Monday 14 November 2016

Pushy Parents or Expert Parents?

Generally, when you have a to-do list about as long as the Shard, the last thing you need is to be drawn into a discussion about Pushy Parents. Sadly, I just couldn't let this one go. It's been bugging me ever since I saw the first tweet on Friday about the article in TES, entitled 'How to handle pushy parents'. The question is, was the headline written intentionally to incite unrest among parents of children with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) or not?

It seems to have had that effect, but my honest opinion is that the article has some good points in it and wasn't intended that way. If we're being honest, many of us can probably identify a pushy parent at school, even when we're not on the teaching staff. Those parents who have the most questions, take up more of the teachers time than others, are worried about homework and who are forever to be found at the classroom door or actually inside it.

Wait a minute though, does that perhaps also sound like the parent of a child with SEND? Maybe that is the reason why the article has touched a nerve.

For our eldest daughter, it never crossed my mind to try and speak with teachers outside of parents' evening unless there was a major issue (such as bullying). We didn't much talk to them even AT parents' evening - I'd just leave the teacher to tell us how our eldest was getting on in that very short 10 minute slot.

For our youngest with SEND though, it's different. I've been, and still am, that parent who needs to have more communication with the teacher than most, who needs to step inside the room to make sure their child makes it to their locker without upset, who is always first by the door waiting to collect after school, who spends more time than most in meetings at the school and who asks for a communication book to find out what happens during the day because any one little incident might have a knock-on effect lasting weeks rather than hours.

SEND parents often have the accusation of 'pushy parent' thrown at them. It's insulting and demoralising. A year or two after we received our girl's diagnosis of autism, I was lucky enough to attend a training session on Early Support, and I then went on to help train other parents in this. At the same time I was invited to tell our story to staff from the Local Authority as a part of their training (about the 'real SEND world'). Early Support was a great government initiative to help parents of children with SEND by giving them general helpful information following diagnosis. Sadly, as with many such great ideas, funding was cut and it has largely fallen by the wayside.

One of the key phrases from Early Support was that 'Parents are Experts' and I passionately believe in this. Parents who spend a lot of time with their children know them better than anyone else. We are in tune with their needs, and we are responsible for their wellbeing. This poster which was based on feedback from the first Early Support courses, says it better than I can.

We've been extremely fortunate that all of the practitioners who we have come across have not challenged our views of how difficult everything is for our youngest girl. Maybe they have other conversations or views about us behind closed doors, but in general we've experienced working together to get the best for the child. Not all parents are so lucky; we hear of many 'them and us' situations where teaching staff think they know it all. It can eat away at a parent's confidence and cause undue extra stress in a life which is already running at full throttle.

Matthew Keer, a parent of a child with SEND, had some great advice over on Twitter following the TES article: 

'I’ve spent today going over assessments for my eldest’s Annual Review. His progress is nothing short of spectacular... In his key area of #SEND, my eldest has made 10 years of progress over the course of 3 years. Many reasons why… He works like a Stakhanovite on meth. His teachers & therapists are incredible – and above all, they see parents as vital to progress. We’re parents. We push. The school expects us to push. It welcomes us to push, contribute, suggest, inform. To do what it takes. This is a special school - in every sense of those words. We had to push at every single stage to get my eldest this provision… and every single day, I’m thankful that I did. Because I know full well what happened to my eldest’s primary-aged peer group, the ones with parents who didn’t push. Who trusted people paid the right thing to do the right thing. And their futures are fucked. So keep pushing. Be polite, respectful in tone, & humane. Respect the pressures that class teachers are under, every day. Don't be a tool but find out where the real obstacles are: class-level, SLT-level, GB-level, LA-level, Ofsted-level. And go to work on them. My eldest’s primary specialist teacher was inspirational. But she couldn’t give him the support he needed without losing her job. Don’t be afraid of being one of ‘those’ parents, if obstacles mean that you have to end up being your child’s only true advocate And finally – pushy, or not pushy, don't put up with a teacher jangling keys in front of your face. That’s just clown behaviour.'

I think it's important to highlight the fact that the vast majority of parents of children with SEND just want what is best for their child, especially in terms of education. We are not all looking for the diamond-encrusted service. We are not all fighting for someone else to pay for our child to attend an independent school simply because we don't want to, or can't afford to pay for it ourselves. We are mostly just trying to give our children the best start in life in the hope that they will one day be independent. The end goal is for them to be able to live in, and give back to, the community. 

Maybe it's not such a bad label after all. A pushy parent is a parent who cares, so why use it as a derogatory term?


There's still chance to vote for your favourite blogger in the BAPS Awards - you can nominate here before 18th November! Read more about what and who these Awards are for in my post Baps Blogging Awards- maybe you could be a BRA?!

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