The first Parents’ Evening usually happens in October (don’t worry if yours doesn’t because every school is different. As a teacher, I often found parents were unsure as to what to ask and may well not have got the most out of the short meeting time allocated to them. Each meeting is very short, with teachers being given around ten minutes to talk to each parent about their child. Although your child’s teacher will be prepared with what they want to tell you, it’s a good idea to have your own questions ready to ask.
First of all, if there is a burning issue you have been dying to discuss with the school, it is best not to leave it to parents evening. For example, if you suspect your child is unhappy at school for some reason this will probably require more than a ten-minute chat. Similarly, if you believe your child has special educational needs, such as dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder this will need a more in-depth discussion. Ask for a separate appointment for these kind of issues so that the teacher can give you the time that you need.
Types of Questions
- Questions to do with well-being
Teachers spend much of their time looking after the emotional well-being of children in their class. In fact, for teachers this is their first priority because they take caring for your child very seriously. If their class is well cared for, the children will be happy and they will have a better chance of learning. A new year always brings change and some children cope with it better than others. A discussion about how your child is managing all this is always useful. Many children behave differently at school to how they do at home. You may have some niggles about how settled your child is, but the teacher might believe everything is fine. This may well be because your child does seem to be fine in school, but lets out any frustrations at home. On the other hand, your child may be showing some signs of anxiety in school which you have not been aware of. The school will be as keen as you are to have an open discussion about this and try to sort out any problems. Questions to ask at Parents’ Evening could be:
- How well has my child settled in?
- How well does my child get on with others in the class?
- How does my child spend break/lunch times?
- Does my child talk to members of staff? This is important because if a child is too shy to talk to school staff then they’ll not be able to tell them if they need anything.
- Questions to do with attitude
This can be to do with attitude to work, but also attitude towards others and school in general. Children change from year-to-year and so can their attitude. Parents’ Evening is a good time to find out if their attitude in school has changed.
- Does my child work hard?
- Does my child try his/her best?
- How does my child treat others?
- What does s/he like doing best?
- How well does my child listen?
- Questions to do with behaviour
This doesn’t just have to be to do with good and bad behaviour, but can also relate to confidence and relationships with others.
- How well does my child follow rules?
- How does my child behave with other children?
- How does my child behave with members of staff?
- Does my child ask questions in class?
- Does my child seem confident in school?
- How does my child behave at break/lunchtime?
- Questions to do with achievement
Many parents want to know how their child compares to others in the class. Teachers will not be able to discuss any child but your own with you so cannot offer you a comparison. Other parents will want to know if their child is in the top, middle or bottom set. Again, teachers have to be careful and tend not to like this labelling anyway. If they tell you your child is in the top set and her best friend is in a different set all sorts of conflicts can arise. Besides which, if most children in your child’s year group are underperforming, then being in the top set doesn’t tell you much. So a better question is to ask if your child is working at the appropriate level.
In 2014 the Government brought out a new National Curriculum in which they stipulated the requirements for each age-group. This has meant that children are expected to do more at a younger age. So if your child has started to find school work more difficult over the past year or so this may well be the reason. Levels have also been removed. Now teachers have to report on age-related expectations. Terminology may vary but basically they can tell you whether your child is at, below or above age-related expectations. If your child is embarking on GCSEs then the grading system is changing from letters to numbers. Instead of As, Bs and Cs etc. they are graded from 1-9, with 9 being the highest grade. 5 is approximately equivalent to the old C. This has already started for maths and English. The rest will follow later.
- Is my child working at the right sort of level for his/her age?
- Is there anything my child finds difficult?
- Is there anything my child does really well?
- What does my child need to do to improve?
- How can I help at home?
- Questions to do with progress
In October it is unlikely children will have made a huge amount of progress since starting in September. First of all, they generally slip back following the long summer break. Secondly teachers tend to want plenty of evidence before saying for sure a child has made progress. However, they will have records which will tell them rates of progress for each child over a period of time. Teachers are under pressure to help all children progress at quite a significant rate. They will already have identified any who seem to be stuck in a rut. Even the most academically gifted child can go through this phase. Whether your child struggles at school or is a high achiever it is always worth asking about progress.
- Have you any concerns about my child’s rate of progress?
- Is my child on track?
- How does my child deal with new work/challenges?
- How well does my child respond to feedback? Does your child look at a teachers marking and try to improve next time, or do they ignore it and make the same mistakes again? Do they listen to a teacher’s advice, or not take it on board?
- Special Educational Needs
If your child has special educational needs they should have an Individual Education Plan (IEP). You should already have been given a copy of this, but if not ask for one. If you suspect your child has special educational needs it is best to arrange a separate meeting with the teacher rather than waiting until Parent’s Evening.
- What extra help is my child being given?
- Does my child need any special equipment/resources? Can I help with this?
- How is my child getting on with the IEP?
- How can I help at home?
- When will the IEP be reviewed?
- Questions to do with organisation
As a parent you will be incredibly busy, so keeping track of what happens when can be difficult. Knowing about school organisation is therefore useful.
- Do you have a homework timetable?
- When is homework given out?
- When is it due back in?
- When is P.E./Swimming?
- What clubs do you have and when?
- Are there any trips coming up?
- What is the best way of getting in touch with you if I have a concern?
- Tricky situations
There may be things that you find difficult to discuss with the teacher. Here are some of them and some ideas on how to deal with them:
You may be having personal issues or a relationship crisis. A teacher will not want to intrude on your personal life, but will need to know whether your child is likely to be affected by it. Schools are obliged to keep your personal information confidential so you should feel able to share information about issues going on at home which may affect your child. You don’t necessarily need to go in to details, just enough to let the school know that your child may need extra emotional support. Parents’ Evening may not be the best time to disclose this information so either arrange a separate meeting, talk to a member of staff you feel you can confide in or, if you prefer, send an email to school.
Issues with the teacher
Not every child will like their teacher. Personality clashes can and do occur. Your child may have complained about their teacher. The natural instinct of a parent is to protect their child and defend them. However, try not to go into your first meeting with the teacher all guns blazing. This will only make them defensive and sour your relationship with them from the start. Try to find out from your child exactly why they have a problem with their teacher. If you think your child has good reason to complain be ready with questions relating to that complaint. Try the following types of question:
- Can you tell me about this situation? Your child will have only told you their side of what has happened. You may find there is a lot more to it.
- Can you tell me why you…? Your child might take against certain class rules or procedures. If you understand why these are in place you may be able to help your child come to terms with them.
The school will want your child to get on with his or her teacher as much as you do. If you really can’t face talking to the teacher yourself, arrange to see a senior member of staff who will help you.
Personal Issues for your child
Your child may have personal issues that you are trying to help them deal with. The school will want to support your child too. If they know what difficulties your child is facing, they will be better equipped to do so. Questions you could ask are:
- Can you advise me about..?
- How can I help my child..?
- What can the school do to help..?
Being prepared for Parents’ Evening will help you make the most of your meeting. A prepared parent with a positive attitude and an open mind is on the right track for developing a successful relationship between school and home.