of saying the ‘right thing’but not following that with actions. There is no point in getting a parent to agree to something they have not bought into. You can’t force that. You have to find out what is important to THEM and help them achieve that by working on things that are also important to you.

Schools saying that they don’t see the issue in school so it must be a parenting problem. Yes and when it shows in school and not at home, that’s also a parenting problem

Poor communication leading to misunderstanding This is unfortunately really common – sometimes both parties are actually saying the same thing theres just a mismatch in terminology etc. Schools may say ‘you know your child best’. Parents hear ‘They know that I know how they learn’. Schools often mean ‘You know what their favourite teddy is called but we are expert in their learning’. To give a personal example my son had both twinkl and widgit symbols on his workstation at school. I said I don’t mind which just choose 1 and I’ll use the same.

I think parents often agree to things because they were caught by surprise and the teacher thinks the request is common sense. ‘Make sure you have strict bedtimes’ was something I once agreed to. Thank goodness I didn’t try it. This is actually something that I think is important – routine is the only way our house works but I know this is not the case for everyone.

If a parent has a job finishing at different times it may be a priority for the parent to spend time with the children before bed. This was a common response, including this tweet: “‘Set routines’ – ffs. I have ADHD. I can’t even agree with myself whether to brush my own teeth before or after breakfast. We have tick lists with no order instead. Works for us all better. Dinner is any time between 4:30pm & 9pm. Rule is if you get hungry before me, you make it.”

I think that differing ideas of common sense is a really good point though, and if you don’t have a good relationship you might not feel comfortable to put your point of view forward. Maybe an issue with both parties not having an in depth knowledge of both environments?

Lack of understanding and basic empathy for parents struggles, lack of awareness of needs and no communication within staff teams about individual needs, I could go on

Oddly, my thing at the moment seems to be getting the school to stop doing interventions. They are listening to me now but kids with executive functioning difficulties can’t switch in and out of class lessons every time a TA is available.

There is often a power imbalance in meetings held at schools, what can be done to address this?

I have complied these responses into a handy list.

16 ways to hold more effective parent/teacher meetings

  1. Advise parents who will be in attendance at a meeting.
  2. Provide a basic agenda ahead of time.
  3. No surprises in the meeting.
  4. Don’t launch into an agenda or start talking about a problem. Give space for the parents to talk about home.
  5. Show an appreciation that there is more to life than what happens in school.
  6. Don’t withhold names of people who will be in meetings either absentmindedly or for intimidation purposes.
  7. Ensure a family is comfortable with the environment. Offer a choice of virtual or face to face.
  8. Don’t be deliberately late to attempt to demonstrate your time is more valuable than a parents time.
  9. Don’t have a pre- meeting before the meeting and then invite the parent into a full room.
  10. Never EVER hold meetings for the purpose of establishing power.
  11. Never have more people that needed from the school.
  12. Before the end of the meeting ask parents if there is anything else they would like to say or ask.
  13. Offer to make a cup of tea at the start of the meeting!
  14. Ensure the parent/carer has support in the meeting from a professional, friend or volunteer.
  15. Ask what could we do as a school, unintentionally, that could scupper these plans?

Had a brilliant conversation with someone who is leading their school’s provision for SEMH. The parents refer to her by her first name – imagine what that does for a reframing of the power relationship….

Tweet

Share a success you have had embracing parent voice to secure the best outcome for a child.

An entire year of collaboration, communication, shared teaching and trust with teacher and parent. Child met all and exceeded academic targets for the first time ever, grew in confidence and trusted his first ever teacher.

In annual review yesterday, a parent raised a concern not often seen in school, we came up with a plan to support that will be used at home and school.

School asked me as a parent to give them an out of school target for the IEP that they could help me with.

We have worked really closely with learners & families to support great outcomes in sport (participation for fun & elite). Interest & talent nurtured in school has led to students joining clubs, making new friends, taking part in events etc.

Giving parents/carers a voice, trying to actively listen, and empower parent voice, to know that they are their own best experts, are all things that may set the foundations for a collaborative and inclusive home-school relationship.

Advertisements

Contributors to our discussion on parent voice.

Thank you for reading I have anonymised specific answers in the text but want to thank the following contributors to the discussion on parent voice. Enter the handle into twitter

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.