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back to school

October 19, 2012

I went to school this week. No – I actually went back into a secondary school building! It was because my daughter was having her “review day”, so as a moderately good parent I went along.

Now let me say I have a great deal of respect for anyone who can hold the attention of children for anything more than a few minutes. It is clearly a skill I don’t have. Let me also say that I never enjoyed school, it was more of an endurance – and no doubt that colours my views today. But having said all that I wasn’t quite expecting what I found…

In the old days there were parents evenings, you went along after school and the teachers stayed late. Not nice but only a few times a year, and they do get longer holidays! Now you go on a review day – during the day – at ten past three in the afternoon to be precise. Fortunately I have understanding employers who allow me flexi time for such occasions – if I didn’t I would have had to take one of my precious 25 days holiday a year to be there.

At twenty five past three we were ushered into the classroom to see the said teacher, who remarked that we were early. “No” I said “actually we are late for a 3.10 appointment”. it wasn’t a great start! The review consisted of sitting on those horrible plastic school chairs (don’t get me started!) and reading through a letter (already written) that showed predicted and target grades, and of the teacher talking past me to my daughter, railroading her into agreeing to attend revision sessions after school. If I hadn’t interrupted on a couple of occasions I wouldn’t have been part of the conversation at all. When I did interrupt it was to try and understand things that people within education think are normal.

For example what is the difference between a predicted and a target grade, and what do the grades mean anyway? Why do we have to sit in a MFL suite, rather than a language classroom or a LRC rather than a library?

And if I had needed to take a days annual leave to do so it would have been a letter of complaint rather than a blog!

It seems to me that schools are failing to treat parents as partners. In any other context I would have been welcomed, offered a coffee, sent an agenda beforehand, and the meeting would have started on time. All the people in the meeting would have been able to give their viewpoint, say that they disagree when they do, and contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

Of course that isn’t going to happen any time soon in our broken education system – and my rant isn’t going to change it overnight.

But as I reflected I began to wonder if I am blind to the times when I get so focused on what I need to achieve that I stop giving proper time and attention to welcoming people, giving them space to speak, making as sure as I can that they feel comfortable.

Of course I can’t ignore these things – As a fundraiser if I don’t do that I simply have no one giving me money. As a manager of volunteers if they aren’t happy they vote with their feet.

But hold on – I may not be very impressed by the school, but I still want them to do a good job of educating my kids. I may not have got anything from the meeting, but I’ll still feel it is my duty to be at the next one. People are complicated, I am complicated – and I cannot afford to assume that anyone I come across is any less complicated. All the more reason then to make sure that I’m making sure they are comfortable, communicated with in plain english, respected and listened to.

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