Parents’ evenings are one of the most basic after-school commitments for the teaching community.
Some avant-garde principals are exploring ways to include these meetings within the school day, but it remains more convenient for most parents to contribute to their children’s lives after their own working day is done.
For many parent-teachers, however, this evening commitment presents a significant barrier.
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This is especially true for single parents or teachers whose partners work away from home.
With many parents’ evenings beginning straight after the school day, organising childcare isn’t just a simple case of booking an ad hoc babysitter; anyone stepping in needs to be cleared to collect a child, have pre-arranged access to the teacher’s home and know the domestic set up well enough to sort out dinnertime, bath time and bedtime with minimal guidance.
Consider, too, the added complications of more than one child: multiple pick-up points, multiple bedtimes, multiple dietary needs. Often, only parents and close family members may have received full training in the whole routine, but these relations might not live nearby or might not be available for the five or six parents’ evening dates across the year.
What was once a long day before a teacher became a parent, now becomes a military operation that needs to be organised well in advance, numerous times a year.
Ironically, however, this is exactly the situation faced by many of our students’ parents, too. It is no wonder that parents’ evening attendance can sometimes be frustratingly low.
When we do have parents attending with three or four younger siblings in tow, it can be frustrating to have a grouchy toddler screaming through your conversation about Billy’s inability to stay awake in lessons or complete his homework.
So why not make life easier for everyone? Catering for young children at parents’ evening or any other parent-engagement event – whether these be students’ siblings or the babies of staff – could boost attendance, protect impactful conversations, improve the reputation of the school among the parent community, and win the loyalty and gratitude of parent-teachers.
Both primary and secondary schools already use crèches for a range of after-school events; they have seen the benefit for their school community, including staff who can scoot off early, collect their children and drop them off in this childcare provision in time for their first appointments.
Creating a crèche
Aimee Hanson, assistant principal of Leeds West Academy, says: “We always have a crèche at the termly parent-engagement events to help remove potential attendance barriers.
“We tend to use the library and bring out games and drawing equipment, and staff it with prefects, older students and two or three staff members.”
Deputy headteacher Kate Smith at Aureus Primary in Didcot recommends putting PE mats down in the hall with “books, colouring-in and ‘quiet toys’ for children and younger siblings to play with while parents meet with teachers”.
“My son’s school provides supervision,” says Jodie Lopez, an ed-tech business consultant whose children attend an infants school in the East Midlands.
“Lunchtime supervisors and teaching assistants run it as overtime in the library and operate a simple sign-in, sign-out system on the door. They come to get us if the younger sibling needs their parent.”
Whether it’s a simple colouring or reading corner supervised by school council members within sight of teachers and parents, or a more structured space run by professional club staff, a parents’ evening crèche could be an innovative solution for everyone.
Emma Sheppard is founder of the MaternityTeacher/PaternityTeacher Project and a lead practitioner for English