No one can deny that parents’ evenings are useful.
But few would deny that they cause tension for the people on either side of the (absurdly tiny) desk.
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So, if you want to make your brief moment of time together as pleasant and productive as possible, the following phrases are best avoided.
1. ‘Who are you again…?’
It’s unlikely you would be so direct - if you have actually had a mindblank about the pupil in front of you, you’re probably more likely to farcically start talking as if you do recognise the child sitting next to their doting parents.
This has happened to the best of us at some point in our careers. Prevention is better than cure. Make sure you have your seating plan(s) with photos of your little cherubs on it. Study it before you sit down in the invariably freezing cold/boiling hot hall.
2. ‘Oh, has she got dyslexia?’
Teachers must know the needs of their students. If a student is on the SEND register you need to (a) know that they are; (b) have read their IEP/pupil passport; and (c) have used this information to inform your approach.
You shouldn’t be surprised if a parent tells you that their child has an additional need.
3. ‘Moving forward, your daughter needs to think outside the box, or she won’t meet her EL, it’s a non-negotiable’
Parents must be bamboozled when they enter AC (that’s Acronym City, aka any British school). Not only do we have our own school-specific jargon to contend with, but since schools have started pretending to be businesses – with CEOs and business managers surreptitiously taking over from headteachers and school secretaries – corporate-speak has infiltrated our lexicon.
I once went to a talk at my niece’s primary school, where staff were talking about SLT and DSL to a room full of baffled faces.
I also heard the phrase "moving forwards" about 250 times in 20 minutes (we know we are moving forwards through the passage of time, that’s just how time works). Don’t do it.
4. ‘They need to work on their spellings/read for pleasure/concentrate more’
For some young people this advice is valid, and perhaps much needed. However, for those young people with learning barriers it can feel insensitive.
I am not suggesting that someone with a diagnosis of dyslexia shouldn’t focus on their literacy skills or that someone with ADHD can’t find a way to focus in lessons, but it needs to be a collaborative discussion, rather than just saying “learn to spell”. Be prepared to refer parents to your school’s Sendco.
5. ‘Hello Mum and Dad’
You are only permitted to say this if the adults in front of you are indeed your mum and dad.
Don’t start calling other people’s parents mum and dad. It is weird, and it also may not be accurate.
6. ‘They need to contribute more to class discussions’
Not only does this sound woolly, like you don’t really know what else to say, it can also make young people who are painfully shy, or those with social-communication difficulties, feel uncomfortable.
By all means, try and get all students involved in your lessons, but accept that for some people, public speaking is never going to be their forte.
7. ‘They would do better if they were actually at school’
A fair point, but again, it is entirely dependent on context. There are some young people who genuinely struggle to get into school through no fault of their own (or their parents). And the tone of this approach is all wrong.
8. ‘How do you feel you are doing?’
“Bloody marvellous thanks, can we go now?” It’s useful to encourage reflection in young people, but in the five-minute allotted slot at parents’ evening, there really isn’t time for musing. Just get on with the job in hand.
9. ‘What are you doing this Friday?’
Don’t ask a parent out on a date, this is just embarrassing for the 15-year-old sitting next to them. This happened to me when I was in Year 10, and I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole.
My mum, on the other hand, was delighted, although she politely declined on account of being married. Thank goodness.
Gemma Corby is a former special educational needs and disability coordinator (Sendco) and freelance writer