Parents’ evenings often feel rushed and you can sometimes come away feeling that you have perhaps gained very little additional and constructive knowledge about your child and their progress. It is of course a very uplifting experience if the teachers are full of nothing but praise for your child. However, if your child is struggling for one reason or another, it can be depressing in equal measure and you can feel short-changed in terms of time and opportunities to discuss how any issues might be resolved. Here are a few tips to help.
Save the date
Get the date in your diary well in advance to make sure you are able to attend. If both parents are available, all the better as you may need to divide to conquer if time is short. If divorced or separated try to put personal differences aside and attend together, so your child knows both parents are engaged in their education and can praise, support and encourage from a position of the same knowledge.
Read the last school report to remind yourself of any issues you wished to raise with particular subject teachers. Sit down with your child and discuss how they feel they are getting on at school before you go and ask them if there are any issues they would like you to raise. Make notes so you can use the time with each teacher in the most constructive way.
Use the time wisely
If the school has a system where your child books appointments on your behalf with teachers in advance, make sure they do not just book you in with the teachers who they know will praise them! If there are lots of teachers to see and two of you, consider doing some meetings separately so you can cover more subjects and then compare notes at the end over a glass of red wine! This can also work well if the school operates a queuing system on the night.
You should come away from each meeting with a view on how engaged your child is in lessons, their ability to contribute to class discussion, to ask questions and to organise both their classwork and homework, as well as the knowledge of where your child’s attainment sits within expected targets for their age. Are they challenged and working at a pace which matches their ability? Make brief notes on each meeting for reference later on. When you have seen many teachers you may forget who said what!
If you have siblings at the school try not to drift into conversation about another child. If you run out of time with a teacher and feel that there is more to discuss, ask for a follow-up appointment on another day, when there will be more time to resolve your worries or the teacher’s concerns. If time is short, make sure you prioritise time with the tutor, as they will have a good overview of how your child is progressing across all subjects and perhaps point out subject areas where you might focus your time. They will also give you an overview of pastoral matters such as how your child integrates socially with peers, their organisational skills, time-keeping etc.
Remember education should be broad in opportunities. In addition to progress in core academic subjects, allocate time to speaking with teachers of sport, music, drama, art, design and technology etc. This will give you an all-round picture of your child. Sometimes these teachers will find it easier to pick up on pastoral matters, since they see your child in a less structured environment.
Although the head teacher is usually available, use this time for conversation about small points. This is not the time to launch into lengthy discussions regarding major concerns you might have about your child or the school as a whole. If you have these, call the Head’s PA and book an appointment to meet in private at another time.
Feedback and follow up
Spend some time with your child afterwards sharing with them what the teachers have said. Praise them where they have done well, discuss any difficulties that were raised and how these might be resolved going forward.
Remember the parents’ evening is not the only time you should communicate with the teachers at school. If, at any point in the year, you have concerns regarding progress in a particular subject or pastoral welfare, contact the school and arrange a call or meeting with the tutor or subject teacher as soon as possible. Regular communication between parent and school will mean little things are nipped in the bud and are less likely to become major problems.
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