All one happy family

12th November 2004 at 00:00
A few rude parents can make us forget how nice the rest are and how we need to stay close to them

I'm at the PTA fancy dress disco. It's mad, it's noisy, it's everything that our school day isn't. I turn the Healthy Schools award to face the wall so it doesn't get splattered with fizzy drinks being waved around by kids high on hot dogs. As the disco gets louder and more eight-year-olds dance to harmless but inappropriate lyrics I wonder at the way in which the parents who have come along are getting stuck in, having as good a time as their offspring.

It does me good to see this. I can be haunted by the ghost of parents past.

The ones who have hurled abuse at their kids, at me and other parents; the ones who carp and moan and obstruct. With pupils, we know that the majority are doing the right thing the majority of the time and we try to run our classrooms on that basis. I realise how many decisions about parental reaction are based on our fear of the few and not for the good of the many.

Are we letting the exceptions make the rules?

There are schools where, because of history or policy, any kind of partnership is a battle. Fortunately, these thankless places are few and far between. Most parents are pleased when we contact them because they want to know what's going on. Parents care about the "whole" of their child, wanting high standards, but not at the expense of happiness and well being. Parents care about basic skills, but love it when their children come home with tales of art, music, investigations and games won or lost.

We can share our plans with confidence that parents want us to deliver the curriculum we believe we should. And here's why.

It's a quarter to eight and the disco is frenzied. As the decks pump out Hey! Baby, the smoke machine pumps out smoke, setting off the fire alarm.

Two hundred screaming kids rush for the door. As one, the staff on duty snap into action. We might have stood like startled rabbits as the parents did the conga, but now we know what to do. Two of us are at the door, slowing and calming, another two are in the playground channelling kids towards the lining-up points with torches.

The head heads to the main gate to meet the fire engine and I take a deep breath and blow my whistle. A Pavlovian hush descends and the roll call begins. Now the parents watch in admiration. Our systems have a slightly surreal twist as I try to identify which of my class is dressed as a frog, but within minutes, we account for everyone.

At the end of the successfully re-started disco, there is a tangible feeling of "in-it-togetherness" as we clean up. I wish I could bottle and sniff it when I need reassurance, because it is clear they think we are great! I overhear the same sentiments the next day on a school trip. When teachers allow themselves to be seen at work, doing what they do best, it is impressive. The challenge for schools is to have the confidence it takes to open up everyday goings-on, not just special occasions.

Primary schools know that the older pupils are, the harder it can be to maintain strong parent-school relationships.

Foundation and infant teachers sustain firm links with parents. Parents understand that their expertise with their own children is valued and that without it, our work is at best limited and at worst futile. But as pupils get older too many of us become determined to show how expert we are, giving out subliminal messages of "leave it to us, we know what we're doing".

Schools should welcome parents and make a fuss of them, focusing on the positive just as they do in their classes. Instead of waiting for negative letters, positive letters can be sent home. Rather than only tracking down parents when there's a problem, teachers could go and find them to say how great their child has been.

Everything from the tone of newsletters to the timings of our special events makes a difference. Recently a parent missed my class assembly because she had a meeting. "If I'd known the week before" she said apologetically, "I could have re-arranged it." It should have been me apologising; I'd known the date since August.

And here's the big one: we can change what happens on both sides as most school staff are parents themselves. Do we encourage partnership or add to the "teacher's kid syndrome"? What a difference it could make to your child's school if teachers started to get encouragement from you and other parents. So, if you're reading this Miss White, thank you. I think you're great!

Peter Greaves is deputy head at Dovelands primary, Leicester Creativity for control freaks, Teacher magazine, 15

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