Involving parents and carers
Families, just like you, want the best outcome for their child. We know from years of speaking to families through our helpline that when families and schools work together as a team, it helps ensure children and young people can reach their full potential.
In this section, we’ll look at:
- parents and carers rights to be involved in decisions about their child’s support
- getting the most from meetings with parents and carers
- top tips for communicating and working together with families.
Understanding parental and carer rights
To maintain strong relationships with families, it’s important to have a general awareness of parental and carer rights around education. When you share information with families about their rights, it helps build trust and a solid foundation for future partnership working.
Parents have a range of specific rights under additional support for learning laws. For example, they can ask for their child’s needs to be assessed. It’s also important to note that for education purposes, the definition of ‘parent’ includes anyone who cares for a child (including kinship and foster carers).
You can suggest parents and carers look at our website’s [Parent’s section] or [contact our helpline] if they’d like to learn more about their and their child’s rights, get advice about their options, or be signposted to further advice and support services.
One of the most important rights, which we will now focus on is:
Parents and carers have the right to have their views listened to and be involved in decisions about their child’s education and support.
A shared goal
You and families share a common goal – to get the best outcome for their child. It can be helpful to acknowledge this fact at the outset.
Families can feel daunted when communicating with a nursery or school. They may still be coming to terms with their child’s support needs or struggling with things at home. They may have had a bad experience of the education system themselves, or possibly with one of their other children.
If you are contacting a family about their child’s support needs, the parent might be worried that you are going to criticise their parenting skills or that their child is in trouble. They might also be scared to face a room full of professionals. They might be unsure if anyone will listen to them, or if they will be able to understand all the language and terminology being used.
Families have a unique perspective of their child which they can share with you. Reiterating that you respect and value their input, and that will do your best to work together with them, can go a long way. It can help build up trust and more positive on-going communication.
Supporting families to be involved
Some families might themselves need help to be involved in decisions about their child’s learning. For example, English may not be their first language and you might need to talk to your local authority to arrange an interpreter for an upcoming child planning meeting.
It is good practice to check in with parents and carers to see if they require any reasonable adjustments themselves. For example, if a carer has a hearing impairment, you may need to book a suitable meeting space that minimises background noise.
Parents and carers have a right to a supporter or advocate to accompany them to meetings about their child’s additional support needs.
This can be a family member, colleague, friend or neighbour. Alternatively, it could be an advocate from an independent advocacy service, or a supporter from a local carers centre or other support service. If they are not sure where to look for an advocate or support organisation, they can search our website for local services. For example, if a parent is finding communicating with you difficult or upsetting, an advocate can often help keep things a bit calmer. They can support the parent by helping them to prepare for your meeting and focus on sharing their views and reaching agreements.
And remember, you can always encourage parents to contact Enquire . We’ll do our best to help them find a way of working together with you to address their or your concerns. We can also help them find other services to support them as necessary.
Preparing for discussions and meetings
- Speak to parents and carers about the dates and times that work for them to attend meetings. Families may have to organise childcare or work commitments to attend school meetings.
- Try to arrange meeting rooms so that they are as informal and welcoming as possible. Sitting across from a row of professionals can feel scary.
- Provide information about what will be discussed at meetings in advance. This will help parents feel prepared. Try to avoid last minute additions.
- Review who needs to be at the meeting, and let families know who will be there and what their role is.
- Remind parents they can invite a supporter along to meetings. This can help make parents feel more confident and able to focus on the discussion.
During discussions and meetings
- Ask what parent’s preferences are. For example, at meetings ask if they are happy talking first or would they prefer to speak after they have heard professionals’ views.
- Be non-judgmental. Try to think positively about parents, even if you disagree with them.
- Listen to understand, rather than to reply. A parent or carer may be able to offer solutions based on how their child behaves or responds at home.
- Help families understand ‘the system’ – explain what you are doing and why. For example, if families are not involved in the whole of a meeting, take the time to explain why and give them time to ask questions about what was discussed.
- While it’s important to not gloss over concerns that need to be discussed, be conscious not to only focus on negatives and problems. All children and young people have strengths, talents, and interests – it’s important to recognise and celebrate these too.
- Be honest about where things may not have gone according to plan and explain why.
- Acknowledge that change can be challenging. A parent may feel anxious if their child’s support is changing, so try to provide clear reasons or evidence about why change is happening. Explain how the impact of the change will be monitored moving forwards. Agree when you’ll next check-in or meet to review how things are going.
Following a discussion or meeting
- Summarise what has been agreed and what families can expect to happen next. Give timescales, if appropriate, for when things will be put in place.
- Make sure parents know who they can get in touch with if they have updates for the school or concerns to raise.
- Often agreeing the next meeting date can be a helpful reassurance for parents and carers and reduces the chance of them contacting you frequently with small niggles if they know they’ll have time and space to discuss any concerns fully soon.
- If an action depends on other individuals or agencies who are not attending the meeting, explain who will be responsible for taking forward this work.
- Remind parents of what they can do (including appeal procedures) if you are sharing decisions they may be unhappy with.
Avoid jargon! Parents (and their children!) can feel alienated and overwhelmed by discussions about ‘SHANARRI indicators’ ‘CSPs’ and ‘TAC meetings’.
Acknowledge how a parent or carer is feeling. You don’t need to agree with everything they are saying, but acknowledging their feelings can help them feel heard and sometimes deflect difficult situations.
Be aware of the language you are using. It’s easy to slip into language about a child being ‘difficult’ or ‘tricky’. But hearing your child being described in these terms can be upsetting. Instead, try talking about activities or lessons their child finds challenging or frustrating.
Think about what might be impacting on your communication. Are you tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or had a difficult day? Are you nervous about meeting the parents or worried they may get upset or angry? Reflecting on these questions can help you offset them and try and avoid damaging relationships.