1 Acknowledge diagnoses and work with professionals
I found this one hard to believe at first, but it’s the biggest issue that parents wished to highlight. Just getting the school to acknowledge a problem can sometimes be a huge hurdle – even when outside agencies have made official diagnoses, even when children are medicated for conditions, there are examples of teachers not seeing the problem. Children are “just naughty” or “misbehaving”, or, actually (because they conform within the school environment) “completely normal”.
As a follow on from this, parents wish that teachers would listen to outside agencies (such as occupational therapists, educational psychologists, speech therapists, etc) and then work to incorporate the personal learning plans that have been put in place for children.
2 Provide additional training
Many parents felt that, although their child’s class teacher was trained to support their child, other school staff – after-school club workers, teaching assistants, other teachers, as well as lunchtime supervisors – needed to have extra training, too.
One school worked alongside a parent to produce an information pack that was distributed to all staff, to help explain why the student might act in a certain way and how best to communicate with them. It’s this kind of strategy that parents wish was in place in every school.
3 Incorporate alternative methods of learning into teaching
If a child works better lying on their front for a short period or having short breaks between lessons, then why would teachers not allow for that?
Parents also found that teachers weren’t accommodating of sensory aids, with some teachers not allowing them in the classroom because they were too much like toys, or would make the child “different” from their classmates.
And some children with specific learning difficulties (SpLD) take time to make decisions and process things, not being able to make quick choices about partnering up in PE, for example. At one school, once the teacher knew it was an issue, they put the children into pairs, which removed stress from the situation. These simple solutions can make a massive difference.
4 Make practical steps to include children where possible
Things like making plans to include all children in school trips kept coming up. I spoke to a parent who had to book time off from work at short notice so that their child wouldn’t miss out on going on a school trip, because the transport booked couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair.
This tends to be more of an issue in rural areas, where there simply aren’t lots of wheelchair-friendly coaches to book. Having said that, if the trip had been booked earlier, appropriate transport would have been available.
Equipment is another big issue. After years of battling with handwriting and not getting any work done, one parent told me that her child now regularly uses a laptop in the classroom instead. They are still practicing handwriting, but at least now they are able to keep up with what’s going on in the classroom, and feel capable, which in turn means that they don’t feel so stressed out about school.
5 Be proactive, not reactive
Parents felt that teachers didn’t push children with SEND as much as they could do – if they were keeping up with the lower level of the class, it was assumed that there was no need to do any more. They felt that if teachers were more proactive, children would get on much better at school.
Sean Bowers, founder of SEND Action, says that effective management of SEND in mainstream education comes down to three fundamental stages, echoing the requests of the parents I spoke to:
Putting the right support in place
There was an overwhelming sense from parents that it’s very hard for any of these stages to be met without some nagging on their part. Many sentences started, “Finally, after nagging, the school…” But it’s not nagging. It is parents fighting for their child to have an equal chance to be their best, not just keeping up with the bottom of the class.
Over and over, I spoke to parents who didn’t want to be perceived as difficult, who were wary of causing friction with their child’s school, in particular when they had fought so hard to get support put in place.
6 Find better ways to communicate effectively
Perhaps by opening up communication between parents and teachers – and, more specifically, within and between schools – we can begin to form some best practice guides for conversations. These can be made available to everyone working in schools. That way, parents don’t have to fight the same battles every year and teachers don’t have the same frustrations.
Fiona Hughes is a freelance writer based in Devon @superfiona
The teacher’s view
Speaking as both a teacher in a mainstream primary school and as a parent of a child with SEND, I recognise much of this – from both sides of the divide. What this article highlights is the fundamental misunderstanding of each other’s position.
We can’t walk in each other’s shoes, we teachers can’t visit at tea time and bed time, and neither can we parents make ourselves invisible in the classroom. However much we might like to, the realities of life get in the way.
What saddens me, though, and I write as both a parent and a teacher here, is the constant colouring of the dialogue between schools and parents of children with SEND as conflict.
Neither group are warriors, smiting our opponents and winning, or losing. What we are is advocates. Advocates for someone smaller, someone more vulnerable and less powerful than we are; someone we love, very much.
Nancy Gedge is a primary teacher. She will write more on this topic in her TES column on 27 May