Tom Starkey: parents evenings

  • Tom Starkey: parents evenings

‘‘Whatever persona they’ve developed within the gates is shattered to pieces…”

Parents evenings aren’t everyone’s cup of coffee, says Tom Starkey, but seeing students sitting next to mum and dad can definitely give you a new insight into their attitude…

I don’t know about you, but I get into a type of groove being around kids. My working day bleeds into my home and social life and I find myself saying and doing things that are really only appropriate in the classroom. I’ve been known to startle unruly queues to order in late night metropolitan chicken shops (taking my life into my own greasy fingers as I’ve done so). I’ve admonished my wife for not bringing a pen to an anniversary meal and I’m frequently telling people (who aren’t students) all manner of interesting things they can do with their grammar. Such as improve it. Now.

But I don’t do this on parents evening. No way. In such a highly pressurised environment, that kind of thing can bring situations to a head. At these things there’s already a tendency for those who rock up to regress back to their own school days and that in combination with my involuntary teacherisms could result in me giving 50-odd fully grown men and women detention by mistake. Maybe it’s being back in a school building, maybe it’s the anxiety over their spawn’s progress (or lack of it) but whatever it is it sees many a sensible adult exhibit behaviour that’s akin to a Year 9 group after they’ve just got in from lunch. Nervous whispering, giggling, hollering across the hall to Steve from Sunday league are all in attendance. I think we should drop the pretence and just get all the parents to line up, single file outside the assembly hall, check to make sure that they’ve all got their shirts tucked in and their collars out and asked if they’ve done all their homework.

When it comes to parents and carers there are recognisable types: worriers, rebels, flusterers. There are those that are in extremely obvious pains to get out of there as soon as is humanly possible and those who are going to ask so many questions that they’re going to still be sat in the assembly hall come first bell tomorrow morning. As a parent who now ‘enjoys’ these wonderful events himself, my heart goes out to each and every one of them. But not as much as it does to the kids. Because no matter how bad we have it, for them there is no more exquisite embarrassment than parents evening. There’s no pretence allowed.

Whatever persona they’ve developed within the gates is shattered to pieces at events like this. There is a lumbering giant of reality escorting them, making bad jokes, going into the wrong rooms and complaining about the coffee. Having the presence of a responsible adult brings home the fact that the children with them are still very much children and I know very few of them that enjoy being reminded of it. Saying that though, it’s a golden opportunity for me to refer to Miles, a 6ft 2 behemoth of a 13 and a half year old as ‘Little Miles’, just like his dad does. Oh the angry stares. Delicious. Also, there’s always the chance that you hit the jackpot where by some small miracle a lad or lass turns up who you’d never have thought would. The one whose parents you’d actually like to talk to due to their offspring having a rap sheet as long as their arms. When that happens it’s like Christmas. However, after sitting down and listening to the grown-up talk for a while it’s often the case that I’m stopped from going full-on nuclear strike as it dawns on me that there is a very real and very detrimental factor in the child’s behaviour, and it’s sitting right next to them.

I’ve been in schools where there’s been a steady stream of nervous souls (both big and small) and I’ve been in schools where I’ve seen 12 parents out of a cohort of 100. It’s led me to think of parents evening being an unofficial litmus test for the quality of a school. The more parents in, the better. Unless, of course, you’re a teacher that desperately wants to get home so you can pretend to have a modicum of real life before you go back in the morning. In all fairness, I guess parents evenings aren’t that bad - they give the school a chance to reach out to the community and invite it inside. Opportunities like that can be priceless.

Well, not exactly priceless - you’ve still got to shell out for the coffee and biscuits.