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Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: The first parents’ evening

surviving-teachingAlex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, SSAT, writes…

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. In this latest post has advice for a first parents’ evening…


Parents’ evenings can be daunting at first. The secret is to prepare. Each school will have its own particular approach, but the main ingredients will be the same. Parents and carers want to know how their child is progressing in your subject, so tell them. Too often in the past the essential message given by teachers at parents’ evening was a bland, generic comment ‘If she works harder, she will do better.’ Parents deserve to know something a little more precise – but you may only have three minutes to tell them, so here’s how…

  1. Appearance matters – you need to look the part and you need to set the tone as a reliable, impressive professional who can be trusted with a year or more of a child’s education. Have your preparation on the desk with you – either a spreadsheet on a laptop or a set of notes – so that you are ready to give sharp, focused feedback.
  2. Start by standing up, smiling, introducing yourself and shaking hands with the parents. Making eye contact is crucial.
  3. Timing is important. In some schools parents’ evenings can feel to parents like a flashback to the old Soviet Union, queuing endlessly for bread. If the slots are five minutes, then you may well only have three minutes to deliver your message. Be precise in what you are going to say. Don’t get a reputation with parents or your colleagues as someone who doesn’t keep to time. If a particular parent is keen to discuss something in more detail and you don’t have time, suggest a phone call or arrange a follow-up meeting.
  4. A good formula for parents’ evening is to give a specific summary of how the student is doing (how they contribute to lessons, the level they are currently working at, a specific task they did really well), and then to suggest two specific targets. Make these as precise as possible eg “Her weak point is writing up experiments, so she needs to practice this skill more. It would be a good idea if she talked to XX about her evaluations and looked at how to structure and express them…”
  5. Invite any quick questions, but be very conscious of the timing. Keep your answer brief, upbeat and clear.
  6. Aim to finish your interview with a one-sentence summary which effectively summarises the whole conversation, like this: “So, in summary, Jane has had a good year and is working at her target grade. She now needs to improve the way she writes up experiments and to focus on the areas where her knowledge is weaker – especially photosynthesis.”
  7. If you are concerned about meeting a particular parent – perhaps because a student has been causing trouble in your class – ask your head of department or mentor to sit in on the meeting.
  8. Don’t be worried if a parent asks you a question that you can’t answer or raises a concern that you are unsure how to deal with. Make a note of anything that needs following up, seek advice from an appropriate colleague the next day and follow up with a phone call or email to the parent. Parents will appreciate that you have taken the time to deal with their query or concern.

Advice from those who’ve been there and done it

Parents really appreciate phone calls home. They can make an enormous difference to a pupil’s behaviour and attitude. Calls home should be used to give positive feedback as well as to discuss issues of concern. Some of my year 10 students have actually asked me to call home and say how well they are doing when I have praised them.
Emma, Little Heath School

Let an angry parent have their say – listen to what they have to say and don’t interrupt. Reassure them as often as possible. Explain that, like them, you have the best interests of their child at heart, but that you need their support in helping them. Start by telling them something positive about their child, before giving them any bad news and finish the meeting on a positive note, with a clear understanding of how to move forward.
Darren, The Swinton High School

Find out what you can contact parents about and what would be better left to the head of year/learning coordinator/head of department.
Rachel, Lady Lumley’s School

Phone parents often from the beginning. Get yourself a reputation as a home-caller immediately and behaviour will be better.
Stuart, The Compton School

Seek advice from the head of department and head of year before communicating for the first time with parents – make sure you get it right. Keep a record of any meetings you have had with parents for future reference.
Nicola, Comberton Village College

If you do have concerns with students then do phone home, parents like to be kept informed, and do not like to find out if there have been issues ongoing that they haven’t known about. This is important all the way through to year 13. Don’t stress about parents’ evenings, they are normally really enjoyable and parents like to hear how their children are doing. Be prepared with data and mark books (especially exam classes) and ensure you get to know your classes for those initial evenings.
Pamela, Little Heath School



What are your experiences of your first year in teaching? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let us know via Twitter with the hashtag #SSATsurvive or in the comments below.

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