Pupils tackle parents' evening

11th May 2012 at 01:00
A 360-degree approach to reporting on progress puts the children in charge, writes Jean McLeish

It's the first parents' night at this new Highland school and there's a sense of anticipation in the air. It's also the first time most of the teachers at Milton of Leys Primary have taken part in a 360-degree parents' night in which children play a leading role.

Six-year-old Holly Nisbet has brought her mum and dad along to meet her teacher Ms MacKenzie - and if the P2 pupil has first-night nerves, she's hiding it well.

"Now Holly's going to try and do most of this herself and I am going to help her if she needs any help," depute headteacher Elspeth MacKenzie tells Holly's parents, Elaine and Garrick Nisbet.

"She's going to talk about things she's really proud of and things that she thinks she needs to work on, and she can show you her targets. If you have any questions, you can ask her at any time and if you need to ask me any questions, ask at any time," Ms MacKenzie explains.

Holly shows her work and explains about her targets and there's a discussion about getting her work in class finished in time. "Is it because you're writing too much that you don't have time for the pictures?" her teacher suggests.

"Or is it because you're talking too much?" her mum asks.

"Writing," Holly says in a quiet voice, which makes her dad Garrick laugh.

Ms MacKenzie taught in international schools for more than a decade, most recently in Taiwan, where children from the age of four led what were called "progress meetings" for their parents. "It took a good few years to embed, because you've got to teach children how to do it," she explains.

When she was teaching P1s, children would showcase their learning through activities, demonstrating what they could do while their teacher described their learning to parents.

"When I moved into the P6s, I didn't say a word; they ran the whole thing. You practised it and they would bring their parents in, they'd do the welcoming and get the work out, and then they'd talk about their strengths and talk about their next steps. Then you would put in your bit."

Back in Scotland, headteacher Robert Quigley was enthusiastic about introducing the concept as a pilot, offering the option to parents in four of nine classes at their newly built Inverness school. Half the parents opted to include their children; the other preferred the traditional style.

"It's taking traditional parents' evening to a new level," says Mr Quigley. "Since the school opened, we have always tried to involve the children and let them have a voice and let them have a say in how things are. So rather than it being a teacher-to-parent conversation led by adults, it's actually led by the children themselves."

A concern for some parents is that negative comments could be made in front of their children. But the idea is that there should be no unpleasant surprises for anyone at these occasions. "If someone's really struggling, you wouldn't wait until this point in the year to tell the parents," says Ms MacKenzie.

The school is looking for feedback from parents after this pilot and will be asking those who opted for the traditional parents' night why they didn't want their child there. "It could be that it's just brand new and they didn't know what to expect," says the depute head.

After some tips to help with her reading, Holly's getting rave reviews from Ms MacKenzie. "I think you're doing incredibly well in P2. One of the things I think is wonderful about you is that you have a lot of friends. You are kind to everybody. Everybody wants to be your friend because you are never mean and that's a really, really important thing always to keep with you - to be a good friend to everyone."


Holly's mum and dad leave their first parents' night at their daughter's new school smiling.

"I thought it was good that she was hearing what the teacher was saying," says Mrs Nisbet. "I think it's very encouraging for them," says Holly's dad. "It was really good the way Mrs MacKenzie encouraged her and said she was really proud of her. That's more of an emotional thing really as encouragement. Teachers never used to tell you they were proud of you. They told you either you were good or bad, and that was it," he says.

Along the corridor, P3 teacher Donna McBeath has been preparing her pupils for tonight and is sitting in her classroom awaiting the first family. She's been role-playing this evening's scenario with children and encouraging them to talk about their learning so they know what's expected of them.

"I want them to come out feeling really good about themselves and I think they will, because I've got lots of positive things to say about all of them.

"I think it will be a really good boost to their confidence, because sometimes they're plodding along and maybe comparing themselves to their peers and don't really value their own personal achievements," she says.

Miss McBeath runs "Mingling Mondays" for P3s, where parents can come in and see what their children are doing.

Depute head Elspeth MacKenzie says this is an ideal way for building relationships with parents and involving them with children's learning.

She looks forward to parents' night: "None of the parents are strangers. I genuinely think the more you get them in, the more they see what children are doing and the more they trust you and nothing is going to be said that they don't know."

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