We all have memories of parents’ evening, whether as pupils, parents, teachers - or perhaps as all three.
Apart from misplacing my parents’ appointment sheet almost every year, for me it was Year 8 (I think) which sticks in my mind. I breathed a sigh of relief when my father, the more academically relaxed of my parents, said it would be him going. I sat at home intensely relaxed while he was meeting the teachers, watching EastEnders instead of doing my homework.
It was something of a shock, then, when he came back around ten o’clock and sat me down for half an hour, going through the several pages of notes he’d made documenting my every misdemeanour in class.
More seriously, though, I’m not quite sure what parents’ evening actually achieved beyond wearing out teachers (and parents). Admittedly, I was relatively high-achieving and my parents were naturally engaged with the school - but it was really just one termly or annual night which had no lasting effect and, as far as I can tell, did little to change either my or my parents’ attitude.
Parents’ evening is often rushed and parents and teachers don’t get the meaningful interaction which could help their children progress at school. At their worst, meetings can be one-way conversations, with either parents lecturing teachers or teachers denying parents the opportunity to air their questions and concerns. Perhaps most worryingly, parent attendance is usually higher for more privileged children, which could risk actively increasing the attainment gap and leaving the most disadvantaged behind.
But despite this, parents’ evening is much the same as it ever was, and follows similar structures across the world (albeit often under a different name).
Surely parents’ evening could, and should, be more than that? Children spend only a small proportion of their waking hours at school, and a far greater proportion at home. There is a large body of research showing the importance of parental engagement for pupils’ attainment, self-esteem, discipline and cultural engagement; for parents’ confidence and awareness; for teachers’ morale and understanding of their pupils; and for school communities and networks. Schools I’ve spoken to often say that engaging parents and guardians - particularly of the most disadvantaged pupils - is a key priority.
With that in mind we’re thrilled to be supporting The Teachers Guild and the RSA with their new design challenge, which is asking teachers to come up with innovative ways of answering the question: How might we redesign parent-teacher conferences?
The Teachers Guild is a professional community that activates teachers’ creativity to solve the biggest challenges in education today, and they’re working with the our London-based friends at the RSA’s Innovative Education Network to lead their first global design challenge. And we want teachers to get involved.
Together, we’ll go through a ten-week design thinking journey, guided by the team at The Teachers Guild. You’ll learn and do design thinking, activate your creative confidence, create with other educators, learn how to research your parents’ and students’ needs, create new and wild ideas to address those needs, and work with teams and mentors to make your ideas great. Then we’ll vote on favourite ideas as a community and bring these ideas to life in schools across Europe, Africa, the United States, and beyond.
You can get started on this exciting project by signing up on the Teachers Guild website. In this first stage of the process, we’re looking for all the ideas you have, no matter what they are. We’re excited to be collaborating with you and hope this will be an opportunity to make parents’ evening fit for the twenty-first century!