Advice for SENCos – the parents’ perspective from Hayley Goleniowski

This post originally appeared on the DownSideUp blog of  Hayley Goleniowski, who writes about life with her beautiful daughter, natty, who has Down's Syndrome. I thought it was such a great article, I asked her if she wouldn't mind me re-posting it on Special Needs Jungle. Hayley was recently invited to address a group of SENCos as the neared the end of their three year Masters' degree course. Their tutor hoped Hayley's experience could provide the missing ingredient to the course - that of the parents' perspective.

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Natty at her all-inclusive pre-shook

Qualified with nothing more than being a former teaching assistant, teacher and the blogging parent of a child with additional needs, I put my thinking cap on and set to work to come  up with something that would change the way SENCOs think forever.

 I decided to ask other parents and disability groups what they would say to a room full of SENCOs if they had the opportunity. I did this via Twitter and Facebook, and the response was overwhelming. I printed the replies off, cut them up and spread them on the kitchen table. Interestingly they fell into 3 distinct categories, and echoed my own initial plans for the talk.  I weave the quotes from these parents into what follows.  Thank you to all of you that helped.

ADVICE FOR SENCOS - THE PARENTS' VIEWPOINT - CONSIDER THE PARENTS

This was overwhelmingly the most frequently and passionately  mentioned point.  All families differ, some need more support than others, but the majority know their child better than anyone else.  Professionals who realise this have the most valuable resource at their fingertips. After all, the parents have been experts from day one. No-one else would sit into the wee small hours Googling and networking to find the best solutions for their children. Involve and accept offers of help from parents.
"Realise that the parents are experts and be open to suggestions of new ways of doing things that have been successful elsewhere."
 
"I would like to be treated as the lead professional."
 
"I would ask the SENCOs to take 5 minutes to listen to the parents (very different from talking). I may not have any O Levels, but I want my child to go through school in the best way possible. This means being regularly involved in planning and forward thinking."
It is really important to see things from the parents' perspective sometimes.  They live with the child's difficulties every day, they may not get much sleep, might have been through worrying episodes when their child was ill, hopitalised or undergoing surgery.
Take the time to look for problems so that they don't always have to be the ones to mention what is not going to plan, and take their suggestions seriously.
"By the time I raise an issue at school, it is because it is really important and because I have already let a lot slide. I will have been mulling it over for a very long time."

THE ROLE OF A SENCO: THE PUPILS' ADVOCATE

Most parents realise that the role of a SENCO is a difficult one. You are employed by the school, report to the Head Teacher, and work within ever increasing time and financial restraints.  You also work for certain children within that school.
"Sadly, a SENCO's role is to run with the fox and bark with the hounds."
 
"First and foremost they should be an objective advocate for our children."
 
"As an ITU nurse, I attended a Critical Care conference each year, listening to survivors of disasters, so that we culd understand the trauma whn patients came in to us.
At the end of the day, I was the patient's advocate first and foremost as they are always the most vulnerable person in the room. It was my priviledge to keep that patient safe in every conceivabe way at all times. I always considered them with the highest possible regard and if I had to lose my job to whistle blow I would.
To me, anyone involved in SEN should be the same."
Bullying and disrespect towards SEN pupils can and does occur within schools. Sadly sometimes from staff.  This could be a peripatetic teacher, a dinner lady or receptionist, so you need to be vigilant.  All staff need to be made aware of the school's Disability Equality Policy, and follow it.
"Make sure all staff know that just because a child has additional needs does not mean they are a problem, just that you need to think differently and change your way of working."

THE BIGGER PICTURE: MOVES TOWARDS INCLUSION AND INDEPENDENCE

We all know that school is not just about Reading, Writing and Numeracy, but sometimes it is easy to become lost in academic targets and assessment.  For SEN children, it is very much about long-term goals to enable them to live in mainstream communities as independently as possible.
"A good SENCO will see this bigger picture and help their staff see it too."
 
"Our daughter will not finish school and live in a vaccuum. Our hopes should be that we can all enable her to live within the mainstream community. And for this, her experience at mainstream school is crucial. Inclusion at school will help her be included in her future, will help others learn to include her. Schools should see themselves as mini societies, enabling children to become good citizens.'
 
"Some teachers are used to measuring success in data and feel 'what's the point in helping this child who is so far behind?' They become frustrated that they aren't making more progress. They need to see that reaching small goals are worth such a lot, that they are helping a child to live an independent life."
Inclusion is a two-way street. Classmates learn as much from our children as our children benefit from being included alongside them.  I recently wrote a post about true inclusion as I witnessed it at a 5 year old's birthday party:

CONCLUSION

You have a difficult road to travel, but you are in a priviledged position. You can make a difference to the educational careers of many.
Please get it right for our children.
Tania Tirraoro
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Tania Tirraoro

Founder, CEO at Special Needs Jungle
Founder of Special Needs Jungle. Parent of two sons with Asperger Syndrome.
Journalist & author of two novels and a guide to SEN statementing. PR & social media expert. Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate.
Tania Tirraoro
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  • Kelly Bird

    Thank you for this post. I have just taken on the role of SENCo in the primary school that I currently teach. I am passionate about the role and determined to do it well for the parents, teachers, support staff and most importantly the children that I will support. Thank you for highlighting these points – I will keep this post and read it at different times to remind myself!