Harnessing the power of parental engagement

Prioritising effective internal communication about students means external communication can be more honest, trusting and productive, writes Rhian Williams

Prioritising effective internal communication about students means external communication can be more honest, trusting and productive, writes Rhian Williams

23 Nov 2021, 5:00

Perhaps it’s a truism that co-production is central to effective SEND provision. We all appreciate that working closely with parents and carers provides us with important background information and ensures they know how to support their child at home using the same strategies we put into place at school.

The challenge is in coordinating all of that, and with 176 children currently on our SEND register, that requires a great deal of collaboration.

My team currently consists of seven teaching assistants, each taking a lead on one aspect of the four broad areas of need, for which they have received high-quality CPD. Our weekly team meetings are focused on ensuring everyone can run successful parent meetings, during which student passports are written.

The result is evident in the student passports and learning plans they create. And with my team able to ‘keywork’ around 20 children each, I am able to focus my time on working with the more complex cases and new SEND referrals that inevitably come our way. But on top of that, I’m also able to run termly SENCo surgeries, inviting any parent to book a 20-minute meeting with me to discuss their child.

To ensure these surgeries are positive and constructive, our internal communication must be up-to-date and acted on – in every classroom and ongoingly. And that’s where our provision-mapping software comes in, streamlining our systems to ensure amendments can be made and shared across the school rapidly. It means our parents and carers trust us, and more than that, know that their voice and their children’s is heard.

The result is less anxiety for us, as well as pupils and their parents

We continued with that through lockdowns, and we learned a few new tricks too. Virtual meetings allowed us to keep in touch with pupils and to meet with families to review our SEND provision. But we also met virtually with every year 6 and their parents as part of our SEND transition and we found that when the children talked to us from the security of their own homes, they shared far more information than during a ‘normal’ transition period. So this practice has continued.

Communication and trust are fundamental ingredients of effective provision (more broadly, but especially for SEND). So we work hard on our relationships with our feeder primaries too. Because when they recommend that families come to visit us, it’s crucial support for transferring their trust to our staff.

But when they come to us, it’s just as crucial to be frank about the support we can and can’t offer, and as a teaching SENCo, I am very rarely able to answer the phone during a working day. Parents know that if they contact me, I will respond to their emails within 24 hours. Because my boundaries are clear, I am able to avoid disappointing them.

Of course, like most SENCOs I still work beyond my usual hours. Parents of anxious children need to know that an urgent email will be picked up and that additional support will be in place when it’s needed. The strength of our systems means I am able to focus on those true emergencies without feeling like everything else is just as urgent and pressured, and that’s an excellent protection for me and my team. The result is less anxiety for us, as well as for those pupils and their parents.

But more than that, it means I can be flexible when engaging with our parents. I offer virtual meetings to those who aren’t able to come into school, which enables me to be empathic to their needs, so that a trusting, collaborative relationship can be formed – and my team can take over to ensure their child gets the best from our school.

So it may seem like a truism – and sometimes a bit of a distant dream – but with collaboration, communication and trust, co-production is within every school’s reach. And through it a more inclusive school system.

Henley Bank High School won the nasen award for secondary provision of the year.

For further information on the awards visit:

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