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Disabled parents and schools: barriers to parental involvement in children's education

Ken Hammond, Head Teacher at Fairview Junior School in Gillingham, Kent, UK and Jeff Holman of the Education Department, National Association of Head Teachers, UK, review Disabled parents and schools: barriers to parental involvement in children's education, Jenny Morris, 2004, London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. ISBN 1 85935 207 3. Price: £8.95 (plus £2 P&P) Order print copies online from www.jrf.org.uk/bookshop or direct from York Publishing Services. Tel: 01904 430033. For alternative formats contact JRF Communications Department. Tel: 01904 615906

Rich food for thought

In her latest booklet, Jenny Morris raises important issues faced by disabled parents with children of school age.

As a head teacher with many years' experience, I found this publication both thought provoking and, at times, worrying. She has frequently drawn upon the anecdotal experiences of disabled parents which help to powerfully illustrate wide-ranging issues that some face when entering their children into the education system.

Within some schools parents found teachers and other support staff who understood their needs. This clearly helped to develop a sound relationship between home and school which, in turn, would support children in their learning and general development. However, this was not always the case, and some schools demonstrated a negative and insensitive approach to disabled parents leaving them feeling ill-informed and left on the boundary of school life.

Through government initiatives, schools are now generally far more inclusive. However, Jenny Morris provides rich food for thought about just how much more needs to be done to enable disabled parents to take an active role in the life of the school. Improving physical access to schools does not always address the even greater issue - the need to change attitudes towards disabled people. Physical access is at times simply the tip of the iceberg. More thought needs to be given to other parents who perhaps are blind, partially sighted, hearing impaired or possibly experiencing learning difficulties.

This publication is not only a helpful guide to parents with disabilities but should be read by all within the education service in order to further enhance understanding.

Ken Hammond

Provoking discussion

There has been a strong focus in recent years on how schools can meet the needs of disabled children.

Perhaps less attention has been given to the difficulties that a disabled parent can face in becoming involved in their child's education. This book usefully explores how these difficulties can arise in a number of contexts, such as finding information, access and becoming involved in the child's education.

While noting unhelpful attitudes displayed by some schools, the book points out ways in which potential complexities can be overcome with thought and good will on both sides. Examples given include a ramp for a wheelchair user and provision to help a partially sighted parent. Some ideas can be implemented more readily, and at less cost, than others. The book recognises that some support, for example the provision of a Sign Language interpreter, can be expensive.

This is a helpful book. It raises issues which need to be thought about by schools, local education authorities and the Department for Education and Skills. It urges all parties to consider the potential needs of disabled parents, and what can be done to ensure they can take a full part in the education of their children. The recommendations in the book should provoke useful discussion within a school, in the context of its own group of parents.

Jeff Holman

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 47, Summer 2004.

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