Derry Patterson considers some creative ways to involve parents and pupils in target setting.

Most practitioners would agree with involving parents and pupils in decisions. Listening to pupils’ views as part of target setting is crucial to help them fulfil their potential. Most parents have a clear idea of the outcomes they wish for their children. Roulestone & Lindsay (2011) found independence and social inclusion were the most commonly reported desired outcomes among parents of pupils with speech, language and communication needs. However the Lamb enquiry (2009) into special educational needs and parental confidence reported that parents often felt they did not have enough opportunities to discuss the outcomes they wanted for their children or how best to achieve them.

How do you reach out to more parents?

Engaging parents can be challenging with schools having to be increasingly creative in their approaches. Gross (2013) describes an initiative called talking boxes which was used in a group of schools in Cheshire. Parents were invited in to decorate a box with their child. The box was then filled with things that were meaningful to the child. This approach enabled schools to begin a dialogue with parents.

Most schools involve parents when setting targets for SEN pupils but many parents feel they are simply being asked to agree to the targets set by practitioners. It is much more challenging, but ultimately more effective, to ask parents what long term goals they would like their children to achieve and then work backwards to establish small steps towards these outcomes.

Hayley Goleniowska (2013) surveyed parents to find out what they wanted from SENCos. Parents wanted SENCos to remember that the overall aim for all children was independence. Goleniowska cautions us not to lose sight of the big picture in the pressure for pupils to achieve. If the overall aim is for independence, small goals are as valid a measure of successful progress as attainment data. A very good way to measure successful progress is through consideration of pupils’ views.

Pupil voice

Work has focused on how pupils feel about their environment with some emphasis on the content of lessons. However less attention has been given to what pupils want to learn and the skills they want to develop. Roulestone and McLeod (2011) investigated the views of pupils with speech, language and communication needs and found a mismatch between targets set for pupils and what the pupils themselves wanted to change. They highlight the importance of considering quality of life measures such as happiness and friends alongside skills to be developed.

It can be challenging to collect this information from pupils with SLCN and other special needs. Young children find it difficult to self-reflect and pupils with SLCN may have additional challenges understanding the questions or expressing their ideas.

Here are some ways to engage pupils in the target setting process

Fishing game

Make fish with quality of life words written on them, e.g. happy, sad, worried, relaxed, hard, easy, confused etc. The child selects a fish and then has to talk about things that make them feel that way.

Picture conversations

Ask young pupils to draw a picture of themselves talking to someone. Use the picture to discuss what the conversation is about, e.g. Who is in the picture? Why do you like talking to them? What are you talking about?

Helpful Teachers

Draw a large outline of a person. Ask children to think of things that make that person a good helpful teacher. Write these words around the outline of the body.

Story Board

Use a visual timetable alongside some facial expression cards denoting happy, sad and worried faces. Talk through the pupil’s experience of the day to work out the pressure situations and what the child would like to change. Use this as a basis for developing strategies to make changes.

Camera Missions

Ask older pupils to complete a mission using disposable cameras or a digital camera, e.g. A day in my life, A tour of the school, Things in school I want to change. To find out more about any of these approaches see Roulestone, S. & McLeod, S. (2011) Listening to children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. Guildford: J&R Press.

Visit The Link Online to download our free pupil’s views target setting sheet.


Lamb, B. (2009) The Lamb Enquiry. Special educational needs and parental confidence. Nottingham: DCSF Available from

Goleniowska, H. (2013) What do parents think of SENCOs? SEN Magazine, Issue 63, March 2013, pp 26-27

Gross, J. (2013) Time to talk: Implementing outstanding practice in speech, language and communication. London: Routledge pp 136-145.

Roulestone, S. & McLeod, S. (2011) Listening to children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. Guildford: J&R Press

Roulestone, S. & Lindsay, G. (2012) The perspectives of children and young people who have speech, language and communication needs and their parents.

London: DFE Available from

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