Are there any 2 words that can strike such fear and trepidation into the hearts of parents than "Parents Evening" (or Academic Review Days if you selected a whizzy school for your offspring.)
And yet Parents Evenings need not be such a frightening reminder of the inadequacy of our own school days - rather they should be taken as an opportunity to build a working relationship with the adult(s) we entrust with the education of our pride and joys.
As a parent and teacher with over 1,000 parental consultations under my belt, here are my 5 top tips for making the most of Parent Teacher Consultation Meetings.
There are not many opportunities in the school year to meet with your child's teacher to discuss their education. Most senior schools give you one opportunity per year, junior schools and the more forward thinking secondaries might give you 2 or even 3. So when the opportunity comes, grab it! What does it say to your child about the value you place on his/her education if you cannot be bothered to find out how they are getting on at school? It was no accident that the school I taught at with the worst record for behaviour and academic performance was also the school with the lowest turn out at Parents Evenings (30% at one Year 8 evening). This is a particularly important role for Dads to play. We are so often absent when it comes to our kids school lives so lets take these opportunities when they present themselves.
2. Do your research
The best consultations I hold are with parents who have done their research. Sit down with your child before the evening and find out about what they have been doing in class. What do they enjoy? What do they find difficult? Have a look on the school website and get the gist of the syllabus on offer. A teacher is much more likely to step away from the safety of bland pronouncements about how well your child is doing if you can ask them questions about specific aspects of the work they have been doing this term
3. Ask what you can do to help
I love it when parents ask me this question. It shows that you care and that you see yourself as playing an important role in the education of your child. Very few parents ask, however - so next time you are at a parents evening make a teachers day and ask them the question!
4. Don't go over your time slot
Parents Evenings are one of my favourite activities of the academic year. It is great to discuss a pupil's progress with the people who care the most. However, they are exhausting. So, please remember that you are not the only parent the teacher will be seeing that evening. You could be one of 30 - so if you have a 5 minute slot, aim at 4 minutes and give the teacher 60 seconds to drink his tea and find his bearings before he meets with his 7.25.
5. Remember it is YOUR child you are discussing NOT YOU!
It is easy to take teachers' comments about your child personally. It is easy to feel that a constructive criticism of your little one is actually a personal criticism of you. It is also easy to assume that just because you enjoyed History, or hated Geography, your child will do the same. Try to put your child first and place them at the centre of the discussion.
PS If you have a Year 6 pupil who is about to start secondary school you might like reading this post on how to prepare your Year 7 for big school.