SENCOs are well aware of the importance of professionals and parents working together as emphasised in the SEN Code of Practice and Removing Barriers to Achievement. In this article Wendy Magee, Solihull SNAP (Special Needs Active Partnership) senior coordinator describes the joint development in partnership with parents of Hand in Hand – a resource folder for schools and services.

The aim of Hand in Hand is to be a valuable aid in assisting the partnership between schools and parents and carers of children and young people with special educational needs. It might serve as an assessment tool to supplement and enhance the work in schools.

Choices and Voices
The idea for the resource folder came from the first ‘Choices and Voices’ conference held by Solihull SNAP. Parents and professionals talked together about the issues around home/school partnership and a number of practical ideas came from this. On the day a number of parents and professionals volunteered to do further work together. The task for the group was to create a useful tool which all schools and families could use, thereby creating a consistent approach to an incredibly important area of a child’s life.

Working together Having a working group of positive parents, school staff and other professionals ensured that there was a range of perspectives focused on the topic. The group has met regularly for over 12 months to discuss and develop the content of this document. Others outside the group have also been consulted and their ideas incorporated. Methods used to involve others were:

  • sending sections of the draft to certain schools for comment
  • asking for contributions via the Solihull SNAP newsletter
  • a parental questionnaire (50 responses)
  • inviting guests to certain meetings
  • launching the draft at Choices and Voices 2 and asking for feedback (20 responses).

Some quotes from those involved show how effectively the partnership approach worked.

Themes covered in the folder
The Hand in Hand folder is arranged in sections on themes, which were identified as crucial to effective support: communication, home school diaries, homework, review meetings, training issues, support networks and ideas for sharing Hand in Hand with parents and carers.

The group used a visual exercise to explore the effect that poor communication had on parent/professional relationships and the wellbeing and development of the child. They discussed why good communication was important to them, factors that hinder communication and also ways in which communication processes can be developed and strengthened.

Why use home/school diaries?
The group identified a direct link between the value of a home/school diary (or planner) and the child and young person’s ability to communicate effectively. Home/school diaries are a key mechanism for two-way communication between home and school but their value is directly dependent on their effective use. The section includes ideas for the design and content of a diary.

In a recent Solihull SNAP questionnaire parents raised a number of issues about homework and the difficulties they and their children experience. Following on from that the home/school group explored the issues raised and identified possible solutions.

Review meetings
The home/school group discussed the contribution of parents, carers and pupils in all meetings that concern them, with particular reference to review meetings as they can often be very stressful occasions for all concerned. This work identified various reasons why pupils, parents and carers were not participating in their review meetings and went on to suggest ways in which this could be improved.

Training issues
As might be expected, the group frequently spoke of the training implications for the ideas being put forward. They discussed the number of ways in which professionals and parents can and do increase their knowledge and understanding. Sometimes this would be in a formal training setting and very often informally through discussion, experience and observation. This learning could be on topics relating to both general special needs issues and also to specific disorders.

The group particularly felt that parents, carers and professionals could benefit from more shared training opportunities. The experience of belonging to the home/school group had demonstrated to them the power of sharing experiences and learning about each other’s perspectives on issues.

Support networks
Emotional as well as practical issues featured in the written questionnaire responses from parents and emphasised the value of good, workable support networks in a variety of formats. This section suggests how parents, pupils and staff can be supported.

Sharing Hand in Hand with parents
The group wanted parents as well as professionals to benefit from Hand in Hand and so this section suggests ways in which school can do this. It also includes an outline format for a leaflet that schools can customise, print and give to parents. It informs parents of the SEN process, systems and the people involved within their child’s school.

Discussion on each theme produced a checklist of suggested activities for schools to take for improving collaborative action. The group recognised that undoubtedly the list would include things school already did or knew but they hoped it would also prompt ideas about what else could be done. The example given is from training issues but there is a similar checklist for each topic.

For further information about Hand in Hand: Promoting Home/School Partnership contact Wendy Magee Solihull SNAP, St Andrews Centre, Pike Drive, Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham B37 7US tel: 0121 770 5462

Benefits of planning in partnership

‘As a parent of a child with special needs, I have always felt very positive about the relationship between school and home and I hope that Hand in Hand continues and develops that good practice already happening in our schools.’ (parent) ‘I found it interesting from a professional perspective to hear parents’ views – it has made me more aware of the pressures and issues parents face.’ (professional) ‘I learned a lot about the pressures of time and the curriculum on teaching staff.’ (parent) ‘This group recognised that parental experiences of having a child with special needs should be valued. It was important to me as a parent that I had an outlet which considered my opinion to be equal to that of a professional.’ (parent) ‘The most important thing I got from being a part of this group is the way parents and professionals share ideas and work alongside each other for a better future.’ (parent)

‘The Choices and Voices Conference reinforced my view that it is essential for parents and professionals to work together. I am so glad I volunteered. This group has been a very positive experience where views and ideas have been shared openly. I hope that the final version of this document will be highly valued by both parents and professionals alike.’ (professional)