How to work with your child’s SENCO
If your child is in the process of being assessed for special educational needs (SEN), or already has a diagnosis, it’s important to be open and honest with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) so that she can establish how they can best be supported.
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‘Try to be clear and open about what your child’s difficulties are, and offer ideas about what you think might help,’ advises Carmel McDermott, SEN parent advisor at Contact a Family (helpline 0808 808 3555).
Read the school policy
All schools have a SEN policy, which is usually available from the school office or on the website. ‘It’s a good idea to read this, so you know what the school says it will do to help children with SEN, and what it’s reasonable to expect from the SENCO,’ says Carmel.
Make yourself available
You’re likely to be invited to meetings on a regular basis to review your child’s progress and targets. 'The support that your child receives, and their targets, should ideally be reviewed every term and it's important that parents are involved and get the opportunity to contribute to this,' says Carmel. It can be difficult to fit these meetings in, especially if you work, but try to make yourself available wherever possible so you’re fully informed about your child’s development.
Keep a diary
Special educational needs can affect not just school life, but home life too, so don’t underestimate the value of your own observations of your child in helping the SENCO provide the right support. ‘It’s a good idea to write down any observations about your child as they happen, so you have a clear record to share with the SENCO and can address any problems as they come up,’ Carmel suggests.
Use a link book
A notebook that you can use to communicate with your child’s teacher and SENCO can be really helpful in ensuring minor niggles are dealt with swiftly, and in sharing day-to-day progress reports or information about things that have happened at home that might affect your child’s day at school.
Fulfil your own commitments
Your child’s SEN support plan will set out not just what the school will do to help your child meet their targets, but also what you as parents can do at home. It’s important to take these tasks or obligations seriously, and make an effort to fulfil them. If you’re having difficulty and feel you can’t wait till your child’s next review, speak to the SENCO.
Deal with problems promptly
If something has happened at school that concerns you, try to deal with it swiftly by making an appointment to speak to the SENCO. ‘It’s always best to address problems as they arise, otherwise they can fester and resentment can build,’ explains Carmel.
Keep your expectations reasonable
Bear in mind that many SENCOs are also teachers with their own class to look after, and only perform their SENCO duties part-time. ‘The SENCO should be willing to talk to or meet with you, but she is likely to be teaching and dealing with other SEN children too, and may not be able to respond, or solve the problem, instantly,’ Carmel says.
Share your insights
It’s helpful to the SENCO if you share information and ideas about how you manage your child’s SEN at home. ‘You know best what works and doesn’t work for them, and children often thrive if there’s consistency between what happens at school and at home,’ says Carmel.
Have a trusting relationship
The world of SEN is complex, and sometimes you may feel that the school isn’t meeting your child’s needs. Try to remember that SENCOs are in position because they are genuinely concerned for the welfare of SEN children, and trust them to look after your child’s best interests.
Remember you’re the expert
‘SENCOs may be expert in special educational needs, but remember that you are the person who knows your child best,’ Carmel says. ‘If you have concerns or suggestions, always share them with the SENCO. Your opinions and input are important and valued, so don’t be afraid to speak out: you’re the expert on your own child.’