Parents’ Evenings – Leading a Department 3 (Annual)

Introduction

This is our third part of the #LAD blogs, looking at some key ideas, thoughts and/or systems that might be of use to a department lead. This weeks looks at another annual consideration – your curriculum. This topic, parents’ evening has quite a bit of flexibility in terms of how often your schools run them, for which year groups and so on. Within this article are some considerations when it comes to planning an event from the department perspective, key questions to ask of you and the staff as well as you can support those newer to the profession.

You might have seen the heading and said to yourself, but we have more than one parents’ evening every year. While this might be true, I am assuming with the majority of your year groups you only have one evening for that age group each year, i.e. one year seven parents’ per year, one year eight parents’ evening per year and so on. If I am wrong with this assumption, feel free to skip this part and move onto the next. Within this section we will discuss the systems that are part of the preparation and delivery of a parents’ evening from the point of view of a department lead.

What data could you prepare before the evening?

This is particularly useful when you have members of staff who teach a large number of pupils in that particular year group. Being able to quickly get your hands on the key data is a quick tip to save time and to ensure you are giving parents the right information every time. Some things you may want to collectively pool for your staff to help save them the time and to ensure all meetings contain these data points;

– Child attendance in your subject. Attendance is the biggest focus, or should be, for department and school leaders. Bottom line – if they aren’t in school, they can’t learn. This is something that we, at my current school, have only just had this data made available to us. Normally we would have the student’s overall attendance but we found it much more powerful to share the subject specific. Either because pupils have great attendance for science and we want to praise or they are being selective with the days they have off, say to miss our subject and we need to speak with the parents to get to the bottom of this apparent pattern. When you run data for the first time it might shock you, some of the patterns you see.

– Recent data capture scores or marks. How is the child performing. We will get into this more in a future chapter about data analysis but I would say some examples of good data capture include;
– Scores on tests.
– Position of that pupil in the year.
– Position of that pupils when compared to peers with equal key stage two scores.
– Were any tests missed?
– Did the pupil leave large amounts of the paper unanswered.
– I would say some examples of good data capture include;
– Grades that have been assigned to tests

– Examples of pupil work. This is probably the most time intensive but hopefully if you and your staff no your pupils well I think it can have the most impact with parents. I think that the books you want fall into two categories;
– An example of top tier book. One that can tick the majority of the points below;
– Well presented and pride taken in work (clear handwriting, use of ruler and pencil and pen in the right places).
– No lessons missed.
– Responded to your written feedback with clear improvements.
– The same mistakes not being repeated, misconceptions not embedded.
– Answers that show evidence of possible wider reading or revision in the topic.

I have seen these top tier books used in primary schools as mentioned in an earlier chapter. These are where the pupils help give credibility and something physical to the high standards you want within your department. They can be used in lessons, shared electronically with pupils (via Google Classroom or your own VLE).. The same book can make an appearance every single year you teach as an example of good practice. I have seen it work particularly well in transition events, where the parents of prospective year seven pupils come into school to cae the joint before the application window opens. Teachers have used these books to let parents know what is expected of their children.

An example of poor book – now this would only ever be the pupils book for the parent you are meeting. You could use it as a comparison and explain why you are concerned about little Tommy’s
– Handwriting
– Professionalism
– Pride
– Spelling errors
– Lack of equipment
– Volume of work completed
– Attendance and hence missing work

I think that until a parent can see the issue you are talking about they often find it hard to take on board. Imagine a parent you ring about their child bullying, vs being able to show them video of the bullying when it took place. Being able to frame it for them with something tangible and real will help. Bearing in mind you aren;t trying to crush anyone here on a power trip, just simply to show parents what you love and what you won’t accept.

Home learning. Home work. Whatever you call it at your school, it is one of the main windows through which parents see the school You could imagine for a pupil that goes under the radar, the homework might be the only ‘contact’ that a parent has with the school. If pupils aren’t completing it or doing so to a poor standard, if this is logged centrally, say through you Management Information System (e.g. Bromcom, SIMS) could prove to be another useful piece of information for your visiting parents. Also, worth reiterating, nothing here should generate more jobs, only share information you already collect and have ready access to.

What is the corporate angle for the evening & What other messages could be delivered during the event?

What is the point of the parents evening? Is it year eleven and preparation for some upcoming mocks and exams, is it with your year eight or nines and they are close to their option choice deadline? Which ever is the case there will be a driver for that information evening, even if it is ‘just to meet the new year seven parents’. Once you know what the angle is you can begin to decide which parents you want. Is it;
– pupils who under-achieved?
– year elevens with poor attendance?
– year eight pupils who you think have (or could) shown an interest in picking your subject for key stage four study?

Now you know the angle, now you can target those pupils parents and who needs to come in. Who will be a difficult sell and might need you to call them as a follow-up? Once you know the year are there any other bits of information that your subject teachers could also help get out there, so parents can put a face with a message? The first one that springs to mind that we do every year is revision guides. For this current academic year, when we have our year ten and nine parent evenings we have a whole years worth of letters printed out. On there we give parents details of how they can pay for revision guides that we will order in (normally cheaper than if parents did it themselves) and give to their sons and daughters. On my visits to some of the top schools in the country, it became very clear that you can never be too clear. Some parents might read the newsletter article we did on revision guides, some might have opened and acted on the letter that was given to pupils (if they ever make it home!), and some will pick up the information when they are told face to face by the child’s science teacher. Try to get the information home at every opportunity.

Think of your staff, what can you do to help? & Are there any training needs for your staff leading up to this event?

This goes without saying, I hope. Your new staff might need some help in terms of what to say. Although if you have clear expectations of the data you or they have access to and the angle of the parents’ evening, these things will help a lot. The main area I notice new teachers struggle slightly is keeping to time as well as answering some of the more difficult questions. The week before we spend five minutes going over both of these points. To help with ending, we skill staff up with a sentence starter that sets the time expectations to parents, as well as closer sentences where we leave the communication channel open (by leaving an email or alternate time to discuss issues further) but bringing the meeting to a close. Also for new staff having a set of frequently asked questions (and their answers) discussed prior to the event helps, questions that you might include on an options evening for year eight or nine parents;
– What exams will my child sit at the end of year eleven?
– How many hours a week will they get in this subject?
– What is the homework policy for this GCSE subject?
Easily predictable questions that an experienced staff member would ok with but a newly qualified teacher might need some guidance prior to the event.

Which staff need extra support or more of a presence?

The last area I think it is important to consider as a department lead is which parents do you need to be present for when they have their meeting with your subject colleague? It could be because they are underachieving and they are on your internal list of concerns. However in most instances I normally drop in on those parents who normally cause difficulty. I have seen parents who are rude towards specific genders, parents who know who are new teachers and assume they are a worse teacher as a result and due to this their respect slips too. It can be a parent who I know is going to react badly to the impending news of the child’s poor attendance, outcomes, homework quality and so on. Sometimes an extra, experienced, staff member is enough to help defuse a situation, get a point across or just ensure your staff are not meant to feel uncomfortable over the course of the event.