What to do and ask if your child is struggling at school

By School House

5 years ago

Dr Susanna Pinkus Head of Learning Skills and SENDCo at Harrow School, gives her advice for if your child is struggling in school

Maybe in their early days at school, your child was happy and thriving. However, recently you just have a hunch that something is not quite as it should be. Perhaps you are worried about a passing comment made by your child’s teacher or you feel that your child is struggling more than their friends with some aspects of classwork. Or maybe you have spotted that your child has ongoing difficulties concentrating or forming friendships.

Knowing when to watch and wait, and when to intervene can be a tricky call for parents to make. Most youngsters will, at some point or other, experience some wobbly moments as they grow up and move through the education system. There will naturally be times where they don’t click with a particular teacher, or just can’t get to grips with a specific subject. These moments are usually fleeting and are to be expected.

advice for if your child is struggling in school
Harrow School, London

Yet for other children, there will be a pattern of more persistent difficulties. Sometimes these are very obvious from the start or may be manifest in a more subtle way. This can be the case for any of the children in a class – a child who is verbally very capable and tries their hardest but still has relative difficulties with spelling or reading will find school just as hard as a child who is excelling academically but struggles understanding and forming friendships.

In some cases, where children’s well-being and progress at school is compromised, early assessment can be vital. It is identifying and understanding that the child is experiencing an issue and putting a support plan in place which is important. Whether or not there is an underpinning condition (or conditions) such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it is important for parents to know what to ask, and at what stage to investigate further.

So how and where to begin?

If these concerns have been going on for a while, it is best to schedule a meeting with the right school personnel who can advise. For example, you may wish to ask for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Co-ordinator (SENDCo) to be present in addition to the class teacher or tutor.

Avoid having the meeting at the end of the school day, where your child sits outside or needs to attend the meeting with you. Keeping things very low key is usually best. Whilst letting your child know you will be helping them, support is generally best when it is co-ordinated behind the scenes, especially for younger children. For older children, it may be useful and appropriate for them to attend some or all of the meeting (but do check with the school’s SENDCo first).

advice for if your child is struggling in school
(Getty Images)

Within the meeting you will want to understand your child’s strengths at school, as well as their needs. Asides from being reassuring, you and the school will want to build on these strengths when deciding on any programmes of support and when conveying this to your child.

In advance of the meeting, consider sending a brief email listing the key issues you want to discuss and information you would like to gather. If you prefer, take someone with you to take notes at the meeting so you can focus on what is being discussed.

By asking the right questions (listed below), you will be in a better position with the school to understand the difficulties and how you can work together to support your child:

1.      Is your child making progress both from their starting point at the school, and so far, during this academic year?

2.      How does your child’s attainment compare to those expected nationally for their age?

3.      Does your child’s attainment differ across subjects?

4.      What do the school see as your child’s strengths?

5.      What are the school’s concerns?

6.      Do they think there could be any underpinning conditions which need further investigation? If so, when and by whom?

7.      Has your child formed strong friendships in the class?

8.      Does your child pick up social cues easily or have any observed difficulties in this area?

9.      Is behaviour at all a concern; are they easily distracted? If so, when?

10.   How can you and the school work together to help address any presenting difficulties and best support your child?

After the meeting, send a brief summary of points discussed and action points agreed to maintain the focus and momentum. Consider asking to schedule another meeting to review progress possibly at around half term.

Dr Susanna Pinkus

By Dr Susanna Pinkus, inclusion specialist and writer (drsusannapinkus.com). She is also the Head of Learning Skills and SENDCo at Harrow School.