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Partners, not warriors

Geraldine Hills argues that schools must do more to include parents in decisions about their child’s education

I don’t believe any parents set out to create conflict, tension or misunderstanding in the life of their child. What parents do have in common is that we love our children and strive to gain what is best for them.

The phrase “warrior parents” has often been used to describe the parents of children with disabilities who are fighting for their child’s rights within the education system. Failures by schools to comply with what the Equality Act demands of them can cause a situation in which parents are seen as the problem. As a result, parents lose confidence in schools and they feel there is a need to fight, which often puts them at odds with the school and local authority. This can create a climate of mistrust between parents and teachers.

The number of SEN tribunals has risen by 64 per cent in the last 12 years (Times Educational Supplement, 30 July 2010). In some of these cases, parents bring about a claim of disability discrimination against the school. The sad reality is that many of these cases could have been avoided if only there was a better understanding of the Equality Act and schools’ duties to pupils with disabilities.

I had the unfortunate experience of having to take a school to tribunal for discriminating against my disabled son, and the tribunal found in my favour. It was one of the most difficult and emotional journeys I have ever been on in my life and caused me to have a breakdown. I don’t think of myself as a “warrior parent”; I don’t even like the term, as it implies I am fighting and creating conflict. This is simply not the case.

Conflicts often arise between parents and schools because parents feel they have a lack of involvement. It does not have to be like this. I have learned that sometimes schools have fears around including children with disabilities which are related more to their lack of confidence than not wanting to include the child.

Parents often know a lot more than the school about their child’s needs and particular disability, so it is important for parents to pass on their knowledge and practice to schools. I think there is a common misconception that schools will automatically understand and know the best way to include children with disabilities.

I have learned that one of the best ways I can help my child is by working in partnership with his school. There is much evidence to suggest that children thrive better when parents/carers are involved in their education. Schools have a duty under the Equality Act to make "reasonable adjustments" for children with disabilities but I have found that having a basic knowledge of these duties as a parent goes a long way to having a constructive dialog when dealing with issues of inclusion.
My son is now in a different mainstream school. I am proud of all that this school, my son and we as a family have achieved together. I don’t see myself as an outsider but more as an equal partner with my own professional parental expertise to add as part of working towards achieving better outcomes for my child.

However the question that still remains unanswered is how many more tribunal cases and family breakdowns will it take before we acknowledge that the ethos of the Equality Act is still not being fully embraced by some schools.

Further information

Geraldine Hills is the parent of a child with disabilities and the founder of Inclusive Choice Consultancy:
www.inclusivechoice.com

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