Toby Lester
5 minutes length
Posted: 17th October 2019

Making the most of parents' evenings

Parent teacher evenings are a wonderful opportunity for parents to get involved with their child’s education.

Usually held twice a year, autumn term meetings serve as a good opportunity to build strong and productive relationships with teachers, with spring meetings ideal for picking up areas requiring attention before the end of the school year.

In secondary school, the format changes. Rather than just one meeting with their child’s class teacher, parents sit with individual subject teachers, attending multiple short sessions throughout the evening. For new parents, meetings may feel a little rushed, occasionally bordering on hectic. However, secondary school parents’ evenings remain a great opportunity for teachers and parents to catch up and, for this reason, it’s important to prepare in advance and make the most of the short window of time you get.

School staff spend many hours collating data and information in preparation for parents’ evenings. Unfortunately, sometimes the parents’ perspective can be overlooked when planning for these important events.

Feeling rushed

Time is always at a premium during parents’ evenings. Busy teachers can have over 30 sessions per evening depending on their class or year group. However, in my experience as a deputy head and class teacher for 25 years, as well as working with parents and families as a parent coach, it’s a good idea to ensure parents don’t feel rushed.

For the evening to be a productive experience for everyone involved, parents need to feel listened to, as well as spoken to. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a teacher is clock watching. A parent who leaves feeling as though their appointment was both meaningful and beneficial will feel positively engaged with their child’s education.

It is almost inevitable that meetings will overrun, so try to allow time between appointments. While extending the time of all appointments is impractical for most schools, providing the opportunity for parents to book another time to continue the conversation always works well, be it a phonecall, face to face or Skype meeting. A brief follow-up email has also proven successful for many schools, improving relationships whilst solving any time-related issues.

Flexibility, mobility and convenience

Whether balancing work commitments, child-care or family life, parents often struggle to book appointments to suit their busy schedules. This sometimes results in families opting out of parents’ evening completely; this is also a consideration for divorced parents attempting to navigate the choppy waters of joint meetings.  

Making the booking process quick, simple and convenient can vastly improve turnout on the evening; this is something that ParentMail has taken into account when building their free mobile app and Parents’ Evening Manager platform. For parents, selecting appointments is speedy and secure. Schools can send multiple invitations to various family members, facilitating the needs of split families to ensure both parents have the opportunity to attend this all-important event.  

There’s more to raising a happy, confident child than their data

Of course, communicating grades and information is important for a child’s progression, particularly for those studying for GCSEs and A-Levels. However, many parents still appreciate hearing less about data and more about their child as an individual. Data means only so much to a parent, with many preferring a holistic view of their child; their friendships, mental wellbeing and happiness, behaviour in class and attitude towards learning, for example. For parents, this information is just as important as their child’s academic performance.

Don’t play things down

While most parents will argue they want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on parents’ evening, it is vital for teachers consider the way in which they deliver such truths!

Sharing difficult information with parents is tricky, no doubt about it. However, there are ways to do so without causing offence or hostility. From personal experience, I find maintaining a positive and enthusiastic attitude very helpful while delivering difficult information. Be prepared with an anecdote of the child’s personal strength. The ‘sandwich technique’ bookends constructive feedback with praise; in other words, feedback ‘sandwiched’ between two layers of positivity.

While it may feel daunting to feedback negativity about a child, most parents understand how important it is for a teacher to communicate honestly about their child’s behaviour and academic performance. Building bridges between home and school has been shown in many studies to aid the wellbeing, success and academic achievement of children.

Co-parenting

Most schools are aware of catering for divorced, separated and step-families. Building an environment in which all members of the family feel welcomed and comfortable goes an awfully long way in supporting students, with mindful communications between parents and schools helping to ease tension or awkward encounters. Home/school communication plays a very important role in the run-up to parents evening.

It’s important to make sure that every parent or care giver has the opportunity to be involved in their child’s education by knowing the dates and times of parents’ evening. So, by simply checking and updating contact details, schools can make the difference between a positive or negative experience for parents. This level of attention to detail and proactive thought will be greatly appreciated by parents.

Additional needs

Parents’ evenings play a vital role when it comes to supporting children with special educational needs. It’s important for parents of children with additional needs to feel that their child is being nurtured and prepared well through their Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – parents’ evening may be one of the few opportunities for parents to understand how the school is supporting their child.

An essential part of becoming an informed partner is knowing the right questions to ask on both sides and to work in partnership towards the best outcomes for the child. It’s also beneficial for parents and teachers to book in a regular review meeting so they can work together to monitor how the child is progressing. More frequent communication, such as requesting a quick telephone catch up or a weekly after school meeting can also be a good idea, especially if a new programme of support has recently started.

Re-defining parents’ evenings

Back in 1997, the government’s white paper ‘Excellence in Schools’ suggested that providing parents with information is a key element in building successful home-school partnerships.

The good news is, schools are increasingly utilising technology to improve the quality of contact they have with parents. It is equally important for parents to stay up to date with the methods and channels schools use to engage and share news with them. If there is an app, for example, parents need to download it.

Parents’ evening is a fantastic opportunity to join forces and work together as a cohesive team for the benefit of children – so make the most of it!