18th December 2009 at 00:00

I have problems with a parent who accuses staff of treating his son unfairly. After a heated telephone conversation, we have arranged a meeting. How should I approach it?

Handling a difficult meeting with an aggrieved parent is something many teachers dread. But by being prepared, ensuring you remain calm, listening to their concerns and following up the issue, you can substantially reduce the fear factor.

"Try to be as prepared as possible," says Tim Cooper, a head of year at Hampton School in London. "Have all the necessary information available and look at the pupil's file to see if there were any previous issues and how they were resolved.

"Ahead of the meeting send an email or letter confirming the points up for discussion and ask the parent to get back to you to know if there is anything they would like to add or if you have misinterpreted anything," he adds. "Perhaps ask a colleague who knows the parent to call and follow up the heated conversation to see how things are now they have calmed down."

Knowing how you would like the meeting to finish will keep the main issue in focus rather than allowing the situation to get personal, says Campbell Orr, head of family at Matthew Moss High School in Rochdale.

"Be prepared to listen to the viewpoint of the parent and child but have an idea what you want to achieve by the end of the meeting," he says. "Make sure you have researched the history of the pupil and make it clear to the parent that you are not there to prejudge the child but act on the evidence you have been presented with."

Mr Orr adds: "Acknowledge the parent's views, if not always necessarily agreeing with them. The best way to handle this is to be honest but firm about any problems and the effect this is having on others."

Mr Cooper believes empathy is the key to a successful outcome. "Try to focus on how they feel and keep calm so you avoid any tensions. If the parent gets angry, then listen to what they have to say and try to move the conversation on to action - what is it they want you to do?"

Once you have listened to the parent's views, ensuring you follow up with an agreed course of action may help alleviate any further problems.

"It's important to remember that sometimes you need time to decide on action and may not take it there and then," says Mr Orr. "Address with the pupil why they feel they are being picked on and what it is teachers are picking on them for."

Mr Cooper adds: "Sound out senior management before and after the meeting as they should be supporting you. Be honest and follow up with them to see what they think the best course of action should be."

Think about why the situation arose in the first place. Are you making sure certain pupils don't feel they are being picked on?

"Teachers need to pay attention to the way in which they engage this pupil and the class. It may help to make notes on what happens and even consider inviting the parent to attend lessons," says Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. "Talk to the pupil to identify any specific examples of when this perception of being picked on arose."

Approaching this meeting with the right frame of mind might help in this case, he adds. "This is a sharing of information and concerns in order to solve a problem in the interests of the pupil. It can help enormously to make sure the tone of the meeting reflects the sense of shared responsibility for finding a solution."

Invite the parent to summarise their concerns in advance so the teacher can make sure they have all the information available. Don't be afraid to ask open questions, invite them to suggest options or involve senior staff if the parent and teacher cannot reach an outcome, adds Mr Stanley.

However prepared, calm and open you are, if you feel the meeting is becoming difficult and strained, suggest a break or call for support. "Remember, no teacher should ever put up with abusive behaviour from parents during a meeting," he says

Next week - science practicals


- Be prepared before the meeting with details of the parent's grievances.

- Remain calm and open, listening to the parent's concerns during the meeting.

- Agree a course of action with the parent and ensure it is followed up.

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