Last month, we held our first Conference for Parents and Practitioners to promote the value of co-production as this is such a key theme of the Children and Families Bill. We were hugely fortunate and managed to secure Brian Lamb (author of the Lamb Inquiry) as our guest speaker for the day. If any of you have had chance to meet Brian, you will know how inspirational and passionate he is about the value of parental engagement. One parent came up to me after listening to him and said "wow, he really does get it, doesn't it?" followed by "Let's hope everyone took notes in there".
Being the cheeky northerner that I am, I asked Brian if he would produce his Top 10 Tips for Parental Engagement (if you don't ask, you don't get) and I am delighted to be able to share these with you.
Since the publication of the Lamb Inquiry on Parental Confidence in Special Educational Needs, I am often asked what are the best ways of ensuring that parent’s confidence is increased and how can parents best be involved in decisions about their children? To answer that question I think you also need to understand what it is that parents most want in respect of their children and their own lives.
Research, when we did the Inquiry and since, suggest the following things are really important to parents.
- Appropriate and timely recognition of a child’s needs by professionals;
- Knowledge and understanding of staff about a child’s difficulties and needs the willingness of the service/school to listen to their views and respond flexibly;
- Access to specialist services and someone who understands “my child” crucial;
- Parents are involved in decision making about their children and consulted about what services they receive;
- Decisions are transparent and information about entitlements and what is available is crucial to making informed decision and “choice”;
Information should be given face to face as much as possible or in formats and at a time that works for the family.So involvement and support for parents should ensure that that the most appropriate services are in place and that parents have a say (some people use the term coproduction) in the planning of the services that they and their children need.
We know that there are some established principles which work. Some of the most Important of these are:
- Parental engagement must be planned for and embedded in a whole school or service strategy.
- It needs committed and inspiring senior leaders, high levels of commitment across staff teams and a willingness to keep going.
- Working with parents requires active collaboration. It should be sensitive to the circumstances of all families, recognise the contributions parents can make, and aim to empower parents.
- Engagement of parents needs on-going support; it’s not a one off event.
- Schools need to encourage real engagement and ensure they consult, not just inform, parents of what they can do, and plan meetings around fitting in with their busy working and family lives.
- Support parents facing barriers to engagement, including costs, time and transportation, language support (for some parents for whom English is not a first language) and a lack of confidence in supporting children’s learning or engaging with a school.
- Ensure that professionals reaching out and involve parents who do not to engage either with their children’s school or with their children’s learning.
- Ensuring that staff do have the experience and knowledge of working to support parents in engaging with their children’s learning.
- Accepting that things will not always go well in the relationship between parents and professionals but the crucial factor is to keep talking.
- Supporting the development of parents own capacity to work with other parents and mobilise their own resources.
Perhaps one of the most fundamental lessons from the Inquiry was that it is the process of engagement with parents that often brings the results and leads to greater trust rather than the specific issue which is being worked on.
Real and meaningful engagement from professionals and local authority staff will always be respected and valued by parents and leads to greater trust and confidence. The more that we can build these principles into the SEN system through the opportunities that are presented by the new Local Offer in the Children’s and Families Bill then the more we can ensure the best possible outcomes for children and young people with SEN.
What is parental engagement like in your area? Is it good or could it be improved? Contact your local parent carer forum, they are always looking for parents and practitioners to work with.