How To Prepare For Parents Evening – And The Questions Teachers Think You Should Ask

What to ask at parents evening - according to a teacher

Parents evening

by Alice Hall |
Updated on

It's hard to forget our early experiences of parents evening. That squirmy, uncomfortable feeling of knowing your parents were coming face to face with your teachers right this second (or, even worse, you were sitting next to them) to discuss everything about you. The dreaded moment when the teacher says, yes you should be applying yourself more, or even worse, relays one of your classroom misdemeanours back to your parents.

As with most things in life, these things comes full circle - suddenly we're the parents on the receiving end, sitting down to hear about our child. But somehow, we're no less nervous. Whether it's your first or your fiftieth, there are some familiar anxieties felt by parents around the evening. What if I don't ask the right questions? What if my child is disrupting the class? And what does their teacher really think of me? A 2015 study by Leapfrog toys suggested that over half (55%) of parents leave the evening without fully understanding how their child is progressing, and a third of parents only get invited to one parents evening a year.

But parents evenings remain an important way to check in on your child's progress, and they also allow you to play an active part in their life at school by asking questions about their studies and their behaviour in class. They could have significant benefits for children, too. A report by the Social Market Foundation found that pupils score three points higher in verbal reasoning tests if they have a parent who attended parents evenings.

'Parents evenings are a great opportunity for you to connect with the school and reflect on your child’s academic progress,' explains Sian Lewis, Head of Parent Participation at Parentkind. 'You’ll get an insight into what your child is like in the school environment, too – children are often quite different at school and at home, so it’s also an opportunity to discuss their friendships and behaviour from the teacher’s perspective.'

From how to prepare to what happens on the day, we've answered some of your most commonly asked questions about parents evening below...

What happens at parents evening?

How your parents evening will look depends on how old your child is. If your son or daughter is in primary school, the you will typically spend time with their class teacher discussing all their subjects. If they are in secondary school, you will usually speak to teachers from each of their key subjects.

'These meetings are usually quite short – around ten or fifteen minutes – so make sure you prepare by writing down any questions or concerns you want to go through,' says Lewis.

How many parents evenings should a school have?

Generally, schools have two parents evenings - one in the spring term and one in the autumn term. Lewis explains that what you can expect from the evening depends on which one you are attending. 'The autumn term meeting is ideal for building relationships with your child’s teachers. The spring term meeting is best for picking up areas for development before the end of the school year. You’ll probably get the chance to look through your child’s schoolwork in both of these meetings,' she says, adding that there may be a queue for some teachers.

What questions should I ask on parents evening?

As with most things in life, preparation is key if you want to make the most out of parents evening. Lewis suggests writing down questions beforehand can be a good way to feel confident ahead of the evening. 'It doesn’t just have to be about their academic progress – you can ask about their friendships and behaviour, or even any physical issues you’re concerned with such as hearing, vision or coordination,' she says. 'The teacher will then know to keep an eye on them and report back if they have similar concerns.'

Lewis has shared some of her to questions to ask at parents evening with Grazia. These are:

  • Is my child progressing as expected?

  • What subjects is my child most engaged with?

  • How can I support learning at home?

  • What have been my child’s biggest successes this term?

  • Does my child make friends easily?

  • If I have more questions, what’s the best way to book another meeting with you?

She also recommends talking to your child beforehand to understand how they feel about school, so you can raise any concerns they have in the meeting. These include topics such as if they like their teacher, what they enjoy and the things they struggle with.

How should I handle negative comments at parents’ evening?

No one wants to hear negative comments about their children, but sometimes it's inevitable. The important thing is to stay calm, and try and understand how you can help solve the issue at hand. As Lewis explains, maintaining a positive relationship with the school will help your child to reach their full potential.

'When receiving negative feedback, try to remain calm and write down everything said, even if you disagree with it. You can then use this information to have further conversations with the school and with your child. Parents’ evenings are short, so try not to dwell too much on one or two areas,' she says. 'Remember, this isn’t the only time you have to speak about your child to their teacher. If you feel it’s needed, arrange another meeting to talk through concerns and discuss next steps.'

And finally, what a teacher wants you to know...

As a teacher and a mum of three, Emma Bradley has experienced her fair share of parent’s evenings. She’s shared some of the most useful insights she has learned from being at both ends of the table with Grazia

First things first, as a teacher there are some code words we like to use. If I say ‘lively’, it usually means ‘chatty’, while ‘excited’ often indicates ‘too hyper’ and ‘natural leader’ can mean bossy. ‘They need to take more responsibility for their own learning’ translates as ‘stop asking me everything or asking others around them’, while ‘very sociable’ means that, while your child is there for the fun times, they need to get on with their work too.

I’m not usually nervous for parent’s evenings as a teacher, but I’m always conscious of getting every child’s name right, having my notes prepared and their expected grades ready. As a parent I will grill my children’s teachers as I know what to ask - they can’t just tell me about the course and what they have been learning, as I want to go deeper. I am probably the parent that I dread as a teacher!

There are some lovely moments: sharing with parents how a child is shining in a particular subject, especially if they find it difficult; if they have done exceptionally well in a test or an essay, and when you’re thanked by a parent or told that their child enjoys your lesson. Teaching is often a thankless task, so when I’m there as a parent I always thank the teacher if it feels relevant.

You do come across some challenging parents though – in particular, those that think their child is better than they are academically. They may feel that the work is too easy for them and question why they are not doing ‘harder work.’ At GCSE level, some parents even tell you how good they were at the specialist subject, especially Sociology and Psychology. Even worse, they might say how they wish they had studied it, but all they know is popular TV psychology, and not the real science behind it. Essentially, they think that watching a drama on TV makes them a psychologist, which obviously couldn’t be further from the truth.

And as for what I’m really thinking – probably, that is has already been a really long day of teaching and now I need to gather the enthusiasm for parents evening. Oh, and that I’m also very hungry.

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