The term ‘parents’ evening’ may send a nostalgic shiver down your spine from your own school days – but in actual fact, these sessions are a great way to get an insight into how your child is doing in school.
Whether referred to as ‘parents’ evenings’ or ‘parent consultation evenings’, schools are required by law to let parents and carers know how their child(ren) is(are) doing academically.
Research shows that children whose parents are positively engaged in their education tend to perform better and attending parents’ evening certainly sends a positive message to your child.
‘Parents’ evenings provide parents with a rare opportunity to talk directly with the people who educate and supervise their child at school,’ explains The Good Schools Guide’s managing editor, Melanie Sanderson.
‘It’s these conversations about a child’s performance and, sometimes, behaviour which often do a far better job at conveying how they’re getting on than the termly written accounts which can be brief and light on nuance.’
With five-minute slots, multiple teachers to identify and chat to and plenty of varied feedback, it can be a fast-paced and high-pressure event. We asked Sanderson for her tips on getting the most out of the evening.
Should you talk to your child about school to avoid any surprises?
‘A good school will have raised any serious concerns with you before parents’ evening, so if you get that far without any red flags you should be looking forward to a constructive conversation.
‘Talking to your child ahead of the evening will always give you important insight into what they think is going well and not so well and they may even ask you to raise an issue with a particular teacher.
‘Some parents automatically keep a close eye on homework grades, test results and any comments teachers may leave at the end of a piece of marked work but, if you haven’t had a glance at your child’s work for a few months, it may be a useful way to prepare for parents’ evening.’
Who should go?
‘Different schools, different rules. Parents, guardians and even grandparents can attend if they share a chunk of the childcare and supervision.
‘It is not uncommon for children to attend their parents’ evenings, particularly in secondary school, but you should check to see what the school allows.
‘Having a child there naturally changes the dynamic of the discussions and limits the openness of conversations but in some situations, it can be really beneficial for the child to witness a teacher giving parents a detailed description of their performance.’
What should I expect?
More often than not parents will already know what’s to come, especially if they’ve already spoken to their child about school.
‘A certain amount of constructive criticism is to be expected at parents’ evenings but one would hope the teacher can come up with positives too.
‘Each school does parents’ evenings differently but they tend to be busy with no one quite having as much time as they would like. Certain teachers are always more chatty than others. Those are the ones where a queue starts to appear!’
What are useful questions to ask?
Parents should come armed with questions but remember in most cases it’s better to listen to the feedback and observations rather than bombard the teachers with your questions.
‘They will come to the meeting well prepared with data on your child (test scores etc) and their own thoughts.
‘Find out what they have to say first and save questions for the end. They are likely to address these before you ask them anyway.
‘Resist the urge to put teachers on the spot regarding future success or how your child compares against others. Do, however, ask how you can enrich your child’s learning or how you can help support them through any tricky patches.
‘Education is rife with acronyms and abbreviations and teaching methods have probably changed since you were at school – particularly with maths and science – so always ask for clarification if you don’t understand something.’
What should you prioritise if you don’t have much time with the teacher?
‘Everyone has different priorities and ensuring your child achieves top grades is not the be-all and end-all for all parents.
‘But if you have academic ambitions for your child, make the best of your limited time by asking how their current performance compares to their potential and what can be done at home to help bridge the gap.’
Should you take notes?
‘Children who do well at school often have parents who are fully tuned in to what they are studying and how they are progressing. If taking notes helps you to keep abreast of that, then go for it!’
How can you deal with criticism of your child – especially in front of them?
‘Parents’ evenings should be an opportunity for constructive feedback rather than criticism and, as long as it doesn’t seem personal or unfair (teachers are human after all!) you should accept constructive criticism in the spirit in which it is meant.
‘Don’t enter into debate or argument there and then. If you feel you need to get to the bottom of a surprising criticism, speak privately to your child first and make an appointment to speak to the teacher again on another day.’
Should you be providing feedback to teachers?
‘Teachers do want to hear what you have to say too. Tell them if your child enjoys their subject or if they found a particular topic difficult.
‘Such are the time constraints around parents’ evenings, it’s best to keep any major issues for another time though. It should always be possible to fix a time to speak with the headteacher or your child’s form teacher or tutor.’
Should you follow up afterwards?
‘If parents’ evening has highlighted particular issues which you subsequently want to address with your child, it certainly makes sense for you to follow up with the teacher some weeks or months further down the line.
‘You can enquire whether behaviour has improved or if they have upped their performance in a particular subject.’