Attending a parents’ evening for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Not only are you unsure how the evening will be run and what will be expected of you, but you are pulled in numerous directions by the variety of individuals you might be keen to meet, from the Head and teachers, to new parents and friends. Being prepared for the event not only relieves any anxieties, but also ensures you get the most from the occasion.
The evenings vary in format from school to school. They tend to be held in the school halls or gyms with individual teachers at tables with chairs where you join them for meetings. Generally, you will be allowed a designated time with each subject teacher, 10 or 15 minutes if you are lucky! Some schools allow you to book times with particular teachers in advance, but the majority run queuing systems where you line up to take your turn. Parents’ evenings generally take place in the autumn and summer terms, however, some schools host them every term. These events are usually held for one or two year groups at one time, so it is possible that you will have to plan for several evenings each term if you have more than one child and this only gets more complicated if you are also dealing with several schools.
You can find below our top tips to get the most out of the evening:
Reserve the date early: Make sure you know the date and time of the evening for your child right at the beginning of each term. They often come up within the first month and so it is easy to be caught out and already have other plans.
Make sure both parents attend. You are both equally important in your role supporting your child and need to both understand their progress and how to best guide and nurture them. If parents are separated, speak to the schools about the possibility of separate appointments if the personal situation is such that you are not happy to meet with the teachers together.
Do your research in advance: Parents evenings are a great time to understand more about the curriculum or general school policies. It is your time to meet informally with the decision makers. Use the school website to ensure you know which member of staff has particular responsibilities so you can plan who you want to meet. For example, who is Head of Curriculum or who is responsible for pastoral care, sport, music, or art? Now is your time to learn more about any specific queries, such as how to take an internal scholarship or what sort of support you will have to give your child at home whilst they are preparing for exams, or when the next external music exams are planned.
Understand your child’s concerns: Spend time with your child in advance to discuss each subject area. What are they enjoying? What do they find easy? What is proving hard? Is there anything which might be affecting their performance such as position in the classroom, who sits next to them? Chat about friends, sport, music, art and the non-academic subjects since these are also a key part of your child’s success and happiness. Be aware that your child is highly likely to steer you towards the teachers of the subjects they like and excel in, while carefully avoiding those they perhaps struggle with. It is of course important to hear praise for your child’s achievements, but it is also an important opportunity to discuss and resolve any difficulties they may be having.
Make a plan: Based on your conversation with your child and your own thoughts decide which teacher/subjects you want to meet and what you would like to discuss. If short of time, ensure you focus on the core subjects such as English and Maths since these are critical to your child’s future success.
Divide Forces! On the evening, if you need to meet with a large number of staff, split up and decide who will meet whom. This will make the evening much more productive and quicker.
Meet the classroom teacher/tutor: This is a priority. Sometimes children are in a range of classes where their form teacher doesn’t teach them for many subjects; however, form teachers tend to act as their mentor or tutor. They are responsible for seeing them at the beginning and end of the day. They also tend of be the point of contact for all other teachers to feedback any concerns. They should understand your child’s general progress and happiness, their personality at school and how they fit into the year group. Working together with the form teacher is a key part of your helping to support your child at school.
Ask for more: Don’t be intimidated by the 5-10 minute rule. Obviously you can’t go too long over the designated period but if you still feel you haven’t had sufficient time, ask for a separate meeting at later period to finish the conversation. Get agreement when this might be with the teacher at the time.
Take notes: Don’t be afraid to take notes during the conversation or afterwards. There will be a lot of information to absorb and it is useful to have a record of what was said to review before the next evening, or for discussions with your child afterwards or during the term. This is particularly important if parents don’t meet the teachers together.
Get to know the Head Teacher: The Head Teacher generally attends these meetings and this is an excellent opportunity to have informal conversations and understand more about general strategy or the future direction of the school. It is always good to discuss what you or your child enjoy about the school as it is sometimes nice for a Head teacher to hear the good things as well as resolving problems or issues. You may have to visit them at a later period with some criticism and challenges, so make sure you have built a good relationship with the head by having some positive conversations first!
Have a de-brief: Allow sufficient time to discuss what you learnt , what you might want to do to support your child more at home and whether you need any more discussion with the school on certain issues. Perhaps you can plan dinner in the pub afterwards; you certainly deserve a drink after the evening and the babysitter is probably already at home!