The 1981 Education Act gave important new rights and entitlements to parents with regard to the procedures for assessing children’s special educational needs. These included not only the right to make representations but also the right to participate in decision-making as members of a multi-disciplinary assessment team. Yet, as we saw in Chapter 1, there continues to be strong evidence to suggest that parents remain at a serious disadvantage in their dealings with professionals.
This chapter draws on recent research carried out by the author on the role of parents in special needs assessments to examine their experience of the 1981 Act. It will be argued that there is a clear contradiction between the legal rights given to parents under the 1981 Act and the accounts parents give of the assessment procedures which are supposed to encourage their participation in decision-making. However, it will also be argued that there is evidence to suggest that parents do not passively accept their lack of power and may take action in support of their own objectives during their children’s assessments. In doing so parents identify and use sources of power that lie outside the official procedures of the assessment.
The research literature on parent-professional co-operation is extensive and much of this focuses upon the parents of children identified as having special educational needs. This research has consistently drawn attention to the strains placed on relations between parents and professionals whilst assessments of special needs under the 1981 Education Act are taking place (Goacher et al. 1988; Tomlinson 1981; Wood 1988). There may be many reasons for conflict at this stage. It can be an emotionally highly charged time for teachers as well as for parents, and both may experience