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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

Why is co-production so powerful? Learning from research

There is a strong research basis to support co-production. Read on for a summary of key findings and how we can apply them in schools.

After 20 years working in schools with young people and families, the last fifteen as SENCo, there is one thing I am very sure about: working together with parents/carers provides a strong base from which better outcomes can be achieved. 

As I’ve mentioned previously, a good SEND strategy is a good strategy for all. So while co-production is particularly beneficial for young people with autism, the following points are about supporting all pupils and their families. Good practice transcends everything where proper co-production is concerned. 

Improved outcomes

Research has shown that pupils have better outcomes when parents/carers are engaged with the school (Zablotsky et al, 2012). As a result, schools need to be proactive in finding ways to get parents/carers involved, with a particular (positive) focus on the engagement of parents/carers who have children with complex disabilities, such as autism.

Takeaway: be pro-active in ensuring parents/carers of SEND pupils have chances to be involved with school.

Areas of conflict

Conflict isn’t good for anyone.  Being solution-focused is even more important in the current climate.  When asked specifically by Tucker, V. and Schwartz, I. (2013) about whether they had experienced conflict with school teams, parents/carers overwhelmingly reported ‘yes’ (83%) compared to who hadn’t and responded ‘no’ (17%).

The top area of conflict (66%) identified in the research was around service provision, goals and objectives. This was followed by disagreement over placement decisions (56%), then disagreement over curriculum or instructional approach (52%).

This study notes that when conflict arose, one of the reported reasons was the lack of parent/carers’ perceived opportunity to give input and participate fully. Indeed, when parents/carers then pushed to include their input during times of conflict, they often found themselves even more peripheral to their child’s team. 

Takeaway: schools and educators must make positive changes to the way they train teams for collaboration, co-production and working with parents/carers.

Ways forward: networks, positive attitudes and research-based information

Working with parent/carer support groups and networks is very powerful.  Collaboration and empowering both parents/carers and professionals with knowledge regarding service options leads to better outcomes for families, their loved one and the professionals who work with them (Murray et al, 2011). The Local Offer should be a positive vehicle to support this.

Another very interesting part of the Murray study was in finding that having teachers with positive dispositions increased parent/carer trust, again showing that a positive, solution-focused approach is a good investment when it comes to partnership working.

Also, in this study about autism, parents/carers appreciated teachers with research-based information; too often interventions are not research-based prior to implementation.

Takeaway: proper co-production and working positively with parents/carers can make significant differences in outcomes experienced.

Preparing for adulthood

Preparing for adulthood is very important, but often there isn’t a structured approach and schools are swamped with short-term educational milestones.

It won’t come as a surprise to readers that research by Hodgetts et al (2013) concluded that, to ensure success for families as their child moves to adulthood, an integrated family approach, encompassing education, health and other services, must begin when the child is younger.

It also found that the provision had to change as the child develops; pretty obvious stuff, but something that seems to be almost forgotten in the current ‘broken system’.

Takeaway: an integrated family approach, encompassing education, health and other services, is most effective in preparing children for adulthood.

Parental engagement

A meta-analysis of parental involvement on student academic achievement and learning activities indicates that the strongest associations are found when the families have high expectations for their children, develop and maintain communication with them about school activities, and help them to develop positive habits (Castro et al, 2015). 

Supporting families appropriately allows for them to have direct and positive input into academic work as well as other provision.  The constant battling and fighting for provision leaves little left for positive engagement with school activities.

Takeaway: supporting families positively allows for more time and energy being devoted towards developing and maintaining communication about school activities.

Confidence measure findings

As we start to prepare for the new academic year, it’s a good time to remind readers about our parent/carer confidence measure and our key findings:

  • keep parents/carers informed
  • make sure parents/carers know who to contact and how
  • provide honest communication (there is no long-term benefit in providing anything but the truth)
  • listen to parents/carers – give decent time to discuss things
  • try to avoid uncertainty or misinterpretation – be as clear and explicit as possible.

The confidence measure is free to use, and always a positive starting point to help formulate plans from an evidence base.

In summary...

When developing plans for positive parent/carer engagement and co-production, remember these key points.

  • Be pro-active in ensuring parents/carers of SEND pupils have chances to be involved with school.
  • Schools and educators must make positive changes to the way they train teams for collaboration, co-production and working with parents/carers.
  • Proper co-production and working positively with parents/carers can make significant differences in outcomes experienced.
  • An integrated family approach, encompassing education, health and other services, is most effective in preparing children for adulthood.
  • Supporting families positively allows for more time and energy being devoted towards developing and maintaining communication about school activities.

References

Castro, M., Expósito-Casas, E., López-Martín, E., Lizasoain, L., Navarro-Asencio, E. and Gaviria, J.L., (2015). Parental involvement on student academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 14, pp.33-46.

Hodgetts, S., Nicholas, D., Zwaigenbaum, L. and McConnell, D. (2013). Parents’ and Professionals’ Perceptions of Family-Centered Care for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder across Service Sectors. Social Science and Medicine, 96, p. 138-146.

Murray, M. M., Ackerman-Spain, K., Williams, E. U. and Ryley, A. T. (2011). Knowledge is Power: Empowering the Autism Community through Parent–Professional Training. The School Community Journal, 21(1), 19-36.   Retrieved from http://www.schoolcommunitynetwork.org/SCJ.aspx

Tucker, V. and Schwartz, I. (2013). Parents’ Perspectives of Collaboration with School Professionals: Barriers and Facilitators to Successful Partnerships in Planning for Students with ASD. School Mental Health, 5(3), p. 3-14.

Zablotsky, B., Boswell, K. and Smith, C. (2012).  An Evaluation of School Involvement and Satisfaction of Parents of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 117(4), p. 316-330.

What to read next?

SEND provision: my three-stage plan for school improvement

Transition for autism: what does the research tell us?

 

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