School counsellors’ beliefs regarding
collaboration with parents of students with
special educational needs in Flanders:
Parents as partners or opposites?
* , Karine Verschueren
and Elke Struyf
University of Antwerp, Belgium;
KU Leuven, Belgium
The literature shows that a good collaboration between the school and parents of students with spe-
cial educational needs (SEN) is not always present. However, school counsellors must collaborate
with SEN students’ parents to organise guidance trajectories for their child. This article examines
school counsellors’ experiences when collaborating with parents of SEN students and the factors
they perceive as contributing to good or difficult collaboration. Four focus groups in mainstream
education (N = 50) and one focus group in special education (N = 14) were conducted in Flanders.
A thematic analysis indicated that school counsellors generally find it difficult to collaborate with
parents of SEN students and that an expert attitude can emerge. The role of these parents is
described as limited, which is even preferred by some school counsellors. A deficit view is recog-
nised and the reasons for poor collaboration are mainly situated on the parents’ side, such as parents
that need more processing time to accept the SEN of their child and that show distrust towards the
school. School counsellors spontaneously referred to parents’ low socioeconomic and ethnic minor-
ity status as complicating factors for collaboration. They seem to feel incompetent to overcome
these collaboration difficulties. Various recommendations for schools are formulated.
Keywords: special educational needs; school counsellor; collaboration; parents
This study focuses on the interaction between the home and school environment in
organising guidance for students with special educational needs (SEN) in compulsory
education. Here, SEN students are defined as those students with mild to severe
physical, intellectual or emotional difficulties that require adaptions in class or school.
Key school professionals in the collaboration with parents of SEN students are school
counsellors. This study therefore explores how school counsellors in mainstream and
special compulsory education in Flanders experience collaborating with parents dur-
ing student guidance trajectories.
Collaboration in student guidance trajectories in Flanders and other countries is
described. Concerning the latter, student guidance in the UK and the Netherlands is
*Corresponding author. Department of Training and Educational Sciences, Faculty of Social
Sciences, University of Antwerp, Gratiekapelstraat 10, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium. E-mail: kathleen.-
© 2018 British Educational Research Association
British Educational Research Journal
Vol. 44, No. 3, June 2018, pp. 419–439