What's the point of parents' evenings?

//What's the point of parents' evenings?

Earlier today I read this post on the purpose of parents’ evenings by David James. It’s an excellent exploration of some of the vagaries and oddness of being either side of the table, but ultimately it doesn’t answer the question: What are parents’ evenings for?
This is something my wife explained a number of years ago.
For some reason neither of us can remember, I was allowed to attend our daughters’ parents evening alone. Being a teacher I felt fairly confident of my role in proceedings: to hold the teachers to account. I scrutinised their books, looked carefully for the impact of feedback, and tried to understand how and why my eldest daughter had been awarded a 3a for writing. (To my secondary trained eyes it looked like it ought to be a good level 4.) I asked the teacher to explain how the level had been awarded and she proceeded to refer to particular pieces of writing and point out the features that made it a 3a. We then looked over the mark scheme and I pointed out the feature which made my daughter’s writing a level 4. The teacher thanked me and I swanned off, content in the knowledge of a job well done.
When, later that same evening I was debriefed on how the meeting had gone, I smugly set out how ably I’d championed our daughters. She groaned despairingly and said she’d write a letter of apology in the morning. Why? I howled. What have I done wrong? 
It turns out, as my wife patiently explained, that the purpose of parents’ evenings is not to hold the teachers to account but to get them to like your children. In that I had signally failed.
Who knew?

2015-07-15T13:09:57+00:00

35 Comments

  1. Michael Rosen July 15, 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Very funny. Luvvit. (I’m sure you’ll want to change ‘explained’ to ‘explain’ 9 lines up from the bottom.)

    • David Didau July 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks Michael – good spot. This is why you’re the professional writer, isn’t it? 😉

      • suecowley July 15, 2015 at 6:20 pm - Reply

        vagaries too? 😉 (sorry, ouch, hate doing that)

  2. Greg Wright (@IC_Teaching) July 15, 2015 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Like it! Does anyone really know what parents evenings are for? Equally, what are reports really for?

    • David Didau July 15, 2015 at 1:45 pm - Reply

      Reports. Pfffh!

    • Leah K Stewart July 15, 2015 at 5:06 pm - Reply

      Haha, great story! Thing is; if student’s don’t have free choice in their teachers then mothers will try to smooth any bumps as best they can and they will use parents evening to do this. Clever ladies, my mum did this too. Of course the official reason for parents evening is to make sure teachers are ‘held to account’ by the parents… just another example of where the official reason doesn’t translate on the ground in real life. Reports have many purposes, but why exactly teachers need to be told how to do it and why it must be in written format, using a school template, once, at the end of the year… I may never understand 😀

  3. maverickteaching July 15, 2015 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    What you mean parents evenings and reports aren’t for sharing made up data in coloured spread sheets with parents?

  4. Julia Skinner July 15, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Would the world end if they were stopped? I think not but teachers would be happy to use the time created to do something more meaningful for their class!

  5. Rosie July 15, 2015 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    As a teacher of young primary students I find parents evenings helpful because they give me an insight into the child outside of school but simply talking about levels is a complete waste of time.

    • David Didau July 15, 2015 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      That’s fair enough, but who are parents’ evenings for? Isn’t the clue in the name?

      • teachwell July 16, 2015 at 1:50 pm - Reply

        To be fair it helps with children as usually that is the one time they know you will meet their parents. Not the hardcore misbehavers whose parents don’t turn up but the ones who are veering either way and whose parents do. I always ended up discussing behaviour and attitude more than the levels. My sis-in-law took me to my nephews parent’s evening once to catch out the teacher (although I didn’t realised until after). It didn’t happen, she was too old school and organised for that!!

  6. Al July 15, 2015 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    If parents evenings are so important then have them during school time or straight after school finishes. Make parents take time off work to show their commitment to their child’s education. Why should teachers be expected to give up their evenings! After all they are not our kids.

    • Gabriel Ogbeifun May 4, 2018 at 7:00 am - Reply

      Thank you.
      It is a tick box exercise attend only by parents who cares for their children education already and those who don’t care but filling their guilty conscience or wanting to pick an argument with the school.
      There are those who don’t care and will not attend.
      If it is scrapped the world will not end.

  7. dbarlex July 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Teacher’s worst nightmare – parents who are teachers!

  8. suecowley July 15, 2015 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    I’ve found them v. useful at primary but probably not much help at secondary. The time constraints are just too much where teachers have hundreds of students. The irony is that at primary you often already know the teacher well anyway beforehand from seeing them day to day. I think parent/teacher communication is one of the things that somehow goes wrong at secondary. Not sure what could be done to fix it though.

    • Gabriel Ogbeifun May 4, 2018 at 7:01 am - Reply

      I argue it is not needed beyond Y7 for good parents like you.

  9. nappits July 15, 2015 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    Your wife is spot on.

  10. Daniel Whittaker July 15, 2015 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    Parents’ evenings are like dates: the ones with parents you’ve never met are like blind dates where you want to like each other and make it work; the ones where you like each other already and there’s gentle flirtation along the lines of ‘well you already knew this about your child but…’ ; the ones where you don’t really get on, but you’re (mostly) to give it a try although you need to amicably assert yourself at every opportunity just so everyone knows who’s the trouser wearer. In all cases though, it’s a crude way of building a relationships between you and the parents you didn’t need to see because Mr Behaviour Case’s Mum won’t ever attend.

  11. governingmatters July 15, 2015 at 10:24 pm - Reply

    When I was at school (a convent; I loved it!) each teacher sat in her or his own classroom. Students took parents around and did the formal introductions. We were taught how to do this at school and then got to practice doing it at parents’ evenings. This maybe something they teach at finishing schools in Switzerland nowadays but I haven’t come across it in any other school. Culturally both parents and teachers command a lot of respect and no one set out to make themselves liked by the other. There was honest and frank discussions which were not time limited. I do miss my old school.

  12. heatherfblog July 15, 2015 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    I have entrusted the education of my life’s treasures to those teachers and so I sure as heck want the chance to meet them and have the opportunity to discuss my child face to face. It is simply a human thing – and important.

    • Gabriel Ogbeifun May 4, 2018 at 7:03 am - Reply

      Discuss what? Once or twice a year? Before that have you contacted your child’s teacher for a concern about their progress in any subject area?

  13. Michael Rosen July 16, 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

    For a brief moment, there was a radical change in parent evenings in primary schools when in London they brought in what was called (I think) the Primary Reading Record or Primary English Record (?). It involved the teacher showing us a dossier of examples of the child’s work and we were invited to talk to the teacher about what kinds of things did our child do in relation to talking, listening, reading and writing. It was a conversation. It was developed by CLPE and (I think) some teachers in Ontario. I remember it as a parent around 20 years ago. I think it was abolished when they torpedoed the ILEA.

    • Gabriel Ogbeifun May 4, 2018 at 7:05 am - Reply

      My head is ringing “WORKLOAD. MORE WORKLOAD FOR TEACHERS” . Glad that idea died

  14. chestnut July 16, 2015 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with heatherfblog. I disagree with your wife I am afraid. Parents’ evenings are not there so that teachers will like your children. I expect teachers to act professionally in that regard. But they are there to generally talk about what is expected nowadays (school changes/all schools are different), what the child is like within a group, homework, and general effort. I do not hold teachers to account – how adversarial! It is a conversation between carer and professional for the benefit of the child. Why on earth a parent should give up some of their precious holiday for a teacher with weeks and weeks of it – is beyond me. I am a teacher myself and I find them very useful.
    I have to admit I was treated in somewhat similar fashion by a parent who was also a member of SLT in another school and I felt like I had been bullied.

  15. jack August 9, 2015 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Nice one! Really liked it.
    Thanks
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  16. creativeSTAR August 14, 2015 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    I had always assumed that parent’s evenings were an opportunity to spend time considering the educational needs of a child or young person and how everyone (including the child) can make the time at school well spent and worthwhile for a child as they rarely have the choice to attend either school or a parent’s evening.
    It’s a great question – I wish parents and teachers would give this more thought! The video is painful, isn’t it!

  17. JP Ringer September 13, 2015 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Sat in a couple where I’ve had a secondary teacher explain why a level 5 at primary and secondary are different. Changed tack quickly when they became aware that I was a yr 6 teacher

    • David Didau September 13, 2015 at 7:16 pm - Reply

      No idea about maths but in n writing a level 5 at primary really was different to a level 5 at secondary: for instance at KS3 handwriting was no longer assessed.

      • julietgreen September 13, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

        Our secondary teachers assessed our L5 writing at levels 6 and 7, and our cautious L6 as at least L8. Is that what you mean? One reason to be glad that the levels have gone.

  18. David Terron September 13, 2015 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    Our problem is that the SLT refuse point blank to let us communicate direct to parents.We cannot email, phone or write even if it is to send good tidings home! Thus parents’ evening 5 minutes is the only time we can communicate with them! And a date in mid winter months before the prelims or even real exams is no use to anyone.

    • David Didau September 14, 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

      Eh? That’s madness! Why would you want to disempower your staff like this?

  19. David Williams November 8, 2015 at 7:49 am - Reply

    Very funny, ha ha.
    On a serious note, for me parents evening is to form a more effective relationship with parents to improve pupils’ performance. The informal “Literacy Parents Evening” I hold every year is perhaps the most important part of our literacy intervention. The pupils who make ridiculously massive gains are those whose parents learn how to work with us to support pupils’ reading every single night.
    I may be alone in thinking Parents Evenings involve accountability for everyone involved: school, parents, pupils. Perhaps they are often no longer, yet that’s I how treat them anyway.
    Really nice to meet you at researchEd.

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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