Top Tips for sharing concerns with your child’s school

If you are a parent of a child in education, then you don’t need anyone stating how difficult this past year has been. After nearly a year of lockdowns and changes in the way your child or young person (‘child’ for rest of the blog) is being taught, you will be more than aware of the impact on all involved.  You may have found a routine that works (even if not ideal), with good communication happening and although you may have concerns, school are aware of these and all are working together to address them.

But what if you have new or increasing concerns about your child’s learning? Should you be talking to school now or waiting for things to be more ‘normal’ (especially with ‘normal’ now seemingly within our grasp). Do school still have a duty to support your child’s SEN even if your child is not yet back at school? And what is the best way to share those concerns, knowing how topsy turvy things are?

Legal Duties

Duties on Schools

We know that most schools are doing everything they can despite the immense challenges they face. The legal duty on schools and colleges to use their ‘best endeavours’ to meet the special educational needs of their pupils and students still continues. This applies whether they are attending school or college or are at home for any period and includes those with EHCPs or on SEN Support (Part 3, section 66 Children & Families Act 2014).

Vicky Ford, MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families stated in her letter dated 14th January 2021 for those whose child is not able to attend school:

“all pupils and students not receiving face-to-face education for whatever reason should be provided with suitable remote education. Education settings should work collaboratively with families, putting in place reasonable adjustments as necessary, so that pupils with SEND can successfully access remote education alongside their peers.

The bottom line therefore is that schools continue to be very much responsible for offering SEN support to those that need it (even if it looks different to usual) whether your child attends school physically or receives remote education at home.

Here then are some Top Tips on what to consider if you want to share your concerns.

 Top tips                                

Thinking through a maze of ideas
  • Think about the reasons you are considering contacting the school now

Before contacting the school, think about whether you are just informing them or whether you are asking for something. Is there an urgency or escalation about your concerns or have the concerns been on-going and you just think they should know? Is the situation hitting crisis point or do you want the school to know ahead of time for when more ‘normality’ is in place?

  • Establish who the best person to talk to is

Because of the changes that most schools have had to make during this pandemic, it is worth contacting your child’s teacher / form teacher or head of year to find out who best to share your concerns with. Although you used to speak with your child’s teacher or SENCO, this may have now changed. At the same time find out whether a phone call or email is best (if you are happy to do either). It may be beneficial to put everything into an email initially and then phone / face to face discussion can be held to discuss further.

  • Let them know about any important developments in your child’s life.

These may include new medical diagnoses, results of health investigations, tests or assessments; changes in family life which may have an effect on your child’s behaviour or mood; new behaviours you have noticed at home and which you think may be important.  This will help the school consider what strategies or interventions may be needed. This would apply regardless of whether your child is still at home or attending school.

Face of concern
  • Explain your concerns clearly and concisely

Sometimes we think people should understand what’s behind the words we speak or write i.e. the hidden desperations or worries, but this shouldn’t be presumed.

Whilst the teacher / Senco etc do not need a long history of what has been happening previously, it may be helpful to give a concise picture of before and now. For example:

“**** used to love learning and would talk for hours about what she had done at school, now all I get is one word responses and she tells me she hates school” Or

“As you know, *** had a lot of 1:1 and group support to help keep him on track. I have tried doing this myself but he is not responding well to me being there whilst he learns and he gets so distracted that he isn’t really learning”. 

  • Explain what you have already done (and the effects of those things)

If you have tried some strategies already to help your child’s difficulties, explain what you have tried and what happened. Did they work or not? Did they work for some of it but not other parts? This can be helpful for several reasons.

1) The school can see the kind of things you have been doing and steer you onto the right track if they have other suggestions

2) They can keep a record of what you have tried to build a holistic picture which will help when reviewing your child’s needs etc.

3) It will prevent school suggesting things you have already done.

4) It may help make a smoother transition back to school (if your child is still being educated at home)

  • State what you are wanting from the school clearly and concisely

Now that you have shared your concerns, is there anything you would like to see the school do about them?

Perhaps you are just happy to simply inform them. On the other hand, you may be looking for a positive outcome. 

Ask yourself what would it look like if the concern was addressed and no longer an issue? Using the situations above as examples: ‘**** would talk positively about school again’ or ‘**** is able to focus on a piece of work without being distracted’

If you have ideas about how things could be improved, it is important to share these.

Even if school cannot agree to them, it gives a platform for possible compromise or a diving board to perhaps other more suitable suggestions.

  • Last but not least Remember we are all in the same storm
All in the same storm

Our experiences of the past year have been likened to us all being in the same storm, but not necessarily in the same boat. Whether you are a parent, child or teacher, lives have been challenged. Some will have embraced their particular challenges, but some will be holding on by their fingernails.

Never has there been a more important time for empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). It is important to share your concerns about your child, as the school still has a duty to support where this is needed. An empathetic, collaborative approach with those you share these concerns with, will be far more effective for all concerned as you work together.

By changing the ‘them and us’ barrier to a collective ‘we’, a partnership is formed, which can only have a beneficial result for your child, yourself and the teachers involved.

For more general tips about talking with professionals, including the use of Effective Communication please see our leaflet (found through the resources page of our website)

What next?

What next

If despite sharing your concerns with the school, you feel unhappy with the response then consider putting these in writing in the following way:

For those being educated by school at home

Write to the school stating that you believe the remote education currently being offered is insufficient to meet your child’sneeds:

  • Give your reasons why you think the education / support is insufficient
  • Detail the support you feel is needed, and why
  • Outline any reasons you have been given already by the school/college as to why this is not being made. See also remote education guidance and OSFTED good practice]
  • Acknowledge that the current situation means provision cannot always be made exactly as it was previously, but then explain how you believe the required support could be made instead.

For those at nursery/school/college

Write to the nursery / school / college stating that you believe they are not fulfilling their legal duty, because:

  • Describe the support that the child or young person should be getting,
  • Explain that this is not happening or give details about what is happening.
  • Outline any reasons given by the nursery/school/college as to why this support is not being provided.]
  • Acknowledge that the current situation means provision cannot always be made exactly as it was previously, but then explain how you believe the required support could be made instead.

Additional information:                                                                                                                                     

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