Annual review tips

Some parents may find it extremely daunting to attend meetings at school.

Annual Review meetings can be particularly stressful due to the formal procedures to be followed.  The school is legally required to ask parents or guardians a series of questions, complete mandatory paperwork and discuss the report in full.  This type of formality can make parents nervous and uncomfortable.

Annual Review meetings can also be emotionally stressful.  Assessment reports tend to focus on a child’s difficulties and so a parent is reading and hearing about all the things his or her child cannot do, which can lead to feelings of negativity and upset.  The Annual Review meeting is only one of many appointments the parents may have with health and education professionals and it can be emotionally draining to be repeatedly reminded of a child’s difficulties.

It is important for professionals to assess a child and identify difficulties at this then forms the basis for goal setting and intervention plans, which will ultimately help a child to develop and learn skills.  There are, however, strategies a parent can use to reduce the stress and emotion of attending an Annual Review meeting.  The crucial factor to remember is to always focus on a child’s strengths and qualities.

Tips for Parents Attending Annual Review Meetings
Ensure you have read the Annual Review report before attending the meeting and complete the parent contribution.

If you require advice about the legal parts of the process, you can seek advice from specialist agencies and voluntary services.  This may be particularly relevant at key times, such as during the statementing process, transition to post-primary school, transition to adult service.

Ask who will be attending the meeting.

It can be daunting walking into a room with several professionals’ present.  If you feel overwhelmed by the number of people due to attend, ask if this number can be reduced.  It may be possible that some professionals only attend part of the meeting or that you can arrange separate meetings, for example, you may wish to arrange a meeting with the speech therapist or occupational therapist at a separate time.

Consider bringing a family member or advocate with you.

If you feel anxious about the meeting, it may help to bring someone to support you.  This could be a friend or family member.  Some voluntary agencies may also offer a service where a member of their staff can accompany you.

Focus on your child’s strengths and skills

Consider all the achievements and progress your child has made and record these on the parental contribution form.

You can open the meeting by discussing your child’s strengths and achievements, or ask the professionals present to discuss these first.  This will start the meeting in a positive frame and may then make it less emotionally stressful when you are discussing areas of difficulty.

If you feel the reports focus too heavily on difficulties and do not place adequate importance on strengths and skills, state this in your feedback, and ask for the report to highlight strengths and achievements.  Do remember, however, that it is important that areas of difficulty are highlighted as this will inform goal setting and learning programmes.

Be involved in goal setting

Read the goals set for your child and consider if they are realistic and relevant.  If you have concerns, express these and make suggestions for how the goals could be amended.

Share information and ideas

Remember that the meeting is a 2-way process.  The education staff know your child best in the school setting but you know your child best in the home setting and in other environments outside the home.  Inform the education professionals of the skills your child has at home, as they may not have had the opportunity to observe these in school.  Equally, they will be able to tell you the skills and strengths observed in school, which you could transfer to the home environment.  Your child, for example, may be packing his or her own school bag in school and so you could encourage him or her to do this at home also.  You may know that your child can tie shoe laces independently but perhaps the classroom assistant has been doing this for him or her in school. Sharing information will empower you and the professional team to make the best decisions for your child.

Share the strategies that are effective.  You will know, which strategies are most effective for your child at home, for example, the use of visual schedules, sensory-based activities, quiet spaces. Discuss these with the professionals at the meeting as they may not be aware of the strategies used at home.  Listen also to the strategies that they find effective in the school setting and then agree a consistent approach.  If very different strategies are being used, it may be confusing for the child, limit his or her ability to achieve goals and may lead to behavioural difficulties.  A consistent approach may help the child to develop new skills and achieve greater independence across all settings.

Involve the child/young person

If your child has not been invited to the meeting, ask if he or she can attend.  Attendance at the whole meeting may be overwhelming and unsuitable, but the young person may wish to attend the first part of the meeting to provide his or her input, or to attend the last part of the meeting to hear a summary of what was discussed.

If the young person does not wish to attend the meeting, try to give him or her the opportunity to provide some input, which you can then communicate at the meeting on his or her behalf.  Some young people may be able to read the report and freely give feedback; others may require specific questions to get their input.  Examples of questions you could ask are:

  • What have you enjoyed about school this year?
  • What have you found difficult in school this year?
  • What improvements/progress do you think you have made?
  • What achievements have made you proud this year?
  • What would you like more help with in school?
  • What would you like to improve in at school?

Involving the young people in the annual review process may give them a sense of empowerment as they are being actively involved in decisions about their daily lives and futures.

Make notes during the meeting

It is very difficult to remember all that is discussed at a meeting, so think of a way to record the information so you can read through it again at another time.  You could make the notes or if you bring someone with you, ask that person to record notes, so you can keep your attention on the discussion.  Alternatively, ask the teacher if minutes of the meeting are being recorded and if you could receive a copy.