A reflective journey of a SENCO communicating effectively with parents from SENCO and EAL lead, Penny Whelan.

The relationship between a SENCO and a parent is a complex one. Sometimes it’s easy to build, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes things go well and sometimes things break down. I wanted to think about the relationship between SENCO and parent, not to side with one or the other, but to analyse for myself what can help to make it a successful working partnership, and to think about when things have broken down, why is that?

Time to grow

I’ve been a SENCO for a few years now, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best but most difficult roles I’ve ever taken on. I love it, but that love took a while to grow. I spend a lot of time in a managerial position – doing referrals, sorting interventions, managing amazing staff who support the children – but what I’ve also had to learn is how to ‘lead’ as a SENCO. How to analyse what the students need, but also analyse what it is that the staff need, what CPD opportunities I need to create, how I share information with them, how I make it as easy as possible for people to do their job (supporting pupils with a special educational need and/or disability) successfully.

I know that the child needs to be supported, their barriers removed or addressed and that their voice needs to be heard. But what I’m still learning is how to understand what their parent needs. How much do we make sure that the parent’s voice is heard? I know a lot of SENCOs who excel at this, they include parents in all meetings, have regular contact with them, invite them in to discuss difficulties and ensure that they are involved in the decision-making process. They are excellent at developing and maintaining parent-SENCO relationships. It’s taken me a while to get better at this.

Really listening

I’ve always listened to the parents I work with, but then I started to ask myself how much I was really listening. Just because I didn’t see what they were experiencing at home didn’t mean that they didn’t have a difficulty that needed to be addressed.

It’s vitally important that school and home work well together, that we trust each other to do what is best for the child.

I realised how important it was to really listen and take in what the parents were saying, to put it together with what we see in school to build a bigger picture.

Of course, there are times when I am wrong or I’ve missed things, and I will always welcome a parent who is able to kindly point out something that I’ve not noticed, or to remind me of something I said I would do and I’ve forgotten (lists and Post-It notes are my best friends at helping me to remember). And there may be times when I need to professionally challenge a parent or carer in the best interests of the child, because ultimately my responsibility is to keep that pupil safe, and I’m not afraid to do that.

Questions for reflection

But I wonder if the difficulties which sometimes arise and cause a breakdown in communication come from frustration on both sides.

With this is mind, there are some questions that I try to
reflect on:

  • How can we make sure we effectively communicate how we are feeling and what we are seeing?
  • Can we put across our concerns in a kind manner that will encourage parents to want to work with us?
  • How would I feel if I were in their shoes and concerned about my child?

Ultimately, I want to do the very best for every single child in my care, and I will do everything I can to build, maintain and strengthen the relationship I have with their parents. I will make sure I have open lines of communication, that I am approachable and welcoming, that I really listen and act upon the things they tell me and that I make them feel heard and that their opinions valued.

After all, who knows a child better than their parents?


  • Penny Whelan

    Penny Whelan is a primary assistant headteacher and SENCO in Bedfordshire. Penny works part-time and is also an EAL coordinator, a specialist leader of Education, Emotional Literacy Support Assistant and Coach. Penny is the operations manager for the Schools Linking Network in her Local Authority. She is passionate about SEND, inclusion, diversity and community cohesion.
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