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When evening starts at 2pm

One head has earned a Flint school an award for his transformation of parents' evenings. James Graham reports

The staff are dead on their feet while people wilt in the lengthy queues - not a scene from the January sales, but a typical parents' evening.

This annual event, often dreaded by all parties involved, has been reinvented by Tom Quinn, headteacher at St Richard Gwyn Catholic high school in Flint.

His desire to make it more enjoyable and productive has helped to earn the 1,000-pupil school an award for innovation from the Welsh Secondary Schools' Association.

"At traditional parents' evenings, people queue all night and teachers still have to give their best at the end of a three-hour session," says Mr Quinn. "We wanted it to have a more relaxed atmosphere, more like a professional meeting."

Parents' evening, now called consultation day, starts at 2pm and runs until 7.30pm. Parents, who attend with their child, pick up a report at reception and assess it over a cup of tea in the school canteen.

They then discuss the child's progress with the form tutor rather than individual subject teachers. This saves time, is easier to organise and cuts down on those queues.

Form tutors are the most connected to the pupils' progress and play a central role in a new way of measuring individual achievement. Every term they agree a minimum target grade and an aspirational target grade for each subject. The children are then rewarded for effort rather than achievement, "so everyone can be successful".

"This gives the child parameters," says Mr Quinn, who has also introduced half-hour academic review periods in the place of afternoon registration - now done on laptops at the start of every lesson.

The changes already have had a significant impact on parents' evenings, with attendance up from 55 per cent in 2002 to 88 per cent now.

The school has also reached out to parents by publishing a week-by-week lesson guide. It has divided the curriculum into six units of six weeks, with the aim of making pupils more conscious of their objectives and informing the parents about what's going on. This information is also available on the school's website.

"It was based on the idea that when a child returns home and is asked, 'How was school?', the answer is always 'Fine'," says Mr Quinn.

"We wanted to go beyond that and say to the parents, 'Here's what they studied and here's the homework'."

Annie Allitt, whose son Paul is a Year 11 pupil at the school, said: "I definitely feel more informed about what's going on. You get more information from parents' evenings and the new reports let you see what grade they're working at and the effort they're putting in."

For Mr Quinn, there have been a lot of changes since he started the job three years ago. It is his first headship since moving up from a deputy's position at Plessington Catholic high school on Merseyside, but he says his staff have supported the changes, despite the extra work.

"We didn't impose it; we sat down and tried to explain why this would be important. Workload is a big issue but we work very hard to try to encourage a spirit of experimentation," he said.

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