“Clubs for this term start next week,” the school newsletter informed me. “Sign-up lists will be in the entrance hall on Tuesday morning”.
I sighed. Getting your child into an after-school club is no mean feat for a working parent. With way more children than spaces, the only way to gain entrance is to be there at school drop-off, pen in hand and elbows sharpened. This is of no use to parents who at 8.50am will be several miles away at work. The same applies to parents’ evening appointments, where the sign-up lists are again put in the entrance hall only for the later spaces to be immediately filled by parents able to do the school run.
The way parents interact with primary schools has changed out of all recognition over the years. Just a couple of generations back – when vastly more mums didn’t work – parents rarely came into school. According to my parents, my grandparents only entered the building twice a year.
“Apart from parents' evening, they didn’t go near the place,” my dad told me. “To be honest, my mum only had my word for it I was actually going to school.”
We expect more of the 21st-century parent. It’s now a given that you want to be involved in your child’s education and that schools will hugely encourage this. Sometimes, I wish they wouldn’t encourage it quite so much. So far this week, I’ve received two printed letters, four emails, three texts and five photographs of Roman mosaics – and it’s only Tuesday.
The pressure on working parents
Yet there are parents who still wish for more. A mum I was talking to in the playground last week was bemoaning the fact that we’re not invited into the classroom more often.
She’s desperate to support her child in school and apparently spends her weekdays poised to do just that. Ideally, I think she’d be happiest with her own seat in the classroom, but one parent’s ambition is another’s sinking feeling. (I’d also have more sympathy for this mum if she didn’t yell: “go change the world” at her daughter as she walks into school each morning.)
When you’re a working parent, the phrase “all parents invited” engenders mixed feelings. Getting time off work isn’t easy – especially when you work in a school yourself.
To be fair to schools, they know this and never make you feel guilty for not attending. They don’t have to: your child will do it for them. I still have vivid memories of my daughter sadly recounting the list of all the mums and dads at her Reception class reading mornings held monthly on Fridays (one of my working days).
It’s not that I don’t want to be invited into school as a parent. Even when, as a teacher, you know that "Star of the Week" means it was his turn rather than he’s just split the atom, it’s lovely to sit at the back and wave at your offspring (and hopefully nick a few display ideas into the bargain).
But sometimes it would really help if schools could perform a few simple tweaks to help us out. Things like varying the day of the week they invite you in; holding some events at 6pm and releasing the date of the Christmas performance before the end of November.
Or we could just return to the old days and agree that twice a year for parents’ evening is quite enough for anyone.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse