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By James Clements, posted on 13th October 2020

Working with school (in strange times)

We’ve made it. After a long spring and summer at home, most children across the country are finally back at school. While it’s great to have them back, the return is bound to have brought mixed feelings for parents, children, teachers and headteachers alike.

On one hand, there’s the relief that comes with being able to get on with things as normal, to see the school community come back together, see children laughing with their friends, talking and interacting again. There’s the chance to get learning back on track, building on the successes of home learning and filling in any gaps that might exist. For parents like me, there’s now a bit of peace and quiet at home and some time to actually get things done.

But naturally there’s some uncertainty, too. Everyone’s situation is different and everyone will have different worries: about relatives, about work, about what happens next. Contrasting reports from the news and social media can mean everyone has different opinions about what we should be doing and the best way forward.

For school staff, delighted to see the children again, there’s bound to be a heightened sense of responsibility to keep everyone safe. There are new government guidelines in place to adhere to and new systems in place for teachers to follow. Headteachers especially are finding their time spread very thinly between the jobs they had to do before and the many new jobs and responsibilities they have because of the situation at the moment.

At times like this, it’s good to remember that both you and your child’s teacher want the same thing – a happy, confident child who enjoys going to school and loves learning. By building an effective home/school partnership, both you and your child’s teacher can achieve this aim together.

1. Being an active parent

One of the best ways you can support your child’s education at the moment is by being an active parent. That means doing your best to:

  • Attend meetings for parents about the curriculum or other aspects of school life. These are likely to be online at the moment, but the messages will be the same. These help you to understand how things are done at the school and the reasoning behind any recent changes.
  • Support your child with their home learning. The chances are you’ve had plenty of practice with this over the last six months, but hopefully levels have dropped slightly now! · Listen to them read as often as possible. It really is the easiest and most enjoyable thing we can do as parents to support their education.
  • Make sure they’re at school on time every day. It’s even more important at the moment if your child’s school is staggering start times and the whole system depends on everyone being there at a particular time.
  • Be contactable and respond to messages from the school. Opportunities for a quick chat at the classroom door might be restricted at the moment, so making sure you’re available if the teacher wants to chat on the phone can help to solve any issues quickly before they become a big thing.
  • Communicating with the school if there are any problems. A phone call or an email is often enough to sort out any issues. Remembering that even if our views differ about the best way to do something, the school staff we interact with are people with feelings too. And if you’re happy about something, don’t be afraid to let the school know that too. Positive feedback can make the world of difference in strange times like these.

If parents manage to do all of these things consistently, then the relationship between home and school is likely to be a positive one, even if there are some differences of opinion at times.

For parents who have more time, schools are always keen for parents to be involved. You could:

2. Join the Parents’ Association

This is a great way to meet other parents and support the school through fundraising ventures. Over the last few months, schools have found themselves with lots of new expenses and any sources of additional funding are likely to be very important.

3. Volunteer at school

Schools are often looking for volunteers to run clubs or hear readers during the school day. While these might be on hold at the moment, hopefully it won’t be too long until things return to normal. If you’ve expressed an interest in helping, the school can get back to you as soon as they can.

4. Become a school governor

School governors work with headteachers to decide policies, oversee management and create the ethos of the school.

Parent-teacher meetings

Most schools hold parents’ evenings each term, and they’re a very important part of the relationship you develop with your child’s school and their teacher. This term they’re likely to be in the form of a phone call or video chat. You might be an old hand, but if this is your first experience of a parent-teacher meeting, you don’t need to feel apprehensive. Here are some ideas on how to get the most out of meeting with your child’s teacher:

  • Check whether your child should be listening with you or not, as this varies from school to school.
  • You may not be able to see your child’s work at this first meeting. Logistically, it might be tricky if you’re not there in the room together physically. Very often the first meeting of the year is all about meeting for the first time, making contact, and discussing aims and targets for the year anyway.
  • Talk to your child and ask how things are going at school. Ask them what they would like you to ask the teacher. Afterwards, tell them how the meeting went.
  • Try to come away from the meeting with some positive steps that you, your child, and the teachers will take to help your child succeed.
  • If you have received a written report and want clarification on some areas, have it to hand during the meeting so you can refer to it.

You’ll normally have a 10-15 minute slot, which will fly by. Having a list of questions prepared can help make sure you don’t miss anything vital. Here are some questions you could ask at your first parents’ evening:

  • ‘Do they get along with other children and have strong friendship groups?’
  • ‘Do they contribute to class discussions?’
  • ‘Which area of learning is their strongest and which do they seem to enjoy most?’
  • ‘Are they making good progress?’
  • ‘What can we do at home to help?’
  • ‘Are there any areas where they are not making the progress you’d expect and what additional support are they receiving?’

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