And another thing…

We held our second Parent Forum this week. Every term or so we ask our group of volunteer parents to an evening session facilitated by our Family Support Advisor. Randomly selected and asked to commit to a year’s engagement, the parents are licensed, and expected, to share their strong opinions on policy development. We keep the numbers to between 10-15, in order to secure lively, manageable debate. Parents are given the topics on arrival, securing a fresh, emotional response to discussion.

It’s not for the faint-hearted. Positions debated and designed with passion at Leadership meetings can be reconfigured abruptly. We have come to expect these knuckled jabs to the nose seconds after uttering the phrase “Ok, gloves off.”This is no place to feel defensive; we remind ourselves it is a place to listen.

boxing-gloves

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is time to explain too. These parents are not spoiling for a fight. A contentious issue hasn’t brought them into school feeling wounded or angry and often comments are prefaced by, “I’m not a teacher but…” And obviously there will be times when the school is expected to know best, we are charged with interpreting policy and divining the direction of travel in education after all. It can also be useful to expand upon the detail of teachers’  Pay and Conditions and the Workforce Agreement in managing expectations.

But this isn’t a managed focus group. Our parents are far more than a target demographic, they belong to us in the same way the students do and they want to be heard and to make a difference too.

Assessment, recording and reporting was the main topic last week. We are close to “live” reporting of teacher assessments through our VLE – in my eyes a potential “game-changer” for parental engagement. Smack. We can do away with the slightly convoluted “split level” assessments at KS3. Smack. We can change the structure of the annual reports to parents. Sma… you get the picture. The parents are pretty happy with the overall structures but we do get some brilliant tweaks.

Inevitably the conversation digresses beyond the topics prepared and into other areas of school life. It feels like something of a health-check and our pads are filled with notes.

The feedback following the event is as helpful as the conversation. In addition to a very credible offer of support for our growing VLE, the parents feel engaged and listened to.

Via Twitter:

@kieran_earley Very productive and enlightening meeting with Senior Staff this evening, great that parents are given such a strong voice.

Via e-mail:

Thanks for inviting me to the Parents’ evening meeting yesterday and for having a chance of sharing ideas with yourselves.

If there’s something I can do to help, please let me know.

This shared understanding will pick up momentum in parental social circles and lead to further engagement, I’m sure. And in the end, you come to appreciate and witness the fact that you won’t please all of the people all of the time. The parents themselves don’t agree on everything. But as a school we must be sure that changes we make don’t upset a critical mass or undermine confidence.

Any reminder of the need for a compelling reason to change things is welcome in times of accelerating change in education.