Schools and parents – talking to each other
Schools should be welcoming places for parents and children. When your child starts either primary or secondary school, they enter a world where few people, if anyone, knows them. If there is good communication between schools and parents, any problems can be nipped in the bud, before they develop into something more serious.
That doesn’t mean that you should be constantly contacting the school, but it does mean playing your part, and making sure the school plays its part, in keeping communication going. Most schools will organise appointments with teachers to talk about your child, but there are other ways that schools and parents can communicate:
By law, the school must send at least one written report on your child’s progress each year and give you the opportunity to discuss it with teachers. You also have the right to see and have a copy of your child’s school record.
The school rules
The school should make sure that you receive information about the school rules, either in a handbook sent to every new student, or by making them available in the school office. You should read the school rules: if your child breaks them regularly, they could be excluded. Rules cover many aspects of school life: how children should behave in class, in the corridors and in the playground; policies on bullying, racism, and dress codes or uniforms; and rules about behaviour out of school, for example, while on school trips.
All schools now have home-school agreements, which the school, parents and students all sign. They are a three-way agreement, usually covering learning, attendance and behaviour. Typically, parents promise to make sure their children attend school, punctually, properly dressed and prepared; the school promises to help them learn; and the children promise to be punctual, behave well and concentrate in class.
Home-school agreements are not legal documents - nobody can be taken to court if they are broken. They are there to help parents, the child, and the school know exactly what is expected of them. There is no legal obligation to sign them (although the Government has proposed making it a requirement when a child starts a new school).
All schools organise parents’ evenings. They are usually held early on in the year for parents of children starting at the school, and later on for children in other years. It’s really important to go to parents’ evenings so you have the chance to meet the teachers face to face. If you then have to contact them later on, it makes it much easier. Don’t be afraid to let the school know right from the beginning about any concerns or anxieties you have about your child’s learning or behaviour.
Does your child have special needs?
One reason your child may be having difficulties at school is because they are having problems learning in class. It might be with one particular subject, like reading, or numbers, or they might have difficulty understanding what’s expected of them.
Sometimes children get into trouble because no-one recognises that they have a special need, either for extra help with learning or with controlling their behaviour.
If you have a concern, the best thing is to first talk to your child’s teacher or Head of Year. It’s best to act quickly: starting the process of getting extra help for your child with special needs is often easier in primary school. If your child does have a special need, there is a lot of extra help they can receive, from extra support in class through to receiving a Statement of Special Educational Needs. This Statement describes the child’s difficulties and the special help they must be given by law. Local education authorities may employ experts to decide the nature of the child’s difficulties by assessing the child. All schools have a special needs co-ordinator (SENCO) who is responsible for organising the assessment and help of pupils with special needs.You have a right to ask the local authority for a statutory assessment for a Statement and can appeal to a tribunal if you are turned down.
There is a lot of good advice for parents. Try 'Getting Extra Help' and 'Asking for a Statutory Assessment', published by the Advisory Centre for Education. See ‘Links to other websites’ on the right.
The Independent Panel for Special Education Advice have a self-help guide (which includes standard letters) that you can download for free . See ‘Links to other websites'.
Even if your child is not thought to have special educational needs, it may be possible to vary the teaching methods used at school and what they learn. Schools are increasingly expected to personalise the curriculum to make sure that pupils enjoy learning and do well in the classroom.