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Parent Evenings: Something In Them For Everyone

I am just in the middle of four parent consultation evenings, two at each of the schools I lead. Having completed the first two, I have been thinking about what it is these regular events bring to the school, and the learning of the pupils?

Firstly, of course, the parent evening is the opportunity to inform parents or guardians of the progress in learning of the pupils. This is a key responsibility placed on all teachers and all schools. I have always contended that, if schools have good open channels of communication with parents, there should be no surprises for parents when they attend these evenings. Any issues, successes and achievements should have already been shared by teachers. This should be an opportunity to explore the direction of travel and how the teacher, parents and pupils can work together to help the learners achieve all they can. Timings are important. We moved ours to November as we, and our parents, believe this was the best time to review and share progress of the pupils now they were settled into their new classes, often with new teachers. We have a 'Meet the teacher' evening in September following our return in August. We also have another 'Open Evening' in May. We produce our formal written reports in March and follow these with individual meetings with parents if there are any issues we or they wish to explore further. We very much see parent evenings as part of a continuous process of engagement with our parents, and not as single, one-off or stand-alone events.

If you believe that true partnership working is crucial in enabling learners to achieve their potential, then the parent evenings are another good opportunity to develop those partnerships. The relationships with individual teachers and parents are crucial, but so are those between the parent body and the Headteacher and senior management team. For this reason it is important that the school managers are highly visible and are out and about speaking to parents and engaging them in conversations not only about their children but also about the school. This is a two way process of sharing information, and for school leaders and teachers,  a very valuable and informative self-evaluation activity. There can be many barriers to parental engagement with schools and we should be taking every opportunity to break these down to better meet the needs of all our learners. We often have a Book Fair running on such evenings and myself and the DHT man this as we have found this an excellent means of meeting with as many of the parents as we can, in a relaxed way, and to engage them in conversations about the school and their perceptions. I believe that schools are very much built around relationships, and that the relationships we have with parents are crucial in all we try to do, so any opportunity to develop these needs to be embraced for the benefit of all. We will also ask our Parent Council to offer teas and coffees to encourage parents to stay around to speak to us, and meet other parents who are more actively engaged with the school. Again, this is all very much part of a process of active encouragement and engagement that we see as vital to what we do.

Such evenings are very much part of developing the school community. We very much want teachers and parents to recognise the role they have to help and support all the pupils in the school, which sits very much within their local community. It is important that all can see a wider role for the school and within the school, and parent evenings are another opportunity to develop this further. We very much want the parents to understand the school, it's values, which they have helped develop, and it's direction of travel. It is important that the school community understands and buys into the school ethos and vision, seeing what they can do to develop and enhance this, and also where the school sits within the local community. Conversations and opportunities to promote community within parents are a vital role for all, but especially senior managers at events such as this. Again, this should be part of an overall plan and process.

Hopefully, parent evenings are also an opportunity to receive some validation from parents around the work of the school. In my experience, if parents are valued and included in all aspects of the school, and providing structures and processes are in place to keep them involved and informed, then such evenings are incredibly positive and affirming. I love hearing from teachers about the thanks and praise they have received from parents, who generally recognise their efforts and their desire to do their best for all learners. Parents also speak to myself and the DHT about the good work of the school, which we then share with staff at the earliest opportunity. They need to hear this to reaffirm their efforts  and our direction of travel. Of course their will be comments made that are not so positive and we need to address these as well. If the tone is overly negative then there are key issues that need to be addressed and further investigation needs to take place.

Parent evenings, and preparations for them, can be very demanding of teachers and schools, but they are definitely worth it. In my view there are gains for all in the school community from these, and, most importantly, they can help to promote and support learning by all our learners. Key is that they fit into whole-school processes and reflect the ethos and culture of the school. They need to be seen as valuable by all. When they are good, they can raise morale, promote learning, develop community and provide parents and schools with a host of data about how well their school is performing. When done badly, they can destroy so much of what the school is trying to do, and create and unnecessary friction and tension that is bad for all. Good news about a school can spread so much more quickly now, in the age of so much social media, but so can negative thoughts and comments. We need to be savvy and help promote an image of the school that is positive and reflects what we are trying to do. Engagement with the parent body is key in achieving this.

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