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Parents’ evening: how to avoid the no-shows.
Parents’ evenings are essential to improving parental engagement. High engagement levels positively impact students' academic outcomes and help bridge the gap between home and school. In this article, we share 6 reasons why parents don’t show up and 4 key ways to avoid no-shows at parents’ evening, benefiting your teachers, parents and pupils.
Are parents’ evenings useful for parents?
There is significant research surrounding parental engagement's positive impact on pupil outcomes. Dedicated time devoted to building relationships with parents, celebrating their child’s achievements and answering any questions they may have is valuable in engaging families effectively. In secondary schools, students interact with several teachers in one day and parents’ evening is often the only time parents and teachers can meet and share subject-specific expectations from both home and school. For parents’ evenings to be useful, they must include focused discussion where the teacher is able to confidently demonstrate that they know the child well and give personalised suggestions on how parents can help at home.
- Surveys to share to make your parents feel valued
- Encouraging the parent voice in your school community
- 7 questions to encourage your parents to ask at parents’ evening
Why do parents not attend parents’ evenings? Top 6 reasons.
Different factors can reduce the likelihood of parents attending parents’ evenings. Your team will benefit from analysing reasons specific to your setting; valuable insight can be gathered by inviting parents to share their views on parents' evenings using a survey via your communications system. This could be carried out before the evening and as an exit survey to improve next year’s practice.
We unpick the 6 top reasons why parents miss parents’ evenings.
1. Previous dissatisfaction experienced at parents’ evening
Parents may have experienced frustrations with teacher conversations at previous parents’ evening events, increasing their likelihood of avoiding repeated experiences. If families feel their opinions and thoughts are not valued or are dissatisfied with feedback they are being given on their child, this can lead to frustrations and future reluctance to attend. Teachers should be given the opportunity to explore positive and pragmatic choices of language and be reassured of the school’s policy surrounding complaints and aggressive parent behaviour.
2. Parental anxiety
Parents can experience feelings of anxiety around visiting the school for a host of different reasons, many of which may be outside of your control; current conflicts with other parents, awakening memories of poor childhood school experiences or previous poor-management for accessibility needs. Encourage your team to work pro-actively to understand and find solutions for potential barriers anxious parents may feel surrounding parent-teacher meetings. Sending out a pre-evening questionnaire can highlight anxiety ‘hotspots’, some parents may benefit from attending on another day or may opt for the virtual parents’ evening option.
3. ‘Parents’ evening is a waste of time’
Some parents may have experienced poorly organised parents’ evenings (during previous years or in different schools), and they will understandably be reluctant to give up their time for an event perceived as insignificant. Their earlier encounters with parents’ evening may have had limited time with the teacher to ask questions, felt the time to look through their child’s work pieces was too short or thought they didn’t learn anything they didn’t already know during their allotted time slot. Explain in advance the process of parents’ evening with your families, highlight the opportunity to ask questions and encourage a visit to their child’s classrooms to celebrate their achievements. Give your parents inspiration by sharing a list of useful questions to ask during parents’ evening.
4. Unable to make the parents’ evening time slot
Schools have set days to run parents’ evenings to help teachers with the administrative tasks associated with the parents’ evening preparation and protect their after-school time. It is likely the days you choose for parents’ meetings might not suit every parent, and some may be unable to make the time slots due to work, childcare or other circumstances. Previously, that may have meant they would miss their opportunity to talk with the teacher (and vice versa). Since the introduction of online video calls into schools, there is now more opportunity than ever to be flexible to your parents’ needs. Think about replacing ‘in-person’ slots with online alternatives to accommodate parents’ and teachers’ availability.
5. Technology problems with parents
Most schools operate an online parents’ evening management or booking system, helping parents to book their time slot quickly and efficiently. However, some parents may be unaware or unsure of how to use the system, creating a barrier for attendance. Offering parents introduction videos on how to book a meeting slot or training sessions can overcome this barrier. Use a well supported communications system with all the modern-school features needed under one roof, helping your parents to make the most of every feature.
6. Unaware of the parents’ evening event
Important information is lost if only social media channels are relied upon to share details such as parents’ evening dates and booking information. For example, if your school only uses Twitter as primary communication channel, all parents who are not regular Twitter users will be disadvantaged. Important event information may have been lost between Year 4’s welly walk and Year 6’s plea for recycled cardboard boxes. Have a separate newsfeed for classroom celebrations, a calendar with important dates linked and an online booking system. Some parents may not be aware of the school’s processes and systems, including the online communication systems, meaning they are left out of the loop with school events. Parents’ evenings can be the ideal time to signpost parents to your school’s app for information updates, homework submission, booking events and two-way communication.
How to avoid no-shows at parents’ evening
Improving parental engagement is a low-cost change with high-impact rewards. Schools can quickly improve communication channels to reduce parental barriers and increase attendance at parents’ evening events.
We share 4 steps to an effective parents evening.
1. How to organise an effective parents’ evening
Firstly, think of the dates in advance and check that they wont clash with any other local events that will significantly impact parent attendance. If you know there is a week in the Autumn term where secondary schools will invite prospective students for opening evenings, avoid parents’ evenings that week. Remind, remind, remind. Using your online communication system and social channels, contact parents when dates have been released, when booking is open, remind them to book appointments, and again the day before the parents’ evening is scheduled. Use your Weduc app to pre-set reminders for parents’ notifications easily. Well run Parents’ Evenings include the following:
- Parking signposted
- Classrooms labelled
- Child’s books out ready for early parents
- Questions able to be pre-asked on the Weduc app
- Drinks ready for parents
- A bookfair scheduled for the same evening
- Ample seating provided
- Signage for toilets
2. What does a positive parents’ evening look like?
Think about what makes a positive parents’ evening experience for your families. The small details count in making a parent-teacher meeting a positive one. The aim is for parents to feel the visit was worthwhile and will be attended again next time. Remind your staff that the drive will be:
- Effective time management and organisation
- Valuable conversations with parents
- Next steps for parents to assist with learning at home
- Positive and energetic atmosphere
3. How to run an inclusive parents’ evening
Accessibility can be a barrier to getting parents through the door with parents’ evenings. Launch a simple parent exit survey using your Weduc app after the event; asking parents about any accessibility needs you could further support with next time:
- Were there sufficient ramp access?
- Would you benefit from an induction loop?
- Is English your first language?
- Were there any other barriers to you attending?
Explain to parents the facilities and assistance available prior to the evening, recognising the difficulties some families may experience pre-emptively.
4. Virtual or In-person: how should parents’ evenings be delivered?
With the steps towards inviting families into school life via online platforms such as Zoom, Teams and Google meet, virtual parents’ evenings have been adopted as a new practice for many schools. Your school may choose to continue the online meetings or opt for a hybrid model, with the option of in-person or online meeting slots. By offering these online meetings, parents who may struggle to leave work and attend (due to childcare, shift work or other circumstances) can still engage with their child’s learning effectively. Think about offering virtual meetings to those who have still not signed up for the parents’ evening slots and will miss their opportunity to discuss their child’s progress with the teacher.
There are several different creative methods schools can introduce and trial to reduce teacher workload and the strenuous impact of in-person parents’ evenings on teaching staff:
- Begin meetings at 1 pm, with cover supervisors taking the classes or completing year group/ shared class activities.
- Spread the appointment slots across more days but finish earlier
- Keep your teachers going with a regular supply of hot drinks, toilet breaks and snacks (as many will be missing their regular dinner times to deliver)
- Run ‘drop-in’ slots regularly throughout the year to keep parents informed of progress in a less formal method
Parental engagement is essential for creating a positive home-learning environment and improving students’ academic and social outcomes. It is important to audit your current parents’ evening process and systems to appreciate the parents' user experience and make a long-lasting, impactful change to your online booking and deliverance of parents’ evenings.