Once a year, maybe twice, teachers around the country sit behind a desk waiting to meet parents and guardians from a particular year group/class. It’s usually after a long, busy day teaching. We’re usually very tired and hungry. It is a common feature that out of all the students/parents that have made appointments, it’s not really the ones you need to see.
I actually really enjoy meeting parents & guardians. It’s fascinating hearing what they say about their child and it’s often insightful, especially when the child is there.
You see a different side to many students. I’ve seen some be incredibly aggressive and rude to their parents and then others turn into meek and mild children as soon as their parent speaks.
But I often wonder what is the point of these once a year events. Why do some teachers/schools leave it to a set date on a calendar to share good and sometimes bad news about progress, attitude and behaviour? Whilst schools have ongoing assessment and reporting systems throughout the year a parent may access, do they all engage with it? Is the 3 hours sat in a chair, with trapped time, sometimes with gaps, the most effective use of time?
I propose that schools ditch parents evenings as we know them for the following…
- As soon as a child joins the school parents must provide a working, regularly checked email and phone number.
The following is for a secondary school
- ‘Contact weeks’ should be placed on the school calendar. I’m going to suggest every 4 weeks, however if a teacher sees students every fortnight they could only do this every 8 weeks. It might work well if departments staggered their contact weeks.
- During this week teachers should attempt to contact all students they teach who fit a certain criteria for that contact week. For example
- contact week 1 – all students whose attitude is a concern & a selected group for positive attitudes
- contact week 2 – all students who are not making progress in the first term & a selected group for good progress
- contact week 3 – all students who are not completing homework & a selected group that have completed exceptional homework
These weeks should not restrict any other contact with home, however they provide a focus for regular updates. It could be designed so every student receives contact home from their teacher at least once a term. I would argue that if you are a teacher of a core subject with few classes, this should be once a half term.
The contact doesn’t need to be detailed or onerous. A quick email that says:
Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms X,
Just letting you know that George’s attitude, behaviour and progress are all positive at the moment.
or a head of subject could ask for a ticked list of students who deserve a praise postcard home for the specific subject of contact week I.e homework . If the administration was set up to run smoothly, all the teacher would need to do would be to tick which students deserve a postcard from their class lists. Even for a teacher with 20 different classes it could be done reasonably quickly.
However, for those that are not achieving there must be two way communication. The parent needs to acknowledge the issue. Phone calls are always best, then followed by emails.
If a member of staff is entering data about a student on a system that in any way shows a concern the they must follow this with contact home. The sooner the better.
All actions must be recorded. If I teach a student for the first time in year 11 I should be able to read a file of all that has been done for the student and all home communication for the past 4 years. There should not be a ‘drop’ in communication just because I haven’t taught them before. In fact, as soon as a student gets a new teacher, especially at KS4, there should be an introductory call/email to establish the new teacher-parent relationship. It shouldn’t wait until there’s something negative.
The role of middle leaders in the process
I believe that if there are more than two subject concerns about a child then someone should be looking holistically at them. Depending on your staffing structure, this could be a head of faculty, if all concerned subjects are only in one faculty or the leader whose responsibility it is for academic progress. Sometimes people have heads of year or academic coordinators for this. If all the above contact and data is collated on an online system, there should be automatic alerts for this leader to see that there are several concerns for this child. They need to take action to see what is happening with this child, if there are any underlying pastoral issues that may affect performance, whether any special needs may not be being addressed or whether they just need a reminder of expectations. This should not just be behaviour based. Too many pastoral leaders focus just on the behaviour rather than the progress. Only a small number of students can misbehave and still make progress! As part of the investigation they should be able to access all the information given by the teachers on what has already been done for the student. No emails to staff saying ‘Can you tell me about how George is getting on in your class?’They should be able to access all this information already. They should be concerned if the data highlights an issue but there are no records of actions by teachers.
So no parents evenings?
In theory, no. However there could be academic progress evenings where only those who are a concern across the board are personally invited to attend. Teachers aren’t needed. The year/academic leaders run the evening by seeing their top 20 under performers, taking a holistic view of their progress. This must be recorded so all the teacher can see what was discussed and what action is taking place.
What about the ‘good’ students?
The contact week should have positives too. As above, praise postcards, names in the newsletter, subject awards, celebration assemblies etc. Middle leaders can phone/email for selected students who are performing well in several areas.
Isn’t this just MORE work?
At PedagooLondon14 some one said, if you get staff to do something new, you should ditch something else. I propose schools ditch:
- All parents evenings ( potentially 18+ hours gained)
- Use half a PD day in September to read new student files and contact new parents (year 7 and any new students for the teacher) – potentially 4 hours
- No meetings or training in contact weeks (potentially 18 hours gained)
Whilst contact weeks may not overall save time, I think they have the potential to have significantly more impact overall. For the system to be effective, it relies on communication. As yet I’ve not found a data system that does what it would need to for the above, but some are getting there.
I work in a large school. It’s tough knowing all students but we have a duty not allow any child to fade into the background or ‘get away’ with things that should be dealt with quickly. In my experience contact with home has the potential to change the way a whole class works, by changing the dynamics of individuals. Some students rely on us NOT contacting home.
I believe teaching is about relationships. If we begin with positive relationships with home then when things start to get tough, we can work together. In all my contact with parents over my career 99% of parents have been supportive and want us to ensure their child does well. We should never hear a comment that I once heard a year 11 parent say at a parents evening in March, “Why is this the first time I’ve heard about this?”.
Do any of you already do this? A similar model? If so, I would love to hear about it.