No families left behind : ‘A new paradigm in an archaic system’

A happy down syndrome boy with parents at the table, praying before breakfast.


Tessa Philbert highlights the need for a change in mindset to enable professionals to fully engage with parents and carers to deliver support together.

Since the Warnock Report (1978) acknowledged the educational rights of children and young people (CYP) with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), the law around SEND provision has evolved in many ways.

The most recent and pivotal change, in SEND Law, was the implementation of the ‘Children and Families Act’ (C&F, 2014) and supporting statutory guidance ‘The Code of Practice’ (CoP, 2015). A major priority of this landmark change in law was to ensure that local authorities, schools and other educational settings were explicitly responsible and accountable for identifying needs and delivering person-centred provision. Furthermore, multi-agency working would place children with SEND and their families at the heart of all decisions being made about CYPs educational, health and social care provision. Ensuring that a person-centred approach to supporting needs was at the forefront of all conversations, moreover that CYP and their families played a meaningful role in decision making processes and have their ‘wishes, thoughts and feelings’ listened to and held in the highest regard (S19, C&FA, 2014).

Ultimately, the change in law implicitly acknowledges the expert knowledge, wisdom and understanding gained by parents/carers when raising their children, particularly when supporting individual needs and strengths arising from a CYPs SEND. Within this new paradigm, the stage is set for the voice of the family to be heard and empowered, but in reality the principle falls short of its intentions.

Working with various partners within local authority for many years, I have witnessed some of the challenges in implementing a paradigm that doesn’t just encourage the meaningful involvement of CYP with disabilities and their families, but makes it law. One of the barriers to change is the automatic expectation that professionals, who are supporting families, have the natural propensity to switch from working effectively within a system that once dictated the provision of CYP, to one in which parents/carers must be engaged in co-production. Without the appropriate Continued Professional Development (CPD) that elevates professional knowledge of meaningful co-production, whilst enhancing the understanding of why it’s a crucial element of identifying need, building aspirations and achieving positive outcomes, the ethics of this new paradigm do not filter downwards.

It has been my experience that the density of culturally biased workplace practices cannot be penetrated simply by demand. The layers must be stripped away by assisting those who have the responsibility of supporting families, to look at their conscious and unconscious bias, with a view to diminishing old patterns of working and realigning with a different way of being.

Another observation has been the ambiguity around understanding inclusion. The reality is, that a model of inclusion which only attempts to implement meaningful co-production for families who have CYP with SEND, is an exclusionary practice. Perhaps if educational settings and local authorities applied the principles of co-production in their approach to all CYP and their families, many more would feel included and understand their right to be fully involved. If we could begin to foster ways of working with people that are much more aligned with acceptance and compassion, rather than tolerance and forced integration, perhaps we could develop ways of supporting that would mean no family feels left behind.

Co-production is: ‘The relationship where professionals and citizens share power to design, plan, assess and deliver support together. It recognises that everyone has a vital contribution to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities’.

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion

1. Access – explores the importance of a welcoming environment and the habits that create it.

2. Attitude – looks at how willing people are to embrace inclusion and diversity and to take meaningful action.

3. Choice – is all about finding out what options people want and how they want to get involved.

4. Partnerships – looks at how individual and organisational relationships are formed and how effective they are.

5. Communication – examines the way we let people know about the options to get involved and about the culture.

6. Policy – considers how an organisation commits to and takes responsibility for inclusion.

7. Opportunity – explores what options are available for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Has this article inspired you or given you pause for thought?
Your ideas and comments would be welcome.

Tessa Philbert
Author: Tessa Philbert

Tessa Philbert
+ posts

Tessa Philbert has a 15 year career in SEN. She began as a learning support assistant
(LSA) in a special school and is now an SEN consultant and ‘Specialist Member of the Health, Social Care and Education Chambers’.
T: @tessneeds


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