The leader of a new national support group for parents of children with special needs has controversially suggested they should be trained alongside professionals.
Kathryn Storey, of Capability Scotland, director of the new project which it has set up along with Clackmannanshire Council, told The TESS during its conference launch last week: "We would like to see parents involved in training programmes with professionals, being trained alongside each other as well as delivering training programmes themselves. We would also encourage parents to become more involved in the development of children's individual education programmes from the word go, rather than just being expected to sign a piece of paper."
Joanna Bridges, whose five-year- old daughter has a speech and language development disorder, endorsed joint training, but said that the personal side should not be ignored. "Most parents would be delighted to have greater input into their child's education and to speak to teachers one-to-one even before the child goes into the class, and to see follow-up meetings organised on a regular basis," she said. One international expert told the conference that professionals working with children who have special needs would benefit from listening more to families.
Enrico Barone, from the European Parents' Project, has a five-year-old boy with Down's Syndrome. He told the conference in Alloa that the biggest mistake a professional can make is to assume that he or she has all the answers.
He said: "The biggest challenge of all in this respect is in schools. Teachers stand on their professionalism, but parents can supply crucial information about their children. Why don't teachers ask parents what is the best way to approach their children - for example, do they or don't they like books?"
Signor Barone said teachers accept training from each other and from experts, and tend to think that the answers to practical problems in the classroom come from this approach rather than from parents.
"Parents can make a direct contribution by talking to the teacher and telling the teacher what the learning style of the child is, because they know it from home."
The Parents and Children's Services Network is backed by a two-year special needs innovation grant from the Scottish Executive. It aims to enable parents to become more involved in decisions made about care and education.
Ms Storey said: "We hope to use the skills, expertise and experience of parents to work with professionals because we feel strongly that parents are the people who know their children best," she said.
Kathryn Storey can be contacted on 01259 217381