Meeting in the middle? A study of parent-professional partnerships

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26 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between a parent and their child who has SEN is one that, by necessity, is shared with a larger than usual group of professionals. It is perhaps inevitable, then, that this relationship has been an occasionally precarious one, with a potential for conflict due to differing perspectives and priorities. Although the ideal of partnership between parent and professional was originally defined in the Warnock Report in 1978 as a preference for equality, the constitution of partnership has continued to be viewed with a degree of caution. The contribution of parents in the education of their child has been a long-standing yet somewhat relegated feature of policy reform, where limited investigation of parents’ views has perpetuated the consensus that multiple perspectives are rarely obtained. This paper explores the premise of partnership in Northern Ireland, with reference to parents’ relationships with the cross-section of professionals who constitute an inevitable by-product of having a child with SEN. Specifically, it will refer to their perceived status as partners within procedural infrastructures, and identification of those factors that have challenged the premise of partnership. The paper will present some findings from a phenomenological study involving 20 parents. This represented the third and final stage of a large scale research study involving quantitative and qualitative data collection. In Northern Ireland, the dual prerogatives of special education and inclusion have acquired commensurate currency as part of an ongoing process of social reform and education rationalisation. This meant that much of the research was undertaken against a backdrop of emerging educational policy and legislation for SEN, disability and inclusion. It is a timely opportunity, then, to review existing challenges and to consider possible alternatives for future partnerships.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-268
JournalEuropean Journal of Special Needs Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Aug 2008


  • Parents
  • Professionals
  • Partnership
  • Children
  • Special Education


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