The SENCo – parent relationship: Making it work to benefit the SEND child

The SENCo - parent relationship: Making it work to benefit the SEND child

SNJ is read by lots of SENCos and other school staff, which is pretty amazing, considering it started out as a blog by parents for parents. Of course, the advice that’s on here is actually just as useful for schools who want information in an easy-to-digest format. 

Today’s post is about the SENCo-parent dynamic and has advice for each to help you develop a good working relationship to benefit the person who matters the most: the child.

On our Facebook Let’s Talk About SEND Discussion Group recently, one mainstream SENCo gave a great piece of advice for parents. This SENCo is also a SEND parent herself (as are many of the best ones, I find) so she sees the whole picture:

From a SENCo to the parent…

“I’m a SENCo in a primary school where we support children with many differing Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. If your child is due to start school, my advice would be:

  • Put together two files of information on your child’s condition (one for you to keep and one for the school). 
  • Be very honest about how your child is affected by their special educational need and/or disability and what you do to help them at home. 
  • Make a list of all the services currently involved, with email addresses and phone contacts. 
  • Buy or download guidelines for teachers, often offered by charities, and pop this in the folder. The more information a school has the better they can support the child. 
  • Ask to meet with the class teacher and SENCo and go through the file with them. 

"With the best will in the world, schools will make mistakes and teachers don’t get taught how to support disability, they need to learn and what you and your child will teach them will be invaluable for other children.”

Of course many parents who have done this have been met with disinterest or suspicion of being troublesome or a “pushy parent”. However, parents shouldn’t let this put them off. You can’t control how other people react, only how you do, so keep the SENCo informed, stay polite, consistent and keep going. At the same time, keep a note of interactions and interventions so that, should your child need an EHCP if they don't have one, you have already built up a record to go on. 

If your child is at SEND Support stage, you should speak to the class teacher and SENCo to (politely) emphasise that the law says parents should be part of the team when it comes to putting together interventions on the “Assess, Plan, Do, Review” cycle. Work out a way to stay in touch that works for all involved. 

To add to the SENCo’s above advice, I would recommend that you should scan or photograph clear copies of anything that’s in your files and keep them in an online folder with clear file names. Papers can get lost, or have coffee spilt on them but if you have it electronically (preferably kept in a cloud account rather than on a hard drive), then you will always have a record. You may also want to make a sheet with further sources of information about your child’s condition, especially if it’s rare. Email it to school so that they can click on links to find out more. 

If you send emails, my top tip is to consider using email tracking or read receipts. There are a number of online services that you can use to tell you when an email has reached its target and if it has been opened. I would recommend this particularly when emailing SEND local authority departments. 

And parents' top tips for SENCos

SNJ has its own training for schools, health settings and local authorities about working with parents. If you’re interested in it, get in touch.

But I also wondered what tips other parents on our group could share to help schools forge or maintain a positive relationship with them. Sadly, from their answers, it was clear that many had had a very difficult time with teachers trying to get the help their children need. This inevitably led to poor communication and, sometimes, an adversarial relationship. What would help? Here are their top tips in their own words (with a bit of editing to bring it together!).


  • Keep communication channels open, but check what form of communication is best for the parent, i.e. call, email, face to face. Please reply or even acknowledge messages. Remember that some parents don’t have (and can’t afford) a computer or printer; they use their mobile phones for all internet access. 
  • Please don’t talk about other children in class who are ‘better/ worse’, they have nothing to do with my child or their progress. 
  • Listen and work collaboratively with other agencies such as CAMHS and social care. Recognise that whilst a child may have a bus load of other professionals working with them throughout their school career, they only have one set of parents who have accumulated a huge body of knowledge and experience to be used

Parents are part of the team

  • Keep us central to the process at all times, ask for our input before acting if changes are going to be made to our child’s routine or support. Collaboration is critical to positive outcomes.
  • Believe and respect the knowledge parents have about their children. They aren’t ‘just’ being overprotective so please don’t be dismissive when a parent is concerned at the early stages, even if the child has been of no concern for years at school. Also, please believe us that kids can be VERY different in the safe place they call home…
  • Taking in all perspectives is also critical to success. We all have skills and understanding and everyone brings something to the table.
  • Cut out blame: it’s no one's fault. Create a culture totally devoid of blame. Support my child rather than blame lack of funding, the LA, me, the headteacher, my child... Don’t call me “Mum”. I’m not your Mum, I’m Mrs/Miss/Ms xxx (or first name if that’s what we’ve agreed)

Be human

  • Be empathetic, kind and genuine. Understand that the parent is the expert and knows their child better than anyone else. Remember that no parent wants their child to have more challenges than life already brings.
  • If you say you are going to do something, then actually do it.
  • Admit it if you’ve made a mistake and let the child/parent know you made a mistake. You’re human, parents and children make mistakes too. 
  • Please understand that parents often put a lot of work in with their children at home too.
  • Remember that you can walk away, we can’t. This is a job for life, and we have the emotional attachment that you don’t. This is our most precious possession in the world. Of course we’re going to be their strongest advocate. It’s not overprotective - it’s love.
  • Understand that my child isn’t being deliberately naughty, but is often behaving like they are due to their condition. All behaviour is a form of communication and we need to learn how to interpret it to help

Be an expert

  • Understand the system and help parents navigate it. Read the CFA and wholeheartedly embrace Chapter Six of the SEND Code of Practice. Know the law and not just the LA policy. Let us know that you’re taking or have passed the SENCo Award.
  • Please look at potential triggers (sensory, fear-based etc) and don’t be quick to judge from an onlooker’s perspective only. 
  • Be honest, open and transparent. We love positivity, but not at the expense of not documenting or accepting needs.
  • Fully consider all barriers to learning and be proactive rather than waiting for issues to crop up that could have been predicted. Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments. Schedule in sensory breaks, (ADD) physical activity (ADHD), rest (EDS/Chronic fatigue etc) and if it works don't meddle with it. No one's life fell apart because they didn't go to assembly!
  • Share what you've learned with other teachers through your local SENCo Network or join the DfE-run SENCo Forum online
  • Be passionate about the role and look for new ideas if the old methods aren't working.
  • Develop proper, localised, transition packs. You can source them from the LA or from charities. 
  • Be at the Parents’ Evening and be sure to tell the parents of SEN children where to find you. Ask them about feedback from subject staff they’ve seen in case there is useful intelligence to gather. 
  • If a child has an EHCP, follow it and inform and support every teacher working with my child as to how they need to implement it. 

“Our SEN co-ordinatior is awesome! She realises our son has potential, engages with us and listens. Most of all, when others were prepared to drop him into a dark hole as KS4 education looked non-existent because his GCSE grades would be very low, she fought for him to remain in his current setting with appropriate funding.”

Ana, parent

Be supportive

  • Try and see it from our point of view. If the child doesn't make friends we don't either, so therefore we are not getting the support from our peers. It's a lonely existence sometimes!
  • Be the child's advocate above all things. I can't tell you the comfort that has brought me to know my child is safe and cared for and that the school are and have been ambitious for him.
  • Don't make assumptions. Read reports about the child to get better understanding of their diagnosis and how it affects them - no two children with the same diagnosis are exactly the same.  
  • Signpost parents to support groups and invite specialist speakers with the conditions that affect children at the school to speak to staff at Inset days.
  • Be an ally: Try to look pleased when we see you. Put on parent coffee mornings and be inclusive of all the types of SEN/Disabilities that children have in your school. You could end up connecting parents whose children have similar difficulties but who don't already know each other. Be patient with the parent, offer sibling support and encourage fathers to be involved.

If you have any other top tips, why not add them in the comments?

Other SENCo-related posts:

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Tania Tirraoro

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