inclusion Inclusive Pedagogy Parent Partnership SEND

Being N.I.C.E. to parents 

Being N.I.C.E. to parents

I created this acronym when I worked as a parent partnership officer for Dorset local authority. My role was in advocacy and I would support families who had children with special educational needs, empowering them to navigate both the legal framework and their communication with schools and LAs.  

Working with parents and carers for a spell rather than the children transformed my perception of how the dynamic  between families and schools should be. Perhaps most importantly however, it shaped the type of teacher I am today. I understood learners with SEND better once I returned to the classroom and viewed them in the 360• rather than just in school. 

When I began teaching in 1996, I had the attitude that parents got in the way, that they needed to leave the teaching to me as I knew what was best in the classroom. After running drop-ins, supporting tribunals, home visits, and lots of chairing meetings with headteachers and LAs, I realised that parents and carers were a resource to welcome rather than push away. 

….parents and carers were a resource to welcome rather than push away. 

Below are some tips to work in partnership with parents, triggered by a thread on Twitter.  

  • Parents and carers can help rather hinder progress and if schools worked in partnership with families, these combined experiences give the child every opportunity to achieve better outcomes and to thrive not just survive. 
  • The parent/carer is the expert in their child & often in the SEN identified, they may have had hours in waiting rooms and in meetings with paediatricians, researching on the Internet and having lived experience. Those in education must listen to parents and carers and REALLY listen.
  • Campaigner @elly_chapple once said, “I would rather the school had told me they weren’t able to educate Ella than pretend to me they could” This is important, you don’t have to have all the answers. It’s OK to say ‘we’re not sure what to do, can you advise? What might help?’

Here’s more detail on what the acronym means:

What does the acronym stand for ? 

N if for notification 

I is for information 

C is for communication 

E is for empathy 

S is for support 

T is for trust 

N = notification

Have they been told their child is on the SEN register, that they’re in intervention? 
Early notification is key. 

Families are often contacted once things are already in free fall making things much harder to resolve. Get in early and build relationships with the family. A text, a phone call or a meeting to begin and also remember the good bits.

I = Information

Do families get enough information? Can you signpost them to charities? To SENDIASS or @IPSEAcharity ?

Also, if you have a child who is uncommunicative, finds school hard or is disorganised, they won’t necessarily tell parents what they need.

C = Communication

Some parents may need better & more regular communication due to the needs of their child. 
Keep communication channels open & informal.
Try to fit in not dictate – preventative not reactive.
Texting might be helpful or email.
Do they work or have other kids?

E = Empathy

Please believe them.
‘He’s fine with me’ is not helpful. 
The child may be good in school and explode at home or vice versa. 
Parent blame doesn’t solve any situation.
Try to understand position and take any concerns seriously.
Parent blame goes right to top of education chain. Amanda Spielman of evidence-based institution OFSTED once said ‘parents use ADHD & medication as an excuse for poor behaviour’.
There is no research to prove this and it’s  ill-informed. Not N.I.C.E. 

I delivered this talk to Bromley Parent & Carers organised by Ros Luff. A mum came up to me suggesting I add T for trust. She told me she hadn’t trusted the school & especially regarding SEND, would not admit difficulties. 

T ruined my acronym though. So I added S = support 

My acronym has grown to
‘Being the N.I.C.E.S.T. you can be to parent and carers.’

None of us our angels.
One mistake I’d made with a parent was when I ended up locking horns with a parent – I wouldn’t budge, she wouldn’t budge. The battle was between us & neither of us were going to capitulate. 
A colleague gently offered to work with the parent.

‘I’m worried’ she said, ‘that we’re putting {student’s name} education at risk.’
😱 I was mortified – I had been so wrapped up with being right and winning the battle that I’d forgotten about the child. 
It was a real lesson for me.

And this is true parent partnership. When the school and the family work together in the best interests of the child. 
If the child knows that you are working together in true partnership, I think they often feel safer and less anxious too. 

Two great documents on meaningful conversations 

1. Structured conversations

2. NHS’ AskListenDo leaflet 

Link to the Twitter thread

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