Mike Piercy, educational consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, shares advice on how parents can support their children at school
Trust is such a fragile thing. It can take an age to build; but a moment to break. Our children are the most precious things. Our primeval instinct is to protect them from harm – to do the best for them, at home, in school and in life.
In supporting our children at school the starting point is choosing the school itself – if given that blessing. Having made your choice and successfully gained a place, trust your judgment and trust the school.
When choosing a Secondary or Senior school the Head is of course the key figure but, in terms of your interaction as a parent, the interface is far more likely to be the Head of Year, Section or House. This is the person you must instinctively trust and, ideally (though not essentially) like.
In the Primary or Prep sector the person in whom you must place your trust is the Head. Preps and Primaries are generally smaller than Secondaries. The Head is more likely to have daily influence on your child and on ‘the feel’ of the school. In choosing any school, Primary or Secondary, the most important, determining factor is that instinctive feel: do I believe my child will be nurtured; socially, emotionally, academically and in the breadth of education?
We all recall certain teachers who had significant influences on us – for better or for worse. This will also be the case for your children and, equally, for you as a parent.
Don’t expect to see eye-to-eye with every teacher you encounter. Don’t expect to agree with every aspect of school policy. Don’t expect a bumpless road.
Communication is key. How does the school communicate with you: collectively, to parents; individually, to you? Diligently read any regular newsletters – or weekly bulletin if there is one. Most independent schools are run on a tight budget (which may come as something of a surprise considering fees). School offices are busy. ‘Phone calls or emails asking for information which has already been communicated via bulletin or email are wasteful and time-consuming.
Play your part: know what is going on; respond as requested within deadlines. At an individual level, if there is a homework planner, or similar, check it regularly – use it as a communication tool with the teacher or tutor. Attend parent and information meetings. Be informed.
The Pareto Principle applies: the 80:20 rule. At least 80% of matters and contact will be humdrum routine. It is the 20% where caution is needed: when things go wrong, you have a concern or, indeed, if you just need something clarified. The child coming home upset having been called a ‘disgusting elephant’; upon enquiry it is revealed the teacher said, ‘Disruptive element’.
In disputing or trying to clarify an ‘incident’ be open to compromise. Don’t be afraid to question.
Do be prepared to listen. Dr. John Rae, former Head of Westminster, put it well when talking to new parents: ‘If you believe only half of the stories which come from school to home, we in return will only believe half of the stories which come to school from home.’
We all went to school and for some it must follow we are all education experts. While it should be glaringly obvious, the triangulated relationship of school, pupil and parent makes for a successful, happier educational experience for everyone. Teachers, however, are the experts and you do have that common, shared interest: your children.
It serves no-one to inflate a child’s potential or ability; for praise to be gratuitous. It can be difficult to hear your child is not meeting sometimes ambitious parental expectations – or is not working to capacity, slaving over a hot exercise book or laptop.
Consider for a moment the teacher’s motivation and it certainly won’t be to upset or inflame the loving parent. In fact, very often, teachers will be profoundly nervous of telling a parent what might be received as bad news.
Schools will sometimes get things wrong (hopefully not too often). So do we; so do our children. While a bond of trust remains; while communication is open and two-way, you will be doing a fine job supporting your children’s school, their education, their opportunities for life.
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