What parents of SEND pupils want from teachers

If we are to do our best for SEND pupils, the relationship between parent and teacher is crucial, argues Maya Young

Maya Young

SEND support: What parents of SEND children want from teachers

What a professional entering a meeting with a SEND parent for the first time does not realise is all that has gone before. 

Yes, they may have the notes and/or a summary of events but, even presuming they have had the time to read that information, it does not represent the full picture.

SEND: Hidden challenges

It does not show:

  • If this parent has met professionals who have repeatedly dismissed concerns or accused them of making things up, leaving them crushed.

  • The hurt this parent possibly felt when they created a personal connection of human understanding with a professional, put all their trust into them, only to be let down when they didn't follow through or left or passed their case on, or withdrew services without explanation.

  • How many times a professional like them has walked into a room saying, “I know you have felt let down before but this time it will be different,” only for the parent to be let down again.

  • The hours that have been spent waiting for a phone call that never came or making calls that were not answered or not returned.

  • The lost sleep worrying about a child who has been crying out for support that was not coming.

  • Hurtful things that may have been said to them by others about their child or their parenting in the past.

  • The words that may have been spoken to that parent by their child, from “Please can you tell them I find it hard, Mummy?” to “You said they were going to help, Mummy” and “I can’t cope, Mummy”.

So imagine you are that professional – a teacher or Sendco – coming into the room, meeting a respectable-looking but stressed parent. You might encounter negativity, defeat or defensiveness, aggression or sarcasm, overly emotional or anxious responses, overprotection, angry or seemly unreasonable attitudes, pushy or impatient comments and, most of all, a lack of trust in you/and or your service. 

Mixed messages

You might think, at this point, that this parent has an attitude problem and, judgment made, your attitude might change in turn.

Meanwhile, here are some of the things that a parent might be thinking to themselves:

  • “I hope I can trust this one.”

  • “I have to make them understand this time.”

  • “I feel am letting my child down.”

  • “I know I am coming across as defensive but they are throwing it back to me again.”

  • “Oh God, they must think I am an awful parent.”

  • “I have heard all this before but they never follow through.”

  • “Why do they seem irritated? I just need support.”

  • “The meeting is nearly over, –I have to make them understand, my child is slipping away.”

  • “I can’t let my child down again. Why won’t you help him/her?”

  • “Please hear me.”

  • "We just want your help."

What teachers need to do

So I ask if you could remember these three things next time you encounter someone like me. 

1. This parent can’t switch off, go home to a quiet life or forget about what is happening because it is their child and family life. They would probably rather be anywhere than in this room right now.

2. Their life or the life of their child could literally depend on the outcome of this meeting and the work you do or don’t do with them. Their short-, medium- and/or long-term outcomes are in your hands.

3. Parents respond best to people who are being human, not those who are projecting a purely professional persona. Most parents would prefer to hear the truth rather than excuses, blame-shifting or flannel.

The professional-parent relationship can, over time, become a vicious circle of defensiveness, blame and mistrust. This cycle needs to change as at its heart is a child crying out for help.

Maya Young is a parent of a child with SEND and an advocate in Devon

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