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Talking to Your Child’s School

Most schools welcome parental engagement and involvement. They encourage communication with parents because this supports children’s learning. Many schools use text messaging to ensure that parents are kept informed – but you will want to talk to them, too. This guide will help you to keep the lines of communication open.

Give essential information

If your child is starting at a new school or in a new year, you might have specific concerns related to their health, emotions or academic level.

Supply your school with relevant information upfront. This opens a two-way, ongoing dialogue, and helps the teacher find the best approach to your child’s education and welfare.

  • Perhaps your child struggles with some things; is gifted in sports or a specific subject; or is experiencing an issue that might affect them, like bereavement or parental divorce. School will probably need to know these things. Write a letter detailing the issue, so that your child’s teacher and school have the information, and can share it with relevant teachers and other professionals who can support them
  • If your child has a medical condition that school should know about, tell them the implications – and also send a copy to the school nurse, if there is one
  • Does your child have specific dietary issues: allergies or intolerances, vegetarianism, or faith-related food requirements? Again, put this in a letter. Send copies to your child’s teacher, nurse or head of catering – as appropriate

Make sure you include all your contact details and numbers in any correspondence you send. The teacher, nurse, and/or office staff might want to discuss any issues you raise.

Homework Diary or Reading Record

Many schools give pupils a record or diary to take home regularly. Teachers often use this to communicate with parents: tracking progress, recording homework tasks, noting behaviour or ensuring that you see school letters. You can check or sign off tasks here.

If the teacher writes a comment, it’s worth responding or at least signing it, so they know you have read it.

Use this opportunity to keep communication open. If you write in their reading record: ‘Phoebe read with great enthusiasm this evening, and understood every word. She was keen for more,’ this can help your child’s teacher. If they are considering moving your child up a level, the information you give could help inform their decision.

Parents’ Evening

Depending on the school, parents’ evening may happen once a year or once a term.

Many schools allocate parents strict five or ten-minute slots, so this is not the time to bring up a complex matter, such as your child’s anxiety or insomnia.

Instead, use the slot to pin down exactly how well your child is performing in each of their core subjects.

Decide on a specific question the teachers can answer briefly. Some schools don’t like to talk about ‘top’ or ‘bottom set’, so if you would like a comparison, ask - ‘Do you feel s/he is performing above the average?’

School Reports

Again, schools may supply reports termly or annually. They usually take the form of written descriptions, and may include grades or test scores.

At first glance, grades can seem incomprehensible! They might match levels of the National Curriculum, but schools often have their own grading system (e.g. ‘6A’ where 6=achievement, and A=effort).

Many schools include a separate sheet to ‘interpret’ any grades, so you can understand how well your child is doing. As the curriculum changes, the levels and grades may change too.

No idea if your child is ahead of target, mid-level, or falling behind? If no grade is supplied, ask for an explanation. If you contact the school they should clarify things for you.

Addressing Concerns

Sometimes swift action is required. There might be a problem with a member of staff, or bullying by classmates at school.

A phone-call in the first instance is appropriate to raise your concern. You can then arrange a meeting as necessary.

If your problem is with the teacher themselves, don’t speak to them (or their manager) while you are fuming! This is unlikely to achieve the results you want. Instead, make an appointment for a day or two ahead, stay calm, and make a list of the points you want to raise, so that you don’t miss out anything important. Be diplomatic, and show that you know your child is not their sole concern.

Take notes straight after the meeting, logging the time and what was said on both sides. If you ultimately need to take the issue to the head teacher or a more senior staff member, these notes will show you are not a trouble-maker, but a parent with a genuine concern.

Etiquette

If you have an important matter to discuss with your child’s teacher, don’t try to catch them at the end of a school day.

If the matter is minor, your child’s teacher might be able to spend two minutes discussing it. Otherwise, they might have an after-school club to supervise, or appointments pre-arranged. They are unlikely to have time to give your concern much attention – which will impact on the outcome for your child.

Check the school’s communications policies. Make an appointment – or use the methods above. Some schools welcome texts, emails or phone-calls to staff, but please understand that teachers in secondary schools teach hundreds of pupils, so do not do this frequently!

Call or email the school office, and either make an appointment to meet your child’s teacher, or ask if they can ring or email you. Give the receptionist some idea if the matter is urgent, or if it can wait a day or two. If you feel that talking face-to-face is essential, politely insist on a meeting.

And Finally…

If you’re interested in wider school issues, think about joining the Parent-Teachers’ Association (PTA), any school fundraising group or the school’s governing body.

Volunteer in the classroom or on school trips – to build closer relationships with staff and children!

  1. Sharing key information about your child will help the school to help them. Which of the following should you tell the school about?
    It is of course vital that the school knows about health conditions, such as diabetes or a peanut allergy. It will also help if you share things which seem less important, like changes at home or the child's personality issues. The better the teachers understand your child, the better they can meet their needs
  2. What is the best means of communication when passing important information on to the school?
    Phone calls and face to face communication are fine for less formal conversations, but letters are the best way to go for more serious matters. Writing information down allows you to review what you say and gives the school a written record. Emails do the same - however, they do have a habit of getting lost!
  3. Homework diaries are valuable communication tools. Which of the following should you write in your child's homework diary?
    If your child is ill then a phone call, followed by a letter, is the best way to inform the school. Things like your child's personality traits or their strengths are best communicated face-to-face or in a letter. The homework diary is a good way to see the work your child has been set and to let the teachers know how well they did it. For example - they failed to complete it, found it too easy or too hard, or they did not try hard enough
  4. Parents' Evening would be a good place to raise which topic?
    Issues such as a change of address or a family bereavement are best communicated in writing, and your child's hobbies (if relevant) probably in an informal chat. Parents' evenings are a chance for you to see how well your child is doing at school - and this does include socially. How well they get on with others can affect how much they contribute to class discussions and joint activities, and so, their education
  5. Which of the following is NOT a compulsory piece of information for all school reports?
    Reports for children in years 10 and 11 (KS4) must include the grade achieved in subjects for which they were entered for GCSE and any other qualifications. For KS1, KS2 and KS3 children this information is not applicable and so can't be included. In addition, all reports must let parents know how to arrange a discussion about them with a teacher at the school
  6. There are 8 Levels of achievement for KS1, KS2 and KS3 pupils. At what age is a child expected to reach level 4?
    Most 7-year-olds are expected to achieve Level 2, 11-year-olds Level 4 and 14-year-olds Level 5 or 6. Most school reports will tell you which Level your child is at (or alternatively, use their own grading system) to give you an idea of how well they are doing. If not, then don't be afraid to contact the school and ask them to make things clearer
  7. Sometimes you will want to contact the school quickly. What should you do if your child is being bullied?
    You may be angry with the school if your child is being bullied, but whatever you do, stay calm! Before the appointment it's a good idea to write down the points you want to make so that you can state your case clearly. That way you'll come across as a concerned, rather than as a difficult, parent
  8. A school in Glasgow recently banned parents from what, after teachers were 'abused'?
    Teachers at Sandwood Primary School were subjected to shouting and offensive language in front of impressionable youngsters, so parents are now required to make an appointment if they want to speak to a teacher. I'm sure you'd never behave like this - even so, it's better to arrange an appointment if you have something important to discuss
  9. According to the National Foundation for Educational Research, how many schools have a PTA?
    The aim of PTAs is to get more parents to participate in education and so benefit all children. They are a great way to get more involved with your child's school
  10. School governors form the largest volunteer group in the country. How many School Governors are there?
    School governors have many responsibilities, including financial performance, hiring and firing staff and setting disciplinary standards. If you want to become a governor, talk to the chair of governors at your school, who will let you know when a vacancy for a parent governor arises. When one does, you’ll have to stand for election. The job can be time consuming but is well worth the effort

 

Author: Linda Innes

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