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Advice for parents in Scotland

How can I have positive conversations with my child’s school?

Having a good relationship with your child’s school can help your child get the right support. Being able to have positive conversations with the school is one way to avoid disagreements starting.

Creating positive conversations involves two-way sharing of information. As a parent you have a lot to offer. You know your child best and can help everyone understand your child better. School staff can share how your child behaves, copes or responds to the different rules and expectations in school.

When attending meetings or talking to school staff use the following simple steps to build a positive relationship.

Before talking to school staff, work out the most important thing you want to discuss or resolve. Make a list of questions and issues and jot down any ideas you have for dealing with them. Think about where you are willing to compromise. Remember that the school and local authority has a duty to provide ‘adequate and efficient’ support – not necessarily ‘the best’.

It can be difficult not to get upset when you are talking about your child and their needs, but you will communicate better if you are calm. It's helpful to focus on what is important to you and your child. If you have been dealing with the school for some time, focus on the issues that are important now and not issues that have gone wrong in the past. Try focusing on positive aspects of the meeting if possible.

Try to use language that focuses on your child’s needs rather than your own. For example "I think that my child would benefit from having..." rather than "I want him to have…..".

Be as clear as you can about what your concerns and issues are. If you see puzzled faces when you are speaking, try saying it differently or explain what you have said. Practical examples can be an easy way to highlight your concerns, so use an actual example of a situation where your child was upset and how it was managed by staff.

Try not to make assumptions about what you think people are going to say. Be open to suggestions about what might work for you child. If somebody suggests a support strategy that you don't think is right for your child, hear them out and then give your views. Sometimes trying something new or different to what has been provided before can work. If you still disagree, explain your concerns. Sometimes you can come to a compromise that everybody is happy with.

As a parent you may have ideas or alternative suggestions that professionals have not thought of. Sharing information on what has worked at home or in other settings can provide an opportunity for professionals to think differently. Suggest trying new strategies for a short period if professionals do not seem keen.

It's not always possible to have a brilliant relationships with everybody you meet. Professionals and parents bring their own views and experiences into the room. If discussion is becoming tense, thinking about the positives can help. If you feel a particular type of support really worked, focus on that and try to build on it. This can help break the tension in a room. It can also help to acknowledge if you think a member of the school staff have done anything particularly helpful.

We also all sometimes make mistakes. If you feel you have overreacted, got angry or upset during a difficult meeting, acknowledge it and explain you find the situation very emotional. This shows that you are willing to work in partnership but also reminds people you are a parent, not a professional.

In the dealings you have with the school you may find there are many areas you actually agree on. You may agree on what the issues are for your child but have different views on how to resolve them. It can be useful to restate this and agree that you want to look at this in an open, solution-focused way.

If options are presented to you, consider what might be good about them and ask questions if you have concerns. Ask for and offer other suggestions rather than refusing to consider one particular suggestion.

You can also:

- check how the school communicates with your child if there are to be changes to their support
- ask the school how they will share information with you about your child on a regular basis
- if things haven't gone well when talking to the school in the past, say to the school you'd like to improve this
- offer suggestions on what would help you to communicate with the school if you have any ideas
- ask for a home/school diary if you think this would be useful
- agree who your contact is at the school if you have questions or concerns
- ask the best way to contact them

Useful phrases to use when communicating with your child's school:

"What's the best way to contact the school if I have any issues?"
"I've noticed that my child is much calmer on days when he has quiet time after lunchtime..."
"Could you explain how support will be managed on a day-to-day basis?"
"Are there other alternatives we could consider, as I have some concerns that my child will not cope with that level of support?"
"Can we talk about what is working well as my child is much happier this term?"
"Can I share what my child has said about feeling isolated at lunchtime?"
"Can I check I've understood what you said about extra support with maths?"

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