Earlier in the week, The Guardian ran an article entitled ’10 things teachers want to say to parents but can’t’. While I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the points raised, it did set me to wondering what would parents want to say to schools, but feel they can’t. So I did a shout out on social media – and was surprised by the uniformity of response….it seems that our issues as parents are the same from Cardiff to Carnoustie and beyond. So here’s the five things that, from my very scientific survey, parents want to say to primary school staff.
What seems obvious to you, is probably not to us!
When our first child starts school for the first time, we need a bit of hand holding. Yes, US. And no, before you roll your eyes, I’m not talking about emotional support for clingy parents. I’m talking about the practicalities.
How do we pay for school dinners? How much are they? If we don’t send an unspecified amount in to an unspecified person on the first day of term, will our child be fed? What are we supposed to put in the school bags that we’ve bought? Should they come home every day? What about the sports kit that’s at home labelled and ready – what days should they bring this in? Are they supposed to tell us? All this seems obvious and trivial to you, because your school works like clockwork, just like always has done. But it’s not obvious to us. And when you’re navigating the whole starting school thing, with the inevitable changes in childcare arrangements, working patterns and yes, just a little bit of sadness, being told such practicalities without having to go on an epic voyage of discovery would really, really help.
Some schools publish a list of their inset days for the year at the beginning of September. That’s absolutely brilliant, because it means that we can book time off work, or book extra childcare, or even plan a term-time treat at somewhere like Legoland that would be packed out during the holidays. Perfect. Of course, the other end of the spectrum is the dog eared letter that your child might or might not remember to bring home from school telling you that there’s an Inset day booked in a couple of weeks time. Cue scrabbling to negotiate time off work, which might not be possible; trying to book extra childcare – too late; begging family and friends for just one more favour, and the whole thing becomes a nightmare.
Please stop recoiling in horror when we ask how our child is doing in relation to the rest of the class
It’s like this. If you tell us that our child is at stage 4, or level 6, that means nothing to us. Nothing at all. If you tell us ‘your child is achieving at the level I expect him to’ – that also means nothing, because we don’t know what you expect. If you tell us ‘your child can do x, y and z’, well we probably already know that, but what we don’t know is whether that means he or she is doing ok or not.
To make sense of any of this, we need some context, and the easiest way for us to get that is to enquire how our child is doing in relation to his or her classmates. Most of us ask that question not because we want to argue with your assessment, nor because we want to hothouse our child to the top of the class. We just want to try and get an understanding of what your levels and grades and achieving appropriately actually means.
A common gripe, this, ranging from ‘my school hasn’t updated its website since the days of Dial.Pipex’ to ‘browsing my school’s website is akin to wandering blindfold through a jungle, in the dark, with both legs tied together’
As parents, we want a simple, easy to navigate website which has practical information to make our dealings with the school easier. Dates, times, how to speak to someone, how to pay for school dinners. A calendar populated with meaningful information (as opposed to cryptic references to events that may or may not be relevant to our child). Homework pages with clear instructions. What we need to do if our child is sick. A who’s who page that actually tells us who’s who – a photo gallery of staff members taken from their own school days gives the kids a laugh, but is absolutely useless for a parent trying to figure out who does what.
Most of us remember homework to be about reading, spellings, times tables. Now, it’s still about those things – but also some bonus extras!’Create a 3D artwork on the theme of Happiness’ (WHAT?) or ‘Build a functioning four wheeled vehicle out of whatever is in the recycling bin’ (er, empty wine bottles?) or ‘Go shopping for the ingredients for a delicious and nutritious meal – fair trade and organic, obvs, and preferably locally grown, and then design a recipe and help cook it and take photos of everyone enjoying it through gritted teeth at midnight on Sunday night’
We know the thinking behind this. Homework is supposed to be a fun and family activity where you can enjoy taking an active part in your child’s education. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But – NEWSFLASH – we hardly see our kids these days. We’re running around like headless chickens trying to make ends meet, trying to manage different childcare arrangements for different kids, trying not to feel guilty because they are having another ‘early night’ so we can keep on top of work. When the weekend comes and we finally get to spend some precious time with our kids, we’d like to do something that they – and we – enjoy. So before you blithely ask parents and children to ‘Have fun researching building materials and then creating a scale model of the Taj Mahal with actual real live miniature tourists wandering around and be as creative as you like *smiley face*’ please stop and think a minute about what that ‘fun and creative’ experience really means for the average family. Because in reality it’s just another chore to be squeezed into the tiny little window of time we have to enjoy each other.
So there you have it. The top five things that parents want to say to primary school staff, but can’t. Comments welcome, as always!