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Bleak outlook for children most in need

A New Teacher

If I was to add up all the hours I have just spent writing reports, I think I would be shocked.

The phrases "participated well" and "showed a keen interest"

are spinning around in my head, along with "lacks confidence" and "needs to concentrate harder".

In total, I have either written or contributed to 45 reports and all the while, in the back of my mind, I've been thinking: "Am I wasting my time?"

I have tried to give each report individuality, which some would say is unnecessary.

And so I was left wondering: are all the parents who read my carefully constructed comments really going to take them on board? And more importantly, will my comments have any impact on the pupils?

I am sure there will be those parents who appreciate the affirmation that their son or daughter is doing well at school. They will be pleased to read that their child is "a polite and helpful pupil who has been a pleasure to teach". But it probably won't tell them anything they didn't know already.

There will be those who want to take action when they hear that their child is a disruptive influence who could try harder. Maybe they will stop their son or daughter's pocket money in annoyance, or maybe they will offer their child some kind of reward if they improve.

But of more concern to me and the smooth running of my class are the reports that will go to the parents who just don't care.

I know they exist because they are the parents I most wanted to talk to at the first parents' night of the year back in November. They didn't turn up.

They are the parents of the six most disruptive pupils in my class, whose persistently bad behaviour has been a real cause for concern. And they are the parents who have been telephoned several times about unruly incidents at school and yet nothing has changed. What can really be said or done?

I remember when I was preparing for my first parents' night, a fellow teacher advised me to assess the parent(s) as they walked into the room and adjust my comments accordingly.

"If they look like they could give you hassle, just smile and be polite because there's no point having a fight," she said.

At first I was surprised. Surely I had to let the parents know what their children were like.

"But they'll already know, if they even care," was the curt reply. "They'll be just the same at home. You'll just be banging your head against a brick wall."

It made me think. Are pupils with the bleakest outlooks the most likely to fail because of their parents?

What these pupils certainly need is close guidance from adults who show a real interest in them, and yet that is impossible for a lone teacher in a class of 33.

So with the final parents' night of the year just a few weeks away, what should I do? There will be the easy conversations with proud parents who are thrilled to hear that their child has had another successful year.

There will be the slightly more awkward conversations with stubborn parents who are not entirely convinced when you tell them that their son or daughter could do better. And there will be the conversations you would have had with the parents who did not turn up. Would I have told X's mum that her daughter's behaviour is appalling? Would I have told Y's dad that he needs to take a greater interest in his son's education? And what would have happened if I had?

I know of some teachers who find parents' night rewarding because they feel a sense of appreciation from parents who are pleased with the progress the teacher has helped their children make.

But whatever happens, it seems that reports or parents' nights may not be the most effective ways of reaching the families of pupils who are most in need.

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