DYT’s Director of Operations Karen Wespieser takes a look at the crucial role parents play in the education of children with literacy difficulties and shares some top tips on how parents can effectively communicate with their children’s school and vice versa. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that parents play a crucial role in supporting their children’s learning, and levels of parental engagement are consistently associated with children’s academic outcomes. This is never truer than when a child is struggling with an aspect of school, the curriculum or their learning.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) has published The Human Cost of Dyslexia: The emotional and psychological impact of poorly supported dyslexia. The report highlights findings from a new parent survey run by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) which finds that many parents are dissatisfied with the approach that their child’s school takes to dyslexia. Parents reported feeling that their school did not support their child’s dyslexia and that they did not take their concerns about dyslexia seriously.

Effective two-way communication is one of the five hallmarks of a parent-friendly school according to home-school cooperation charity, Parentkind. They explain that effective two-way communication is what allows a relationship of trust to develop that enables schools and parents to work in partnership in support of the child’s learning journey. This relationship of trust is vital in enabling conversations around a child’s learning to be focused on outcomes and reduce the potential for actions to be interpreted negatively or emotionally charged from either the parents or the school.

Research shows that regular communication is associated with parents being more likely to be viewed as partners in their child’s learning and can be especially important at key times such as transition and in relations to potential barriers to learning such as dyslexia.

What does this look like for parents and teachers?

Top tips for parents communicating with schools

  1. The class teacher or form tutor should always be your first port of call. Schools can be hierarchical places, if you go straight to the headteacher with concerns you risk alienating the person with whom your child has the closest relationship. Chances are you will be re-directed back to that person if you haven’t initially shared your concern with them.
  2. Furthermore, class teachers are important because your child’s dyslexia will be addressed (in the first instance at least) via the graduated approach. This means that the class teacher is the first person responsible for making adjustments in light of your concerns before any additional support is put in place.
  3. As with any relationship, figure out how best to communicate. Remember if phone is the preferred approach, teachers will be unlikely to be able to take calls during the school day and only get a short amount of time for lunch. If email or letters are better, make sure they are interspersed with face-to-face interaction too – a quick chat can often solve a lot more than a long email chain!
  4. There’s no such thing as a silly question! Ask how, when, where, what and (especially) why. Respectfully asked questions can really help, not only in terms of understanding your child’s needs, but also understanding where teachers are coming from and their approach to providing support. In turn, this can help you find the common denominator when it comes to supporting your child together with the teacher and the school.
  5. Help the school to support your child’s learning by providing teachers with information on how you support your child at home. Feel confident in sharing your strategies and ask school for support on things you are working on at home.

If you need to raise a concern…

  1. If you do feel that your class teacher or form tutor is not putting adequate support in place you could ask for a meeting with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or Head of Learning Support (in a small school this may be the same person as the headteacher). These are the teachers responsible for additional support in school and liaison with outside services. If possible, try to include the class teacher or form tutor in these discussions too. Copy them into letters or emails and invite them to participate in meetings. This is important because the class teacher or form tutor needs to be aware of what is being agreed as possible ways forward.
  2. If you do have to escalate the conversation further additional information about the school’s SEN policy and complaints procure will be available on the school website.
  3. Raise concerns quickly – waiting risks embedding a problem and may make it harder to resolve.
  4. Consider whether the communication method is commensurate to the concern. Is this a small thing where a short conversation in the playground will suffice or do you need to keep a record of the correspondence?
  5. Try to make a specific suggestion about how you would like to see your concern resolved. Of course, the school may not be able to implement your solution for a range of reasons but going into a discussion with a constructive suggestion rather than a complaint can be helpful.

Top tips for schools communicating with parents

  1. Ensure that all communications are accessible, how easy is it to navigate your website or get to speak to the receptionist on the phone? Schools in general, and the SEN sector in particular, have a lot of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms that parents will not know therefore avoid using wherever possible. If you are communicating in writing, ensure that you are using an appropriate reading level, dyslexia is often hereditary, so be prepared to provide alternative forms of communication.
  2. Be honest. To achieve the best outcome for the child you will need a level of partnership with their parents. If you gloss over your concerns or say everything is fine when it’s not then this partnership will fail. Where possible plan and review together; don’t do to, do with.
  3. Be timely. If you have a concern don’t wait until parents evening to address it. Contact the parent at the first opportunity. If you know you have a child with a specific need moving into your class make a point of introducing yourself to the parents – it will be reassuring to the parents that you know the needs of their child and it will be useful for you to know get to know the parents.
  4. When meeting face-to-face, ask parents how they would like to be addressed and stick to it. Don’t refer to parents in the third person (i.e. “what does Mum/Dad think”), if in doubt use their surname. This is the same if the meeting is more formal and there are name cards or badges – don’t just have a card that says ‘parent’ when everyone else in the room has a name and title. Consider the power-relations in the room if they only know you as Mrs Jones, you may want to consider moving to first name terms.
  5. Consider using a structured-conversations, for example, a meeting notes template which begins by looking at what is working well and subsequently what areas could be improved. Ensure that there are prompts included to capture the parents/carer’s voice and, if possible, the child’s.
  6. Remember the child at home and the child you see at school can demonstrate very different behaviours, both positive and negative. Listen to the parent’s perspective without being dismissive, their concerns could help in creating support strategies.
  7. Actively seek parents’ expertise and ask them what works, what they are doing at home and how you can support this at school.
  8. Help parents in supporting their child’s learning. Providing parents with detailed information on exactly what to do and how to support home learning. If you are using a particular phonics approach, explain it to the parent and send the appropriate resources home.
  9. Encourage parents to offer a balanced degree of support for homework. Make it clear how much time you expect to be spent on school-work at home and ask parents to indicate times in the margin of homework rather than asking them to ensure a task is completed.
  10. Make parents aware of the value and impact their involvement has on their child’s learning. Promote parental expectations through frequent communication of pupil’s progress. Highlight the importance of praise when progress is made so that children feel they can achieve instead of just hearing what they can’t do.

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