We all know how valuable it is to have parents ‘on board’ in terms of supporting their children and reinforcing what school is trying to do. For pupils with SEN, this is especially important

With the summer break fast approaching, it’s worth considering bringing parents together and giving them some ideas for activities to think about during the holidays. You may also be planning workshops for the autumn term and getting ahead with organising these.

Support for SENCOs

It’s a well-known phenomenon that children forget stuff over the long summer holidays. For those teachers working with pupils who find it difficult to learn and remember, this can be an especially challenging issue. It might be worthwhile then to set up a coffee morning or an early evening meeting to talk to parents and carers about how they can help sustain the learning momentum during August – in ways that are enjoyable for all concerned. Most parents want to see their children do well at school, but for some knowing what to do is a bit of a mystery. Bringing parents together to share ideas and possibly give them some tips and resources can be a great help. (Don’t forget grandparents – often an overlooked resource.)

Reading is an area of learning that can be particularly prone to ‘dipping’ over the summer if a child doesn’t get any practice at all for six weeks. You can consider:

  • setting up a reading challenge – to read one page or chapter, whatever is appropriate, every day to a parent or older sibling. Keep a record. Provide a reward (each week perhaps?)
  • encouraging pupils to practise key words and learn some new ones – provide a ‘word wall’; use a ‘star chart’ for recording daily practice; show parents how to make a game (bingo, snakes and ladders, and snap for example)
  • coaching parents in ‘precision teaching’ – in my experience they (parents and children) love this. It is very specific, with clear goals and can be very effective for learning key words, spelling and multiplication tables. It doesn’t take much time but when done frequently enough (daily is best) shows rapid results
  • providing parents with a range of suitable books to read to or with the child – provide a score sheet so that they can record what they thought of the story
  • encouraging the parents to borrow some talking books (from school or the local library)
  • setting up pairs of ‘reading buddies’ – children who live near enough to each other can get together for shared reading sessions at pre-arranged times.

Writing and spelling

  • Provide a large scrapbook for the child to keep a holiday diary – with a picture or photo and a sentence or two for each day or week, as appropriate. (You could show parents one of these ‘made earlier’ as an example – they’ll be reassured if it’s not too perfect!)
  • Proved a ‘writing challenge’ book – with a question or story starter on each page that is age appropriate. (How many things can you find in the house and garden beginning with the letter ‘p’, or that are red? Write a list.)
  • Alphabet games. Just provide vertical lists of the alphabet, with a title at the top: boys’/girls’ names; animals; towns; cities; countries… they have to find one, two or three examples for each letter of the alphabet. (Group x, y and z together.)
  • Provide crosswords and word searches.
  • Recommend scrabble, ‘I Spy’ and hangman as family games.

If possible, provide a nice folder for any activity sheets and pieces of writing to be kept in, so that pupils can collect their work over the six weeks and present it to you in September. They will be more motivated if they think that someone is actually going to look at it (perhaps you can delegate this to a TA, the child’s mentor, or form tutor). Setting up workshops for the autumn term may have to wait until after the holiday, but the planning and preparation can be started now when the demands on your time may be slightly lighter. Is this something that you can delegate to a higher level teaching assistant (HLTA)? If you can plan together and establish some clear aims and success criteria, the HLTA can be tasked with working on:

  • letters or invitations to parents or carers
  • booking a venue (the school hall is not always the best venue. If you don’t have a parents’ or community room of your own, could you use one at a nearby centre?)
  • collecting resources together
  • copying and printing.

In some schools, the HLTA is able to take over this responsibility in subsequent terms/years. You may issue an open invitation to all parents to a session where they can learn how to support their children’s learning, but we all know that those who really need to attend often don’t turn up. So think about your timings – can you deliver the session in a morning, afternoon and early evening slot and ask parents to select one? This conveys the expectation that they will come along – it’s just a matter of which is the most convenient time. Consider providing a crèche. Is transport a problem for them? If so, are there any local support agencies that could provide a minibus for the day? If you decide to target specific families, your initial approach will have a direct effect on their response, so give this some thought. A letter is the traditional method, but is not always the best; you could think about:

  • an invitation card (perhaps made by the child themselves)
  • keeping the message short and the language simple in any written communication (and make sure it gets to the parent – post it if necessary)
  • trying a personal approach – speak to the parent in the playground if they collect their child from school
  • making a telephone call or sending an email
  • calling at the house (when we used to have ‘home liaison’ teachers this was much easier than it is these days, but if you can arrange it, you’ll find that parents respond well to the fact that you’ve gone out of your way to visit them on their territory; they feel more confident and often a bit ‘special’ because you have gone to the trouble).

If all of this sounds like too much trouble – take heart! You will be rewarded with children who are delighted that their parents are making contact with school, understanding a bit about what goes on in the classroom and can help them with their learning. You will also be rewarded with adults who grow in confidence and self-esteem and see teachers in a different (better) light and who begin to feel more positive about the whole ‘school thing’!


New government fund for children in care

The DCSF has released guidance to help local authorities organise personal tutors, homework support and educational trips to the theatre for children in care, backed with £56m of funding.

Children in care, who are at risk of falling behind at school, are getting an extra £500 a year to pay for the sort of activities that parents provide for their children to help with their learning – ranging from personal tutors to educational trips to the theatre. This is in recognition of the poor educational outcomes for children in care, only 13% of whom attain five good GCSEs, compared with 62% of all children.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2008

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.