Communication Frustration

Today was being a better day. A better start. It drifted in the middle a little. And then school made me want to cry.

I’m having communication issues. I feel frustrated. And told off. I feel impotent and cross. And the stupid thing about it is that take any individual class teacher or the SENCO (I’m less impressed with the head and the office staff have their moments, but they’re not really involved in this) and I find them helpful, chatty individual who clearly care about my all their charges including my son, they’re working hard, doing a lot. But try and communicate with them on my terms and its just ARGGGHHHH

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Rather than try and explain, here is a letter that I probably won’t send quite in this format. (I had to come back and finish it later, I’m feeling a bit calmer now by the way)….

Dear SENCO,

I’m really plesaed and frankly quite amazed at the speed at which you got the educational psychiatrist involved. Thank you so much for your help in this. When I asked about what happens next, I wasn’t trying to rush you or complain about timescales, please don’t get defensive, I just wanted to know what happens next, because I don’t know. I do understand that these things take time. In fact my main purpose for emailing, which I seem not to have explained very well because I still don’t know the answer, is that I need to know if the educational psychiatrist has spoken 1 to 1 with my son and if not if she’s going to do so soon. This is not because I have any concerns about how she asseses him, I trust her as a professional. It is because I thought she had said that she would see him 1 to 1 as well as observe him in the classroom so I told him this. Because knowing what’s going to happen is important to him. And he thinks it hasn’t happened. And he is confused. And he is asking me questions about it. And I don’t have the answers. And me not having the answers can be quite stressful for him. So, please, would you let me know if I was wrong (which I may well be) and she was just going to observe him, or if she’s spoken to him and he’s forgotten, or if it’s still to happen. Not because it matters one way or the other to me what the process is, but because it matters to him.

Also, about the documentation. I’d like to stress that I don’t have an issue with the interventions that are happening. I know the class teachers are trying several things with him and I know he enjoys attending THRIVE. But I am confused. When I met with you directly you mentioned that my letter had asked about seeing his school records and explained that I’d already seen things when I went to parents consultations so what exactly did I want to see. So we agreed I didn’t need to have any copies. Now, as a side issue, I have been doing a lot of reading recently around Aspergers, as I’m sure you can imagine. So when I discovered in our meeting that he was at School Action and about to go to School Action Plus (becuase you were involving the Ed Psych) I felt sure that I should have known about this, seen some documentation, been aware. So I went and read your SEN policy and noticed it says very little about talking to parents. So I scratched my brains and wondered where I’d read it. And I found, on the National Autistic Society website, details about School Actions, that stated that when a child is on a School Action they should have an IEP, and a parent should have seen it. So I asked you in a letter if he had an IEP. And the reply came via his class teacher that you were using Thrive documentation instead. You have confirmed this in your email today. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I don’t know anything about IEP’s, I’m not sure if he should have an IEP or not, it just seemed reasonable to ask as the National Autistic Society seemed to think he should. And your answer that you’re using the Thrive documentation instead as that’s the intervention you’re using seems perfectly sensible to me, I know that teachers are overwhelmed by paperwork, I don’t expect you to duplicate work. I got the impression you thought I was complaining that he didn’t have an IEP. I’m not. My point is, that you said I’d seen all his school records, and then told me about some school records that I wasn’t aware of, namely some THRIVE documentation. So either they are useful school records, in which case please will you take note of the fact that not only have I not seen them but I was not even aware of them, or they’re not, but you can’t have it both ways. And if you’re using them instead of an IEP and I my understanding is that parents should see IEP’s, surely I should at least be aware of what’s on this documentation.

Which brings me on to my last point, which I mentioned as an aside but which seems to have got your hackles up. I love my children’s school, the teachers are great, the kids love it, yes there are small things that irritate me about it but it’s a great school. And the teachers are always happy to talk about how either of my children are getting on. I feel I know well how they’re doing in class and what they are doing well and where they’re struggling. But the stuff that happens outside the classroom, that I don’t feel well informed about. And whatever you say, you cannot take away my subjective opinion that I don’t feel well informed. So I would like you to acknowledge that. Ideally I’d like you to think about what you communicate with parents and how and make some changes, but at the very least I think you should accept that I think there’s room for improvement even if you don’t agree and I’m not entirely sure you’ve done that. I left school today feeling like I’d been told off for having that opinion because his class teacher thinks I have been told stuff and to have been told any more is frankly an unreasonable request. We normally get on well so I’m worried she’s been told off for not communicating with me. Or maybe I’m just really rude. I assure you I wasn’t tring to be.

What I wanted to say was about why I feel there’s a problem. There are four reasons, so bear with me here.

Firstly, in reception my son’s class teacher noticed his lack of spacial awareness and how he walked through other kids toys on the floor etc and suggested he attended a program you have for motor skills. I had to sign a form to say he could go. I said at the time, I was sceptical of how effective it would be because he has no problem with his motor skills, it’s his awareness of personal space etc, but I was happy to give it a go. So I signed. And then I heard nothing more. Except when I asked the class teacher what they were doing in the class so I could use consistent phrases at home to help him, she didn’t know so she asked and I was given a photocopied sheet of a list of excercises. And for one time when by chance my son and I bumped into the person who took the class. She said hello to him, told me how she knew him and that he was doing really well. I told her I wasn’t surprised as his motor skills are just fine (eg he could ride a bike without stabilisers age 4) it was his awareness that was the problem. This was news to her and she said she’d work on that. I heard nothing more about the program. I don’t know when he stopped going. I don’t know if he was judged to have aqquired the necerssary level of skills or if it was judged not to be having an effect. I heard nothing more. And the only two things I heard were firstly because I asked and secondly by chance.

Secondly at the start of reception I took my son for an assesment by the speech therapist at a local centre. This was the culmination of a year of a lot of work in my part to get the health visitor to refer him for a hearing test (which took 3 attempts) and for a speech therapy assesment (which took 2 attempts) for me to take him to a hearing test and find out that he has glue ear, for me to discover that his referel to ENT had been lost in the system and get that sorted, to see the consultant, to take him in for an operation and finally to see the speech therapist. Who assessed him, who discussed her findings with me and then referred him to see the speech therapist in school. My point in mentioning all this stuff that happened before school was that I was involved, I knew what stage we were at, professionals were talking to me, I felt able to identify when he’d been “lost in the system” and chase it up because I was up to speed with what was going on. And thent the process went inside the black box that is the school system and it suddenly felt like I was compeltely cut out of the communication loop. I only found out he’d seen the speech therapist in school and was having speech therapy with teaching assistants becasue I asked. I had no idea how often, what they were doing or how he was progressing until I got a letter saying he’d been signed off as being ok now several months later.

Thirdly, your Thrive program. It was suggested to me when he was in Year 1 that he attend Thrive. I was given a sheet of A4 explanation and a form to sign. And in Year 2 he started Thrive. To be fair, I think his teachers have mentioned that he enjoys going and have on occassion said they’ll mention issues that have arisen to the Teaching Assistant who takes him for Thrive but I have no idea what the aim of him going is or if it’s having any affect. Also I was under the impression he went once a week. You told me he went 3 times a week. His teacher today told me he goes 2ce a week. I have very little idea what he does there because he vary rarely talks about what he does at school. Occassionally he mentions that he was in the Green Room or the name of the TA who takes it or that he did a craft activity there. But I have no idea of what you’re trying to acheive with him there or how it’s going. The fact that he painted a picture doesn’t tell me much about the program. His teacher today seemed to have assumed that he would have told me about Thrive. Well, in his case, that’s a big ask, and anyway, a child can’t be expected to tell their parent what kind of learning outcomes are expected of an intervention and how they’re getting on with them. So, no, I don’t think I’ve been kept in the loop.

Finally, this whole intervention thing. When my GP initally refused to refer him for an assesment saying that instead I should progress this through school, I had to work out for myself what on earth to do next. The NAS recommend asking to see the schools SEN policy. I didn’t ask you because I found it on your website and read it. And I had no idea where he was on your pathway, which starts with the teacher having a concern, and monitoring for half a term, then raising it with the parent and then the child going on a School Action Plan and possibly onto a School Action Plus. I had no idea where we were on that scale, did his teachers telling us that they think he should be assessed for ASC count as them “raising a concern” or did we need to start wiht the whole observe him for half a term. As he changes school in September my worry was that we would not get very far along this pathway before he changed school and then we would have to start from scratch again. That’s why I wrote to you at the time. So to find out when we met that he was already “on your radar”, that the Thrive program he attends meant that he’d been at School Action for half a year and you were considering asking for help from the behavioural support team but now we’d written you would refer him to the Ed Psych which automatically puts him at Action Plus (as outside agencies are involved) was a big surprise. A wonderful, oh great, they’re doing stuff, this isn’t going to be as hard work as we thought kind of surprise. But a surprise non the less. I didn’t make a big deal out of it because I thought that the fact that stuff was happening was more important than my frustration at not knowing what was going on.

What I’m trying to get accross, is that I feel as a parent that I don’t find out about the non academic out of the classroom stuff that happens in your school, the stuff that doesn’t fit on the pupil tracker graphs, it sort of falls into the gaps in your reporting strategy. And I’m not really trying to critise you for this, more point it out, because I think you’ve been so busy worrying about the kids (which is great) that maybe you’ve overlooked what being a parent to one of those kids feels like in all of this. And I think that’s reflected in the very small part that communicating with parents seems to play in your SEN policy.

Because I don’t think it’s right that he was at School Action and about to go to Action Plus and we didn’t know. I don’t think it’s right that if you’re using the Thrive Documentation rather than an IEP that we have never seen the Thrive documention and have no idea what might be on it despite you telling me that there’s no point in me seeing his school records as there would be nothing I didn’t already know there. I don’t think it’s right for his class teacher to assume that he tells us what goes on in Thrive. And I don’t think it’s right that I have to sign to give permission for him to start a program but you don’t even tell me when it’s finished let alone how he got on on it.

I don’t want to make a big fuss, I don’t want to cause an argument, I don’t mean to critise and get your backs up. You’re doing a great job, but could you please tell me a little about it from time to time because not knowing this stuff makes me feel really impotent. I understand that you’re all busy and you can’t tell every parent every thing you do different with their kid, I don’t expect weekly meetings or lengthy updates, but when you tell me on a report what his reading level is and how his maths is getting on, don’t you think you should tell me where he is on your SEN pathway too? If I can be told what level he’s working at in class in a report, surely I should have a couple of sentances saying how he’s getting on with the motor skills / speech therapy / behavioural/emotional/whatever it is intervention? And if I have to sign a form to give you permission to do these programs with him surely you should remember to tell me when you stop them. And if he has an appointment with a speech therapist in school surely I should know it happened, after all if it was outside of school I would have to know about it. Is this kind of level of information really too much to ask?

And while we’re on the communciation thing, can I suggest a little ettiquette. You see, my son hates, absolutely hates, being talked about in front of him. It makes him quite stressed, which I want to avoid, for his sake and for mine when he acts out afterwards. So I don’t like discussing these things with the teacher in front of him and whoever else is standing around. So when I wrote asking you for clarification about the IEP’s I didn’t expect my answer to come via his class teacher talking to me about it in the playground after school. Which is why I emailed this time, so you could reply direct. This is despite the fact that you have asked me to email the general admin email and that means someone else in the office may well read it, which I really don’t like the idea of, I did that. And you did reply direct, great. And you also spoke to the teacher who then spoke to me about all of this at length and rather defensively in front of him in the playground. Again. And left me feeling like I wanted to cry.

I know that it’s hard to see or speak to a teacher other than before or after school. And before or after school with my kids present really doesn’t work for us. So if I email, please, can I just have a reply by email. And if you or any other teacher feels that you need to talk to me about your answer, please arrange a time with me so I can arrange to be without my kids.

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9 thoughts on “Communication Frustration

  1. Frustrating. Well done for writing it all out, as I am sure it helps you get your thoughts straight. Sometimes it can be really hard to explain cultural stuff like expectations to people who don’t share your assumptions.

    One thing that occurs to me is to separate out the thing about not talking about son in front on son. That is important, and reasonable. If it was me I think I would write that in a letter on paper and get it to the class teacher. I think it’s totally reasonable, and even a little surprising that it’s necessary, to say it would be better to not talk about your son in front of him, and “when could you come in to get a quick catch-up about his provision please?”

    Best wishes with it, keep up the good work.

    • Yeah, the being ambushed thing is annoying, and I’m annoyed at myself for not saying “can we talk about this another time” but by the time I realised what was going on we were in the middle of a long discussion.
      Last night I tried to seperate out what I want now into an email (essentially Is the Ed Psych going to speak to him 1 to 1 or not and Can I see this Thrive documentation please plus How is it best to Communicate with the MultiheadedHydra that is School) to send, leaving out the stuff about You Are Really Not As Good As You Think You Are About Communicating And I’m Not Cross About This But I Think You Should Listen To me And Consider Doing It Better, but Hubby vetoed it.
      Today he has a slip in my bag saying that the Ed Psych is coming again with a date but no parental involvement is needed (communication progress!). So I’m now thinking of writing to the class teachers and/or Senco to say Thanks for telling me that, will she be talking to him 1 to 1 (and why it’s important that I know this) and Can We Agree Some Ground Rules for Communicating please. And then maybe also a bit about please can I see this Thrive Documentation that is equivalent to a HSAP/IEP but unlike that doc is not mentioned on your SEN policy, or maybe that’s a seperate letter.

  2. This sounds excruciatingly painful to deal with – for anyone, not just you. I hope that writing it all out in its rawest form has helped you to organize your thoughts a bit.

    You are the best advocate for your son and it sounds like you’re doing a great job operating within a system that doesn’t provide much feedback and support for parents. Keep pushing ahead! Hang in there. 🙂

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  4. Hi. The details may differ but, otherwise, your letter describes our situation perfectly. May I ask if you actually sent a version of this letter to the school and did you get the response you hoped for? I resorted to an entirely less diplomatic sort of letter yesterday, exercising my parental right of access to the full content of my child’s educational record in accordance with the data protection act of 1998. The school are legally bound to respond. It does feel like an act of passive-aggression on my part but all other communication was starting to feel non-existent. And worse, replaced by misinformation. It erodes a parent’s trust in their child’s educators. I hope the channels of communication improve for both of us. x

    • So far, I’ve only asked them for clarification in writing (so any discussions are not in front of him and I don’t feel ambushed) about what the Educational Psychologist visit entails (so I can discuss it with my son).

      I’m trying to seperate what is actually happening (which despite my frustrations in working it all out is actaully quite good) from my point of principle annoyances with their rubbish communication strategy.

      For the former, I think I’ll muddle through on the communication front for now and endevour to start of on a better foot when he transfers to the Junior School in September (which has a seperate head, Senco, different teachers etc) and work hard at establishing some ground rules at the beginning. In the mean time I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they haven’t given me the documentation I asked for as the request got lost in amongst my other comments, so I’m going to ask again nicely in writing before evoking acts of parliament.

      For the latter, I’m going to write letter to the head and the Senco and possibly the govenors too detailing points of What I have Experienced and What I think Should Be Happening Instead and ask them to consider it when next reviewing their Sen policy if not before. In order to keep that seperate from my son, I may send the letter after the end of term. Is that a cop out?

      Good luck with your struggles.

      • I don’t think that’s a cop out. I think it’s sensible. This academic year will be over soon and if transition to Junior school is happening in September then there is little point in creating waves in the current setting. More important that your child sees the year out happily, I would say. Fingers crossed for a smooth and easy transition. good luck with everything. x

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