- WhatDoTheyKnow

Working effectively with parents
A training guide for SEN caseworkers
© Crown copyright 2010
© Crown copyright 2010
A Parental Perspective
© Crown copyright 2010
Aims of the training
• To understand the importance of working in partnership
with parents
• To reflect on parents’ experiences of the special
educational needs (SEN) system
• To consider how SEN caseworkers can improve parents’
• To develop skills in communicating effectively with
• To highlight key areas of legislation and parents’ rights
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Background – The Lamb Inquiry, 2009
Video clip 1: Introduction, Brian Lamb
Key recommendations for change:
• Higher expectations and greater
focus on outcomes for children
with SEN
• Better ways of engaging and
listening to parents
• Improving expertise in identifying
and meeting needs
• A more accountable system for
schools and local authorities (LAs) for SEN
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From: The Lamb Inquiry Final Report, 2009
‘We met with some of the happiest parents in the country
and some of the angriest. Many had children who are
well-supported and making good progress. But we also
met parents for whom the education system represents
a battle to get the needs of their children identified and
for these to be met. The crucial issue is that both
experiences happen within the same system.’
Video clip 2: My child
Video clip 3: Influences on parental confidence
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Parents say their confidence in the SEN
system is…
... undermined by poor communication and lack of accurate
information, for example:
• what they say is not being given weight
• SEN caseworkers being hard to reach or not
communicating about decisions
• parents being given information which reflects LA policy
rather than the law
• lack of transparency in how decisions are made
• inconsistencies in information
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Parents say their confidence in the SEN
system is...
... promoted by successful communication and accurate,
clear information, for example:
• their child being valued as an individual
• responsiveness to immediate issues around their child’s
• acknowledgement of the wider family context
• having confidence in the accuracy of information
• clear, accessible guidance on their legal rights
• knowledgeable front-line professionals
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Session 1
Communicating effectively
Video clip 4: Aspirations
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Key point
Parents want to work with professionals who
listen to their aspirations for their child and
understand their family context
Video clip 5: Understanding the family context
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Key point
Parents want accurate, timely and clear
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• Good information can help parents know what to expect,
make decisions and promote their confidence but
information on its own can confuse and overload parents
• Parents also want to feel involved, have the chance to
ask questions and raise concerns, have face to face
contact and – at times – help to process information
Video clip 6: Sharing information
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The importance of listening skills
Basic active listening skills can make a big difference to
establishing trust and partnership:
• showing you are listening through body language
• waiting and not jumping in too quickly
• repeating and paraphrasing
• clarifying by using questions
• summarising and ending
But remember – you are not holding a counselling session!
Video clip 7: Listening to parents
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Structured conversations
The aim of this approach is to have a listening
conversation, which draws on parents’ knowledge and
aspirations for their child.
A structured conversation aims to:
• explore, understand and clarify issues
• help identify priorities and desired outcomes
• agree next steps and actions
When could SEN caseworkers use this approach in their
work with parents?
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Effective meetings
• Prepare well (e.g. agree the agenda and stick to it)
• Check practical issues (e.g. timing, venue)
• Deal with conflict (e.g. listen, speak calmly, clarify any
• Use problem solving (e.g. break down the problem,
identify a range of possible solutions, plan who will do
• Summarise and agree next steps
• Provide a written summary
Video clip 8: Meeting parents
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Communicating with parents – key points
• Be clear what decisions you as SEN caseworker can
make and those you do not have power to make
• Keep a record of information you have given to parents
• Make sure you maintain regular contact with parents
• Tailor information to meet individual parents’ needs
• Ensure parents have a clear written record of anything
you have told them or explained
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In pairs consider what have been your
key personal learning points from the day
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Session 2
Building parental confidence
in the
SEN system
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The SEN framework
• LAs need to understand what the law requires them to
do and fulfil those requirements
• LAs need to ensure that all staff working in any particular
area of activity understand and fulfil the legal
requirements relevant to that area of activity
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Partnership working with parents
• This is a long-established feature of the SEN framework
• For most parents partnership working is with the school
as the majority of children will have their needs met there
• How the school engages with parents at these early
stages underpins parental confidence in the whole SEN
• SEN caseworkers should be familiar with the legal duties
of schools and governors in relation to SEN
• They should also know what should be included in
individual education plans (IEPs) or alternative
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The statutory assessment process
Key things SEN caseworkers need to know:
The law on identifying and assessing children
The law on making statements and carrying out reviews
LA duties and parents’ rights
The advice and information that needs to be given to
• The statutory assessment timetable
• The framework for tribunal appeals
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Special Educational Needs
(a) Meaning of “special educational needs” (EA 1996 s. 312)
• A child has “SEN” if he has a learning difficulty which calls for
special educational provision to be made for him.
(b) Meaning of “learning difficulty” (EA 1996 s. 321)
• Child has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the
majority of children of his age
• Child has a disability which either prevents or hinders him
from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally
provided for children of his age in the LEA’s schools, or
• Child is under compulsory school age and is, or would be if
special educational provision were not made for him, likely to
fall within the above definitions.
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Statutory Assessment – key legal issues
EA 1996 s. 323 (1) & (2) Where the LEA is of the opinion
that a child for whom it is responsible has or probably
has SEN and it is necessary for the authority to
determine the special educational provision which any
learning difficulty he may have calls for, the LEA must
carry out a statutory assessment
EA 1996 s. 324 Following a statutory assessment and any
representations made by the child’s parent, if it is
necessary for the LEA to determine the special
educational provision which any learning difficulty he
may have calls for, the authority shall make and maintain
a statement of his SEN.
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The statutory assessment process
• Relationships with parents can flourish or flounder
depending on how the process is managed
• A statutory assessment may be the start of a long-term
relationship between the SEN caseworker and the family
• The SEN caseworker plays a key role in getting the
communication with parents right
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Potential tension points
• Responding to requests for statutory assessment
• Decisions about issuing statements
• The content of statements and deciding placements
• Annual reviews and amending statements
• Appeals
Video clip 9: Parental experience of the SEN system
© Crown copyright 2010
Building trust
Parents say they lose trust because of:
• inconsistent messages (e.g. whether statutory
assessment is necessary)
• conflicting reasons given for decisions
• advice based on LA policy rather than the law
• professional reports appearing to be tailored to available
provision rather than their child
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Building trust
Some parents feel they are given misleading reasons for
‘Children’s needs must be severe and complex...’
‘A child must be among the 2% worst performing...’
‘We don’t give statements for dyslexia in this authority…’
‘There are children “far worse” than your child that don’t
have statements …’
• ‘We no longer statement children because all needs are
met in mainstream schools.’
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Building trust
Even when there are disagreements, trust can be
maintained if you:
• are open about parents’ rights
• are clear about LA responsibilities
• listen and draw on parents’ views/ knowledge when
making decisions
• use straightforward language to explain things
• engage with parents as soon as possible after receiving
a request for assessment
• focus on progress and outcomes
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Decision making
Parents’ confidence in the LA’s decision is promoted when:
• decision making and panel processes are transparent
• honest reasons are given for the decision
• the LA is proactive in communicating with parents and
involves the school
• communication is face to face
• there is clear, consistent information about the school’s
provision for the child and funding and resources
• the LA’s letters to parents comply with the legal
requirements and are personalised
• parents are informed of their rights to challenge the
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The views of parents and children
Statements need to include the views of parents and the
child. Personal contact over this can provide the SEN
caseworker and parent the opportunity to develop a shared
understanding of the child.
• Do the parents have impairments?
• Will they need information translated/in a different
• How will the child’s view be given?
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Statements: What parents dislike...
Jargon or language which is unclear
Cut-and-paste standard phrases
Getting their child’s name wrong
Vague and non-specific description of provision
Gaps in needs or provision
Note – statements must “specify the special educational
provision to be made for the purpose of meeting those
needs” (EA 1996 s. 324 (3)(b))
Video clip 10: Statements
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Good statements...
are written in clear and understandable language
are personalised
are accurate
include parents and children’s views
ensure objectives relate to provision
specify provision clearly
allow progress to be monitored over time
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Meetings about the statement
This is another crucial point in the process.
‘Every effort should be made to ensure that parents are
happy with the proposed statement and that they
understand the background to the proposals made for
their child and consider that their wishes and feelings
have been given full and sensitive consideration.’
(CoP, 8.106)
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Placements and the law
EA 1996 schedule 27 (3)(3)
Where the parent of the child concerned has expressed a preference in pursuance of
such arrangements as to the school at which he wishes education to be provided for
his child, LEA shall specify the name of that school in the statement unless –
(a) the school is unsuitable to the child’s age, ability or aptitude or to his SEN, or
(b) the attendance of the child at the school would be incompatible with the provision of
efficient education for the children with whom he would be educated or the efficient
use of resources.
EA 1996 s. 316 (3)
If a statement is maintained for a child, he must be educated in a mainstream school
unless that is incompatible with –
(a) the wishes of his parent, or
(b) the provision of efficient education for other children.
EA 1996 s.9
Pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, so far as
that is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the
avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure.
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SEN caseworkers can help parents with decisions about
placement by:
explaining the law
informing them about school SEN policies
helping parents to visit appropriate schools
clarifying transport arrangements
suggesting sources of other support/advice
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Annual reviews and the law
EA 1996 s.328 (5)(b)
(a) on the making of an assessment in respect of
the child concerned under section 323, and
(b) in any event, within the period of 12 months
beginning with the making of the statement or,
as the case may be, with the previous review.
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Annual reviews
Don’t …
• ignore recommendations for changes or updates
• accept continued repeats of existing targets if progress
has not been made
• think only short term: the review is intended for long-term
planning too
• make blanket cuts to provision on statements
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Annual reviews
offer to help parents prepare for the review
provide good information, particularly at transitions
contact parents even if the decision is ‘no action’
arrange for an interim review if there is disagreement or
concern about progress
• meet with parents to explain reasons for changes to
provision or a decision to cease the statement
• know and meet the timescales and legal requirements
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Appeals to tribunal
SEN caseworkers need to know:
• the tribunal framework
• parents’ rights of appeal
In the event of an appeal SEN caseworkers need to:
• maintain a professional approach
• continue to listen to parents and keep the lines of
communication open
• understand the parents’ perspective and the potential
impact of the tribunal process on the family
Video clip 11: Tribunal experience
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And finally……top tips
Video clip 12: Top tips
Ask parents to talk about their aspirations for their child
Remember that parents are the experts on their child
Be clear, accurate and open
Stick to the law
Be an active and empathic listener
Be approachable and accessible
Seek out the child’s views
Personalise written communication
Keep communication channels open – even if you disagree
Signpost parents to further information and sources of independent
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Final Reflections
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