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#SENDmatters: looking at the parent perspective

Guest Post
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Carmel McDermott is a special educational needs (SEN) expert working at Contact a Family – a national charity that supports families with children with disabilities, whatever their disability or medical condition. Carmel works on the charity’s SEN helpline service for parents concerned about any aspect of their child’s education. In this post, Carmel talks about Contact a Family’s response to The Key's survey findings on special educational needs and disability (SEND) provision published last week, and how they reflect the experience of many families the charity support.

At Contact a Family, around a third of calls to our SEN helpline are from parents worried about a lack of support for children with SEN or disabilities in mainstream schools. Many parents we speak to are told that their child cannot receive all of the help they need at school due to lack of funding. While we’ve always known that local authority budget cuts and funding cuts to vital local services have the potential to undermine the new SEN system, it was worrying to learn that school leaders believe this is indeed hampering their schools’ ability to support children with SEN.

Looking at things from a parent’s point of view

I’m sure anyone working in schools would agree that parents should be fully involved in their child’s education. Callers to our helpline tell us they can have difficulty with:

  • Finding who to approach at school if they have worries about their child’s progress
  • Differing views about the nature and/or severity of their child's SEN and the support they need
  • Long delays in accessing support services, or processing requests for education, health and care (EHC) assessments
  • Understanding and navigating the SEN system
  • Accessing support at school for their child's medical or mental health needs
  • Exclusion because of challenging behaviour related to SEN

My top three tips for anyone working in education with children who have SEN or disabilities are quite basic but worth re-iterating:

  • Treat parents as experts and take their concerns seriously
  • Support parents to seek help for themselves or their child from other agencies
  • Explain to parents how the school will help their child, how their progress will be reviewed, and what the next steps will be if their child needs more help

SENCOs: Key for families and for schools

Contact a Family agrees with school leaders' call for greater emphasis on how children with SEN or disabilities are supported in mainstream education and related policy. Most of these children go to mainstream schools and the law says schools must do everything they can to make sure the children get the extra support they need to do as well as possible. Special educational needs coordinators or SENCOs are a key point of contact and support for families within schools. Understanding what children with SEN or disabilities are legally entitled to, and the impact on families of caring for these children, can help SENCOs signpost families to appropriate support and information. However, we recognise that they often have very demanding schedules.

The Key found that school leaders think initial teacher training doesn’t adequately prepare teachers to support pupils with SEN or disabilities. This echoes the concerns of many parents who contact our helpline. It is so important that the teachers of the future have the skills, knowledge and confidence to support these children to help them flourish. The Department for Education’s ongoing commitment to children with SEN or disabilities is to be welcomed but it is clear there is still a long way to go. We hope they take on board The Key’s findings published last week and listen to parents’ concerns.

How Contact a Family can help

Contact a Family has produced a range of resources to help explain the SEN system including Extra support in mainstream school – SEN support, EHC needs assessments and EHC plans. Our website also has information on issues relevant for families with children with disabilities, such as benefits, family life and health and social care services. In addition, our online medical directory lists more than 400 medical conditions and our freephone helpline, with access to interpreters if needed, provides advice, support and information for parents and carers on any aspect of raising a child with disabilities.

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