To what extent do Parent Partnership Services work in supporting national strategies for promoting inclusion and reducing poor outcomes for some individual pupils with special educational needs? SENCOs who are often the link between PPSs, parents and their school will be interested in answers to this question and others in the findings of this new study.

Parent Partnership Services (PPSs) are designed to ensure that parents and carers have access to information, advice and guidance on SEN matters to allow them to make informed decisions about their child’s education. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act in 2001 made PPS statutory, with local authorities having a duty to ensure that any parent within their authority is given advice and information about their child’s special educational needs.

The overall aim of this evaluation, by researchers from Canterbury Christ Church University on behalf of the DfES, was to assess the impact and effectiveness of PPSs in delivering relevant and timely advice to parents. Survey, interview and case study data has been collated to develop a process for rating services and to provide a framework for self-evaluation and development.

Key findings

Amongst the study’s detailed findings, the following are of particular interest to SENCOs:

  • Staffing: with significant variations in staffing levels across services, PPSs with limited staffing tended to prioritise casework over strategic work: those with administrative support secured higher ratings for publicity and monitoring.
  • Budget: strong associations were found between levels of funding and service. This suggests that in smaller local authorities, PPSs may need more external support or to work more collaboratively with others.
  • Monitoring: data was used to monitor past performance rather than to inform ongoing practice and future planning. There was no clear chain whereby data collected by local authorities influenced funding or a policy of future targets.
  • Information sharing: many PPSs experienced problems in getting information in terms of being kept up to date with changes in policy, training opportunities or relevant information on specific cases.
  • Training: quality of training was mostly monitored through satisfaction questionnaires but PPSs were not able to track and evaluate its impact.
  • Independent Parental Supporters (IPSs): although their contribution was valued, there was a lack of consensus regarding how the experience and support offered by IPSs could best be utilised.
  • Impact on parents: all parents interviewed positively endorsed the PPSs in relation to informing parents about their rights and responsibilities, increasing their awareness of special educational needs, ‘empowerment’ and emotional and moral support.

Policy and the PPS

Historically, PPS development has emanated from SEN policy seeking to ensure that parents have access to information and guidance on SEN matters, enabling them to make informed decisions and prevent difficulties developing into disagreements, especially in relation to statutory assessment and the writing of statements.

Every Child Matters emphasises the continued importance of working with and involving parents in order to secure better outcomes for children but it also emphasises proactive working through early identification and multi-agency working. The researchers suggest that, in this context, local authorities should review the role and capacity of the PPS as an essential and important component of an inclusive, outcomes-led early intervention agenda, rather than a protective or defensive function within a separate SEN policy.

This evaluation concludes that some local authorities are not giving sufficient priority to their PPS and that there are issues concerning funding, staffing and monitoring that are limiting the extent to which PPSs are able to reach their target groups and build capacity for parent partnership within schools and local authorities.

While there remains a perception that SEN, inclusion and standards-raising agendas are somehow running in parallel, it is likely that schools and local authorities will place different patterns of emphasis on these three agendas and there will remain a consequent lack of consensus about the role and value of the PPS.

PPSs and inclusion

Whilst LEAs are mainly concerned with collective outcomes such as school level attainment, parents are mainly concerned with their own child’s progress. Parents of children with SEN often experience greater challenges in securing educational opportunities. With regard to inclusion, there is a potential difficulty that whilst the LEA might measure successful inclusion in terms of reduced numbers of pupils in special schools and fewer statements for parents, it will be judged against their child’s personal experience and longer-term aims and aspirations.

The researchers argue that it is timely that the focus of inclusion is moving away from place of provision towards individual outcomes through Every Child Matters. However, there will still be differences in parental and local authority views on how best to achieve these outcomes for pupils with SEN. PPSs will continue to have a significant role in these situations but there is potential for PPSs to extend their remit (as many of them already have) to utilise their considerable experience and to focus on the needs of pupils not specifically identified as having special educational needs. Such a role is more consistent with an inclusion agenda that is characterised by early identification and intervention.

Evaluation of the Special Educational Needs Parent Partnership Service in England. Authors: Ruth Rogers, Janet Tod, Sacha Powell, Carl Parsons, Ray Godfrey, Lynne Graham-Matheson, Andrea Carlson and John Cornwall.

Copies of the full report (RR719), £4.95, are available from DfES Publications, PO Box 5050, Sherwood Park, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0DJ.
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