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Speaking to your child's school

By Jimmy Beale

How collaborative are teacher / parent meetings, whether formal or informal? All too often parents report to me that they attend an all too brief and hurried meeting with a class or subject teacher and come away feeling they have been talked at or received stock responses. They end up kicking themselves that they didn’t ask the questions they had planned and, in worst case scenarios, questioning whether the teacher really has a firm grip on what makes their child tick both as a learner and as an individual. Why is that?

We trust teachers. That is entirely appropriate – they are professionally trained and we defer to their natural authority. Remember that we have all been children in class and, as adults, we hold on to an ingrained sense of respect and deference for staff in schools.

However, too seldom do parents feel that they can ask the questions they should be asking and, if they do, often make the mistake of confronting and challenging teachers. They do so because they might be frustrated, they might be confused or it might be because they don’t feel they have enough information at their fingertips – they want to be involved but they don’t feel they understand the context of what is happening in class. Some of this is because school reporting is an increasingly impersonal process – it is easy to lose faith when all your child’s reports contain generic information and loads of coloured boxes which tell you that your child is “meeting expected standards”. And do you ever ask what is the standard – is it a standard in that class, in the school or against national expectations?

Parents and teachers should be working together to ensure that the all-important piece of the jigsaw, the child, is in the right place with their learning and their personal development. For that to happen, parents must have the confidence to ask questions of the professionals and the professionals must evidence their opinions and reasons for their actions – that is what being a professional entails.

Keep collaboration at the front of all interactions with teachers. Confront or approach with assertive or aggressive intent and the results will not be good – you might feel better for a moment, but it is your child who will lose out. Teachers are human. If they don’t want to work with you, or feel that working with you is going to cause them stress and anxiety, they will not focus upon your child in the way you wish them to do so. Collaborate.

If you have the data from the Spotlight assessment, take it along with you and go through it with them, asking if it stacks up and matches the child and learner they meet every day in school

Meet your teacher. Tell them that you are so keen to help them and ask them how you can help at home to make sure that your child is getting it right at school – get them onside and show that you wish to be involved, but that you recognise and respect their role as a professional. If you have the data from the Spotlight assessment, take it along with you and go through it with them, asking if it stacks up and matches the child and learner they meet every day in school. Allow them to process the information and give them time to put in place any suitable and personalised interventions. In my experience as a teacher and senior leader in schools, I admit that I moved a mile if I feel that parents were going to trust me and work with me.

The bottom line – give the teacher confidence that you are simply trying to do the best by your child; they can’t criticise that. Remember that it is the manner in which you approach them that will give them the confidence – treat them with respect and with decency and they will work with you, and will work with your child who is, after all, the only one who matters.

Jimmy Beale is co-founder of Spotlight, parent, and former headteacher.


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