School's open all hours for parents

14th March 2003 at 00:00
A GLASGOW secondary school in one of Scotland's most deprived areas has made a remarkable breakthrough in engaging parent interest - by ditching parents' evenings. The move has been warmly welcomed by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

St Paul's High in Pollok now requires parents to come in during school hours rather than in the evenings if they want to see and discuss their children's reports, which are no longer sent home.

The result, for a school which is sixth from the bottom of the "poverty index" based on the number of pupils eligible for free meals, is that parental turnout has shot up from 30 per cent to 88 per cent - and to 95 per cent in the fifth year. Rod O'Donnell, the school's no-nonsense head, said traditional parents' meetings were "incredibly boring" for everybody and there have been none now for three years.

Mr O'Donnell was also concerned at the "soul-destroying" effect on parents of first and second-year pupils who made the effort to get to the school perhaps on a bleak night and who were then faced with going round between 15 to 17 different teachers, only to hear nothing but negative comments.

The new approach involves the 60 staff each taking responsibility for seeing three or four pupils in a year group and covering all their subject reports, with sensitive or difficult cases handled by the guidance staff or senior management. Specialist queries can be passed to other subject teachers but this is rare, Mr O'Donnell says.

"All that most parents want to know is whether their children are happy, how well they are doing in their work and what they need to do to improve, and most teachers can handle things at that level of generality," Mr O'Donnell says.

"And instead of a series of negative meetings, one teacher covering the range of subjects can usually find something positive to say to parents. So they leave with some hope and consolation."

He said he was driven to act not just because of the poor attendance at parents' evenings, but because of the nature of the school's catchment area. Most parents do not have cars and had to face the prospect of waiting for buses at night, often in wet and windy conditions. "We have taken the inhospitable element out of it," he said.

Parents can still opt to come in in the evenings. Many staff are now prepared to stay on after school.

Last week's summit meeting of ministers, parents and education directors on the follow up to the Banks report on school boards discussed fixed-time meetings for parents to pop in or the idea of surgeries.

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