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Parents evening

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Bonkers. That’s the only way I can describe it… It was like a cross between Cluedo, musical chairs and a bad speed-dating evening!

Last week was our first experience of a senior school parents’ evening. S is approaching the end of her first year of senior school (Yr 7 in the UK) and, as is traditional, the school provides an opportunity to receive an update from all the year’s teachers on progress through the year. Unfortunately it was organised at relatively short (2 weeks) notice, so Ali wasn’t able to attend as she is away with work. We’ve vented our frustration at the lack of a heads up, as we feel its vitally important that we both attend these sorts of events, and the school has promised to do better (something of an irony given that that was the most consistent message in my school reports and parents’ evenings!).

The process kicked off by signing up to an online spreadsheet, putting your name against 5 minute slots for each teacher (yes, 5 minutes!). Thankfully I was on the ball and got signed up early, so I could plan my evening there without a break – I was in and out in 1 hour 10 minutes, but this was reliant on everybody sticking to their allotted 5 minutes. If you couldn’t work Excel, or were a couple of days delayed signing up, then you were buggered…

The Cluedo analogy arose as I didn’t have a clue who most of S’s teachers are – 20 blank looking faces, ready to commit murder, sat at desks around the outside of the main school hall. I spent the first 5 minutes looking for the first teacher and nearly missed my slot – I was then playing hunt the next teacher…

Down the middle of the hall was two long rows of chairs, back to back – a huge waiting area, reminiscent of A&E around midnight on a Friday, except that chairs kept moving and on more than one occasion all were occupied – the only thing missing was Now!90 backing tracks that paused occasionally, accompanied by a mad scramble for the last remaining chair, which was invariably at the other end of the hall!

When I booked my slots, I fully expected that I’d be running at least 30 minutes behind schedule come the end of the evening, but no, seasoned professionals that they are, the teachers had you sat down, said their piece, took questions and deftly handed you off within 5 minutes….All that was missing was the little bell! I’m not sure whether I made a good impression with any of them, but the phone hasn’t rung yet…

There were a number of fraught looking parents, regularly heading to the tea and coffee station at the end of the hall – I think the school missed a trick – if there’d been wine on offer it would have done a roaring trade and I’m sure the evening would have been a lot more fun!

We’ve been incredibly lucky that S is an extremely conscientious student and also happens to be very clever, although she has had to work hard at it. The feedback all round was very positive and she’s made a great start to her senior school career – the main theme was that she needs to stop putting so much pressure on herself to perform well – not sure how we cure that one, as we want to encourage her to succeed, but are certainly not ‘pushy parents’!

An interesting first experience and through luck, rather than judgement, there’s not a lot I would change with my planning and execution of the evening. That being said, it was very much a result of S’s had work that the teachers didn’t have an awful lot to say – there were a number of difficult conversations clearly being had at various stages throughout the evening.

In an unusual step, the children were invited to attend with their parents. I didn’t take S on the basis that I think we all feel much more comfortable being able to have an open and frank discussion with the teachers (if required), and this seemed to be the general sentiment amongst the parent group, although some of them had brought son/daughter (under some degree of pressure from the children, it has to be said!).

So, murder was nearly committed in the school hall, with a rolled up timetable, but I’ve still no idea who the teachers are! I lost the musical chairs game – ever the gent, I gave up the last chair to a weary looking Mum holding a baby; and I don’t think I’m going to get a second date with any of the teachers – huge sighs of relief all round methinks!

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