‘Success is the good fortune that comes from aspiration, desperation, perspiration, and inspiration.’- said Evan Esar. The current ‘SEND Code of Practice: 0 to 25’, at its heart, encompasses these principles. This guidance requires SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) to place a sharper focus on high aspirations and to improve outcomes for children and young people with SEND.
In this article, I have shared 8 tips that you can use to work collaboratively with your SENCO. These 8 points should help you to obtain the necessary support to tackle your child’s learning needs so that they can go on to achieve their full potential.
#1. Early recognition and assessment
The first step in receiving help for your child is to recognise your child’s difficulties early and to discuss these with your child’s teacher/SENCO and your GP (General Practitioner). Doing so will help address the problems before they become established and prominent.
You can seek a referral from your GP to the local NHS services to arrange for your child to be seen by a neurodevelopmental paediatrician. Alternatively, if you are concerned about a long waiting list, then arrange for your child to been seen by an independent developmental paediatrician, a therapist or an educational psychologist. Time is of the essence, especially when it comes to children. The magnitude of the benefit is likely to be bigger the earlier you assess and identify a problem.
Providing early support to meet your child’s learning needs is likely to prevent the development of low self-esteem, low confidence, and disillusionment with learning. These undesirable effects once ingrained, are more challenging to deal with than the primary SEN problem (e.g. Dyspraxia, ADHD, or Dyslexia).
#2. Collate evidence and arrange to meet your SENCO
You should then collate all the evidence and information you have received from your child’s assessments and tests. You can read more about how to be organised and maintain your child’s records by visiting this link: https://www.drsrigada.co.uk/10-things-to-do-after-your-childs-neurodevelopmental-assessment/. By being prepared, you will increase the chances of success for your child.
I would encourage you to share all the assessment reports and test results with your child’s class teacher and SENCO. Once you have shared all the reports, give them some time (e.g. 2-3 weeks), to look into the evidence or plan further action.
The SENCO should then arrange to meet with you to discuss further course of action. They may decide to get a further assessment to get a full picture of your child’s SEN.
The Code of Practice emphasises the school’s crucial role in the early identification of SEN and prompt intervention to support them. There is a vast base of evidence to show that early intervention results in better academic achievement, more desirable behaviours and improved educational attainment.
#3. Seek to understand first, before being understood
Go with an open mind to any such meeting. Try to be calm and watch your emotions. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious when you know your child is struggling. Consider requesting a friend or a family member to accompany you if needed. Be prepared to listen to what your child’s teacher or SENCO has to say first. Take time to understand. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if you don’t fully understand some of the terminology or bureaucratic language.
Be calm and polite at all times. Use the language of ‘we,’ e.g. how could we work together to address my son’s needs? Replace the words ‘I want so and so’ with ‘My child needs so and so’. Be a ‘pleasantly persistent parent’ (PPP). Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. You have the right to disagree. The school has specific duties to fulfil under the Equality Act 2010 and SEND Code of Practice (2014).
#4. Keep written records
Request your SENCO to put what they say, ‘in writing’. Even if they say ‘no’ or disagree that your child needs any extra support that is OK, provided it is given to you in writing. While SENCOs have a meaningful and rewarding job of addressing the needs of all the children with SEN at their school, they are also under a lot of pressure with time and resources.
Therefore, it helps them enormously if a parent is organised and efficient with completing paperwork and providing them with the reports and evidence they ask for. The SENCO may agree with all the evidence you have provided. Following this, the SENCO may decide to either place your child on ‘SEN Support’ or apply for an EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan). In my experience, this is the most likely outcome.
Should this be the outcome in your child’s case, then this is excellent news for everyone, i.e. your child, this/her teachers, SENCO themselves and the school. With EHCP, the school can get delegated funding that can help them to provide additional time and resources for your child.
#5. Try to reach an agreement
However, in some cases, the SENCO may say they disagree with the assessment reports you obtained for your child. And this won’t be surprising in the current budgetary environment, where schools are being asked to do more with less. Although the SENCO has a job to do within the resources the school has, know that funds are not your problem. Your foremost concern is your child and their needs.
If they disagree with the reports or the results, then you should calmly direct the SENCO to check the qualifications, experience and credentials of the professional who assessed your child. Also, you should encourage the SENCO to get your child assessed by whoever they deem fit, should they disagree with your child’s reports.
Listen carefully to what is being offered. Try to understand what the school/SENCO is proposing. Take notes. Seek clarification if required. Problem-solve. Contain your anxiety and your anger no matter how dismissive they are about your concerns or your child’s needs. Should you fail in reaching an agreement despite best efforts, then you should ask for a copy of the complaint’s procedure.
#6. Consider making a complaint
Despite your best efforts and intentions, if you are not able to achieve what your child needs, then you should be prepared to make a complaint, in writing. Every school and LA (Local Authority) has a complaints procedure. Read this before putting your complaint in writing. You should do your utmost to continue to stay calm. And stay focused on your child’s needs. Stick with the facts and issues regarding your child’s needs. Try to be objective while making your case. Leave your emotions out and don’t make it personal. Your complaint should primarily be regarding your child’s needs, not being met. You need to be an advocate for your child.
SEND Code of Practice (2014) sets out relevant procedures and policies required to resolve disagreements between parents and providers. The school’s complaint procedure and the complaints the school receives and handles are all looked into by the Ofsted, during their inspections.
#7. Resolving disagreements
Under SEND Code of Practice, the local authority and the school must make information regarding disagreement resolution services and mediation, available to you. These services, though commissioned by the local authority, are independent of them. You can read more about these services in section 11 of the Code of Practice (see ref: 1).
Having gone through mediation, if you remain dissatisfied regarding the outcome or the decision your LA made, then you can register a SEN appeal with the Tribunal. Parents and young people have a right to appeal to the Tribunal about, a decision by the LA not to carry out an EHC needs assessment, a decision by the LA not to issue EHC plan and more.
While you should do everything you can to get your complaint resolved by going through the LA’s disagreement resolution service and mediation, you shouldn’t worry or hesitate to register your SEN Appeal with the Tribunal, if all else fails.
Fortunately, most of the cases in my experience, are resolved by the LA before the Tribunal considers your appeal. There are also strict time scales for the school and the LA to respond to your complaints and disagreements.
#8. Seek support and advice
There are various sources of support, advice and information regarding dealing with SEN. To start, you need to read the ‘Special educational needs and disabilities: a guide for parents and carers leaflet’ produced by the department of education (see ref:2).
You can consider contacting IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice), a registered charity, who offer free and independent legally based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of SEND (see ref:3).
There are also various other sources of information and support such as ‘indirect government services’ who offer a helpline Tel: 028 9598 5960, to parents to address their SEN issues (see ref:6).
The Good Schools Guide provides a bespoke SEN consultancy service for a cost. They also have a lot of useful information which you can read for free on their website (see ref: 7). There are several other non-profit online information resources where you can read more on specific aspects, for example:
- interventionsforliteracy.org.uk (for evidence base on literacy interventions)
- thecommunicationtrust.org.uk (for support with speech, language and communication)
- minded.org.uk (a free educational resource for mental health)
Navigating the world of SEND can be not only stressful but also lonely. You may feel that you are the only person who is going through these difficulties to get help for your child.
However, this need not be the case. By reading the above information, you will be informed and empowered. Armed with all these sources of advice, support and information, you can become a better advocate for your child’s SEN and work collaboratively with your child’s school and the SENCO. By instituting early intervention by working with your SENCO, you will be laying firm foundations for your child’s educational and academic success.
- Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years. Department of Education and Department of Health. Jan 2015. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf
- Special Educational Needs and Disability-A guide for parents and carers. Aug 2014. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417435/Special_educational_needs_and_disabilites_guide_for_parents_and_carers.pdf
- Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, https://www.ipsea.org.uk/Pages/Category/who-we-are
- SEN Support and the Graduated Approach. Published by NASEN. ISBN: 978-1-901485-82-0. nasen.org.uk
- SEND Gateway https://www.sendgateway.org.uk/whole-school-send/
- nidirect government services. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/contacts/contacts-az/education-authority-special-educational-needs-helpline
- The Good Schools Guide, https://www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk/advice-service/special-educational-needs-service
- Gada S. Community Paediatrics. Oxford Specialist Handbook in Paediatrics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978 0 19 969695 6. Published Sept 2012.