Diary of a headteacher: Through the lens of the parent

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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Our headteacher diarist is looking for a school for his son, who is soon to finish year 6. It gives him a golden opportunity to experience school open days from a parents' point of view...

This past fortnight has been an interesting experience for me. At school we have been preparing for our annual open evening, when we showcase our school to prospective parents who are considering secondary places for their child next September.

I have been working with a variety of staff to make sure we have all the bases covered for this important occasion. We evaluate what worked well last year and we refine our plan to further improve the event.

However, for the first time ever, I have been looking at the secondary school open evening experience from a different perspective. My own son has just started year 6 and therefore I have been taking him around the schools in our local area.

What this has allowed me to do is view the experience through the lens of a parent, which has been very revealing. The schools I have visited with my son have all had a great raft of student volunteers and they have been invariably fabulous. I have really enjoyed listening to them talk enthusiastically about the subjects they enjoy and the best parts of their schools.

I have also enjoyed listening to the teachers as they explain what their subject is all about and how their curriculum is structured. I tend to listen intently, not revealing my role as a headteacher, just to see what their approach towards parents and young people is like.

I have been on the flip side of this, of course, when prospective parents who are teachers or school leaders quiz me or my staff about our provision.

I have found that teachers when viewing a school as a prospective parent either adopt a “stealth” approach like me or deliberately go out of their way to try and prove how much they know about education or how their school “does it better”.

For me, I find it more enlightening to stand back and view everything objectively in order to make judgements, rather than really drill down into the fine detail by quizzing the teachers about the minutia of their provision.

This experience has also given me the opportunity to see how other schools deliver these events. I have been a senior leader in three very different schools so this has given me a broad perspective on how open evenings can be delivered.

But this year, participating as a parent has brought a new perspective. Simple things, such as reducing queueing times to enter the school, or providing tour guides can make a big difference to the way an event feels to the parents and their children. Having a warm welcome from students and staff as soon as they arrive, along with a genuine and sincere “goodbye” or “is there anything else we can help you with?” can really give people an indication about how their children will be treated at the school.

This experience has also shone a light on just how much parents really want to buy into the vision of the school. For me that starts and finishes with the headteacher and therefore my speech and presentation to parents is a crucial aspect of open evening.

One of the schools I visited did not have any presentation from the head and this left me feeling that I did not really get to understand what the school was about in terms of the culture or the expectations. If visitors are just sent on a carousel tour from subject to subject, can they genuinely understand what the school is about?

I know that I want my school to be a place where young people are known as individuals, where their holistic development is valued as highly as their academic achievements, where they can thrive and achieve their goals. If I don’t explicitly communicate this vision with parents, how on earth will they know about what we are trying to achieve as a school? This is not something that should be left to chance or osmosis; I believe it is the key message people need to leave my school with.

As we build towards our event I have used my recent experiences to tweak and refine our plans, but my overall reflections were that we didn’t need to change a great deal as I believe we have the balance just right. However, only time will tell and therefore if we are to continue hitting our pupil admission number and maintain our oversubscription, I better get practising my speech!

  • The author is a headteacher in his sixth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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