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The regular opportunity to speak to your child’s teachers is not to be missed. Nicky Adams offers some pointers on squeezing the most out of parents’ evenings.

Not to be confused with daytime TV game shows, speed-dating or the Spanish Inquisition, parents’ evenings are a rare chance to sit face-to-face with your child’s teachers and glean as much information about his or her progress in each subject as is humanly possible in the allotted time (usually ten minutes tops). Umms, errs and ‘I didn’t even know he was taking geography GCSE’ are a waste of valuable seconds, so to make sure parents’ evenings are as useful as they’re meant to be, take some time to work out your strategy.

Do your homework

Have a good look through your child’s books and note whether or not tasks are being completed and marked, comments are being acted on and progress made. What are the most recent marks or grades and how do they compare with those in the past? Also remind yourself of the contents of your son or daughter’s most recent school report. Chat to your child – without pressure – to find out how they feel lessons are going in each subject and ask if there are any worries they would like you to discuss.

Who’s invited?

In secondary schools these days it’s common practice to invite the student along to parents’ evenings, but this isn’t the case in all schools, so it’s important to check beforehand. If your child is on the guest list, then it’s up to your family whether or not you take them along, but there can be great value in involving a secondary school student in discussions about their education – promoting a sense of ownership and emphasising the young person’s role in working with teachers and parents towards success. Primary-age children are generally left at home (with supervision of course) or entertained at school, so parents and teachers can chat more freely.

Nasty surprises

Parents’ evenings are strictly an update on progress, not an opportunity for either parents or teachers to drop a bombshell. If you become aware of an issue, don’t wait for parents’ evening to roll around - contact the school as soon as possible and make an appointment with the relevant staff to discuss it specifically. By the same token, the school should let you know of any problems and work with you to deal with them as they arise.

Q and A

Jot down a list of questions and observations on each subject in advance so you’re your appointments are focused and make the most of the limited time.

Some useful questions might be:

  • Is my child’s progress in line with the teacher’s expectations?
  • Has he or she done anything particularly well, or badly?
  • What can he or she do to improve?
  • How can I help as a parent?
  • How can you help as his or her teacher?
  • How much time should my child’s homework for this subject take?
  • What do his or her grades tell us about possible performance in important future exams?
  • Does he or she contribute in lessons?
  • How does my child get along with the other pupils in the class and the teachers?

Take a pen (or your smart phone or tablet) on the night to note teachers’ answers - after a couple of hours whisking from one subject to another, it can be easy to forget or muddle the comments.

Constructive criticism

Good teaching means identifying areas for improvement, so don’t be offended if you hear criticism of your child. This should always be constructive and designed to help them to achieve their potential in the subject. If your child is with you, try not to sound disappointed or negative – or tell your child off! Take the advice of the teacher as a positive step towards better marks in the future. Remember that it’s rarely helpful to compare your child’s performance to other members of the class, set or year group - what’s important is that they are achieving in line with their own capabilities, not those of others.

Don’t be afraid to ask

Teachers – in the main - have a wealth of knowledge and experience, so ask for their guidance and suggestions on how you can help your child to do their best in the subject. If a teacher says something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Parents are not expected to know all about a subject or a method of teaching.

Follow-up

After the parents’ evening, keep in mind any action or targets you have agreed with teachers and check to see that the expected progress is being made in the timeframe. If not, then add the question to your list for the next parents’ evening – unless you feel your child is seriously slipping behind, in which case don’t wait, but ask to speak to the teacher again as soon as you can.

Also remember to mention to a teacher that your child particularly enjoys the subject (only if it’s the truth of course) – it will probably make that teacher’s evening!

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