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James Harris

Hello and welcome to the Finding Common Ground pilot project...

My name is James Harris

    Why Finding Common Ground matters....

    During my time as a headteacher and senior leader in schools family, friends and acquaintances have often asked for my advice related to their child's progress and needs in secondary school. So often this has been around communication, understanding how schools work and what is possible, who to talk to and the right questions to ask.

    As a headteacher I have so often met with parents and carers who come in thinking that they need to battle for their child or who come in angry, upset or frustrated. This is particularly the case where children are not thriving in school or have possible educational needs. The level of conflict is stressful for all concerned and does not lead to collaboration in the interests of the child. So often the formal SEND system is seen as the only way in which to get support for a young person's needs when, in many cases, lower level intervention based on intelligent collaboration can address many issues.

    As a parent I have helped to bring up two sons with additional needs, now adults, who both found secondary school very challenging. Positive relationships and informed collaboration was the key to getting them through the secondary school system.

    So my personal and professional life has brought me to a point where I want to help parents and carers to work effectively with secondary schools. Knowledge empowers people and I am committed to supporting parents and carers to ask the right questions, to understand what is possible and to collaborate and seek common ground with the school so that their children are supported effectively and thrive as they should.

    How does the Finding Common Ground project work?

    Firstly, why is it needed?

    • Anyone who works in education knows that a significant number of children are not thriving in our schools - particularly at secondary level.  Nationally there are significant increases in mental health issues, student absence, applications for SEND provision and families opting for home education, particularly in some of the country’s most deprived areas.

    • Parents and carers are often frustrated by the school system which they consider doesn’t meet the needs of their child. Schools are reporting significant rises in vexatious complaints and anger from parents and carers.

    • Schools are subject to very significant external pressures relating to funding, staffing, resources, results and accountability.


    So what is the model?

    Finding Common Ground offers a model for a way forward - intelligent collaboration between parent/carer and school so that each child thrives.  Schools want to give their pupils the best possible chances for the future.  Parents/carers want the best for the children.   Building a positive relationship between family and school is essential for all, but particularly when the young person may have additional needs and is failing to thrive in school.


    A positive relationship is built on a shared understanding of what is possible.  Finding Common Ground offers independent advice to parents and carers so that they can engage positively with their child’s school.  This advice draws upon a deep understanding of the ways in which schools work, the pressures upon schools and their staff, current best practice and lived experience of working with children with additional needs.  As examples of the variety of the work, recent discussions have included explaining possible ways forward with a Year 11 who is refusing to go to school, possible reasonable adjustments for a child who is awaiting an autism diagnosis and the reasons why it may not be necessary to apply for an EHCP.


    The advice is independent - Finding Common Ground does not take sides - as the name says we provide knowledge and understanding to enable positive, constructive conversations and strong relationships to be built between school and family. This advice complements and signposts the work of other agencies and charities. 


    The pilot project ran between Sept 23 and Feb 24 and the outcomes were extremely positive - improved attendance,  reduced unnecessary applications for EHCP,  improved provision in schools and  improved parent/carer attitude towards school.  


    “It has shifted the balance and I now feel we have an equal partnership. My child is attending the school premises on a regular basis now. We still have setbacks and difficult days but they are happening much less. The atmosphere in our house has changed for the better.”

    “..given me guidance and knowledge I didn’t know previously. I now feel more confident in approaching the school in the right manner”

    “Thank you so much, its really helpful to speak to someone coming from a different perspective and understanding both sides”


    The project has attracted considerable interest from parents/carers, charities and professionals across the educational spectrum including a large number of people wanting to help. Recent articles about the project include those posted by Special Needs Jungle and the Inclusion Quality Mark.

    Finding Common Ground has now moved onto a secure footing as a permanent service and is expanding its work through further links with schools, Trusts, local authorities and charities.

    So what are the practicalities?

    The practicalities are simple.  The project is advertised through its website this website, social media and word of mouth.  A parent/carer contacts the project through the relevant email address (  A half-hour initial conversation is arranged and takes place online or over the phone.  Sometimes further information is provided by email and some families return for further discussions as appropriate.  A voluntary donation is suggested, but the service can be accessed for free so that cost is not a barrier to access.  

    In addition to the core advisory work the project provides confidential support, advice and training for school staff as well as speaking to groups and charitable organisations. A charge for these services is made to enable the core advisory work to be free to as many families as possible,


    To benefit from the pilot project email or text and I will be in touch


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