Parent partnerships: helping parents meet the challenge

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As budgets are squeezed, parent partnership services are developing new ways of reaching parents

Parent partnership services (PPSs) give information, advice and support to parents and carers of children and young people with SEN and disabilities. They also have a duty to ensure that parents’ views are not only heard and understood, but that they inform and influence local policy and practice. While many (PPSs have been in place since 1994, they became statutory in 2001 when the SEN and Disability Act (SENDA) amended the 1996 Education Act. So, while there is significant variation in size and resources, there is one in every local authority (LA).

What do parent partnership services do?

  • Run a confidential helpline
  • Give impartial information and advice around SEN issues
  • Offer support in preparing for and attending meetings
  • Help in filling in forms and writing letters or reports
  • Support parents and carers in resolving disagreements with school and the LA
  • Signpost to other statutory and voluntary services
  • Link to local parent support groups and forums
  • Ensure that parents and carers views help inform and influence local policy and practice
  • Offer training opportunities for parents and professionals.

In addition to the services listed above, many PPSs have independent parental supporters (IPSs) who are volunteers trained to provide individual support to parents.

PPSs spend a lot of time with parents and carers explaining an often extremely complicated SEN system. PPSs gave advice and support to well over 64,000 parents and carers from April 2009 to March 2010.

Reaching parents online

Social media
The National Parent Partnership Network (NPPN), which supports all local PPSs and provides parents with a national website and telephone number to contact their PPS, has recently ventured into the social networking world with Facebook and Twitter pages. As well as providing information about the work of PPSs, the sites provide information about recent changes in national policy, opportunities for parents to campaign and feed into government consultations, and voluntary organisation research. These sites are also an opportunity to network with other organisations offering support to parents and carers of children with SEN.
Some individual PPS have also started to use social media to communicate with parents, carers and voluntary organisations.

Websites
As increasing numbers of people in the UK have access to the internet, and are using it more frequently, so more and more PPSs are creating their own websites, offering crucial resources for parents and carers, such as “jargon busters”, which explain all the complex terms and acronyms that are so often used in the world of SEN. These websites also hold copies of many information leaflets for parents covering a range of SEN issues, such as school action, statutory assessments and annual reviews, and some sites carry details of local events, training and support groups.

Ensuring that the right information is available to all is crucial, so the NPPN provides a members area on its website for PPSs, which includes over 100 PPS leaflets in various languages for those parents who have English as an additional language. This ensures that services are able to reach and support more parents, who are then able to participate in their child’s education.

Online films
The NPPN has produced some short films about the work of PPSs aimed at parents, schools and LAs. These films feature parents, schools and officers of PPSs and LAs talking about their experiences and demonstrating good practice across the country. The films, which are available on the NPPN website and on YouTube, are:

  • What are Parent Partnership Services?
  • How do PPSs Benefit Local Authorities and Schools?
  • What do Parents Think About PPS?
  • Hannah and Jo’s Story (a case study)
  • English as an Additional Language
  • Hackney Independent Parental Supporter Scheme
  • Durham “Confident Schools, Confident Parents” Training.

Cuts to services

Following central government spending cuts, LA budgets have also been reduced and all authorities have looked at how they can make savings on services. The first reports of budget cuts to PPSs came in the summer of 2010, and the average overall budget reduction nationally, as reported to the NPPN, has been around the 22 per cent mark. Inevitably, such budget restrictions will result in PPSs reaching fewer parents. Indeed, one local PPS, facing severe cuts, has had to decrease its opening hours by 47 per cent.

These service cuts emphasise the value of providing information online to parents and carers in order to reach more parents cost-effectively. However, while some parents will be able to find what they need online, many will need additional support, so it is important, even in these difficult times, to retain a service that can provide telephone and face to face advice and support.

If you are worried about cuts to your local PPS, there are a number of things you can do:

  • look at the minimum standards for PPSs set out in the SEN Code of Practice (page 19). If your PPS is not meeting these standards, you may want to discuss this with the PPS or write to your LA to express your concerns that the service is being cut even though it does not meet the minimum requirements of the Code. It is also important to be aware that these standards have been developed into additional guidance (Increasing Parental Confidence 2010) which can be found on the NPPN website
  • join with other concerned parents to campaign against the cuts
  • write to your local council member with responsibility for education/children’s services
  • write to your local MP
  • if you are not happy with the responses you receive, you may also wish to write to the Secretary of State at the Department for Education.
  • Parent Partnership Services, like most public sector and voluntary organisations, face a difficult time ahead due to cuts in resources. It is to be hoped, though, that by producing accessible information in a range of formats, provided through various different media, PPSs should be able to spend more of their time working directly with parents, schools and LAs.

Further information

Martha Evans is Information and Communications Officer at the Council for Disabled Children, which runs the National Parent Partnership Network. Information about local services can be found at:
www.parentpartnership.org.uk

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