Parents' evenings have had their day

14th April 2006 at 01:00
What can be said that can't be written? Head Vanessa Ray asks us to consider the alternatives

Parents' evenings are a waste of time. The parents you really need to see don't bother to attend because they don't want to hear what you have to say about their disengaged, disaffected and sometimes downright nasty children.

Instead you spend the evening saying nice things about nice pupils to nice parents who really don't need to attend because their children are making good progress.

Surely there must be a more effective way of giving parents information about their child's progress. What can be said that can't be written? Why do we need to give praiseencouragement face to face rather than on paper? Given the whole worklife balance agenda for teachers, I think parents'

evenings have had their day but I haven't yet come across a suitable, effective alternative.

Having spent three hours on one night last week talking to parents, I found myself saying the same things over and over again. I am tempted to make a tape recording for the next meeting.

When an issue did come up that needed further discussion it wasn't possible because the next parent was waiting. What with email, virtual learning environments and video conferencing, perhaps new technology could help?

Some schools have abandoned parents' evenings in favour of mentoring afternoons (I know of one school that takes a whole day) when the school is shut and only parents of one year group are invited in for a one-to-one with their child's mentor about their progress. My limited experience of this is that the parents you need to see don't attend these events either.

Even the nice parents find it difficult to get time off work for what is all too often only a 10-minute conversation.

These mentoring afternoons happen frequently throughout the year and in my view are even less effective than parents' evenings because all of the pupils miss out on valuable lessons.

Looking round the hall last week it was clear that some teachers are better at managing these evenings than others. There is always one who can't stick to time, ends up with a huge queue of frustrated parents and causes other teachers to have to amend their schedules. Then there is the terribly well organised teacher who has mark book and lap top to hand to emphasise, with irrefutable technology, what they are saying and then there is the sneaky teacher who has the pupils' exercise books to hand and uses them to prove the lack of homework or slapdash effort.

Inevitably, value judgments are made. Parents judge their child's teachers on the basis of a five-minute conversation and decide whether or not they are "nice" or "good". The teachers do the same in reverse. Does the social interaction that parents' evenings enable, such as being able to "put a name to a face" and exchange pleasantries about a child, justify the time commitment? I don't think so.

Vanessa Ray is headteacher of Shenley Brook End school, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

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