Politics and personalities in the SEN jungle

Like me, my co-contributor, Debs Aspland, grew up in the call-a-spade-a-spade, working class, north-west of England.  Also like me, she has far too much to do trying to juggle work and care for her special needs children to have any time for the politics and game-playing that has so often, in the past, made lives difficult for parents trying to cut their way through the special needs jungle.

In this post, our Debs who, you will remember, is Director of Kent’s parent-carer forum, Kent PEPS, explores the different personalities we meet as parents and individuals in our daily lives and how thinking about this – and your own approach – can help you navigate the system to get the best help for your child.


Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.

Arnold Bennett

Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by politics and personalities.

Debs Aspland

True co-production with parents is a goal that came out of Aiming High.  The Department for Education allocate a small grant each year to a Parent-Carer Forum within each local authority, with the remit that they work with health, education, social care and other providers to ensure that the services they provide are the services that families want and need.  Fantastic, what a great way forward!

However, the DfE forgot to tell the health, education, social care and other providers that they had to work with the Parent-Carer Forums.

Some local authorities already had parents they used as representatives and others had  groups they already worked with.  Some Parent-Carer Forums have overcome this and become very well established.  They have great relationships with their local authority and in these areas, the families are really reaping the benefits.  In some areas, the relationship is definitely improving and in other areas, well, the relationship is strained to say the least.  So why the difference?

This is where the joy of personalities comes in to play.  Not just the personalities of the Local Authority officers but also the personalities of the parents involved in the Forums.

Recently, I took part in a presentation about personalities and how there is a need to deal differently with different personality types.  The segmentation we looked at was based on Cultural Dynamics and they split personalities into three segments (each of these is than segmented again so you end up with 12 different personalities).

pioneerThe three main types are:

Settlers:  Like things to stay the same, wary of change, comfortable with routines

Prospectors:  success driven, like to be the “best” at everything, like new ideas and new ways

Pioneers: self assured, self driven, generally positive about changes which offer a better option, strong desire for fairness & equality.

So, you can appreciate the difficulties that any change can face.  If you have a pioneering parent and a settler LA officer, there will be a clash.  If you have a pioneering LA officer and a prospector parent, again, there can be difficulties.  If you have two parents on a forum with different personality types, this can cause even bigger issues.

I took the test and I am a pioneer.  I am further segmented into the sub-group  Transcender (a Scout for the Pioneers).  One of the characteristics is a need for openness in my life and this is very accurate.  I am not a fan of secrecy, confidential meetings or cherry-picked  representatives, but I also know that I am working with prospectors and settlers so I need to take into account their need to be the “best”, have control, or for things to just stay the same.

Frustrating, believe me, but one of the characteristics of a pioneer is that we are cautiously optimistic about the future.  Despite all of the politics and personalities, I truly do believe that things will change for the better but I think we have several battles of personalities ahead and some political tweaks are definitely going to be needed (and just to make it more fun, we have to remember that politicians have personality-types too)!

Oh well, if we were all the same, life could become very dull and routine – as a non-Settler, I prefer the challenge of change.

You can read more about the types and even take the test yourself online.  I’d be really interested in knowing which type you come out as and how you like people to approach you.  That may help us all to develop some much-needed skills in working with people.

Leave a comment


  1. I just took the test and I’m a Pioneer too (was it the question about home decorating that clinched it?) but I didn’t get to be a Transcender

    • Which sub-category did you make it to, Fiona? Would love to hear how people came out and whether they thought it truly reflected their personality.

      • erm I didn’t get to a subcategory at all, praps something I didn’t spot I had to click on (does that make me a slacker Pioneer?)

        Incidentally you’ve seen SEN legislation is due to be published at half seven this morning?

      • Fiona, did you get an email, there is a link in that which takes you to sub category.
        Yes, DfE website on ready!!

  2. I would just like people to be honest and not tell me lies about access to services for my disabled child.

    • Sandy, sorry to hear that you have had some bad experiences. As part of the pathfinder for the SEN reforms, we are always looking at how parents want to access information. What would be good for you? Do you prefer face to face contact or a website that offers you the information you need? How do you currently find out what your child can access?

  3. Nicola

     /  February 4, 2013

    I’m a transcender pioneer too. I would agree with the description except I’m not sure I’m always quick to forgive!!!!

    • Hello Nic, fellow transcender. I found it quite interesting especially when I realised my hubby is probably a settler. Explains a lot.

  4. katie clarke

     /  February 5, 2013

    Hi guys, just wondering – what about the parents who have been there, got the Tshirt, frustrated with the local council that they have not been listened to, and put off new blood coming into the forum plus they alienate the local authority???????????? which category do they fit in.?!!!!

  5. Debs, in reply to the question: my first point of call would be the internet, but when one has the opportunity to speak face to face (or on the phone), it would be helpful if the person was able to give information/advice, or tell you where to access useful information, rather than fob you off. My negative experiences do seem to have been down to politics, i.e. entrenched attitudes and basic incompetence, rather than things not being available.

  1. Draft SEN Code of Practice: Further views | Special Needs Jungle

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