One of the first items that landed on my desk following my return after the holidays was a report setting out the results of a survey of parents that had been undertaken during the summer term.
On receiving this report, and before I even looked at its contents, my immediate reaction was somewhat negative and defensive. I instinctively assumed that the survey’s findings would not make for happy reading and I silently cursed whoever it was who had thought that (another) survey was a good idea.
After putting the report swiftly into the “deal with later” pile and doing some of those other vital tasks that await a headteacher at the start of a new school year (such as watering some dead plants, catching up with what colleagues had been up to over the summer), I eventually made myself a cup of tea and sat down to read the report.
And of course, the results of the survey, while by no means all positive, were not nearly as bad as I had assumed that they would be.
On thinking about this later, I wondered whether my immediate negative response to the survey was not because I have an aversion to surveys in general but because this one was a survey of parents.
Was it the “parents” element that caused my instinctive reaction that the report would be largely negative and just create a headache for me? If so, why should this be the case?
It is an unfortunate fact that a headteacher is, more often than not, likely to encounter parents in a negative situation. Inevitably, we have far more dealings with the parents of pupils who are not behaving or doing as well as they should.
Most face-to-face meetings I have with parents are either re-admission meetings following a fixed-term exclusion, or with parents who wish to discuss some particular problem with their child.
Similarly, when I ring a parent it is not usually to wax lyrical about their child’s good behaviour or performance.
Clearly this goes with the territory of being a headteacher. It is, however, one of the aspects of the role that I find most difficult to deal with.
It can also, I believe, affect one’s interaction with, and perhaps on occasions one’s view of, parents in general.
It is this aspect that I find slightly worrying, as clearly the relationship between the headteacher and parents is critical to the successful functioning of the school.
Parents play a key role in many aspects of school life. They act as governors, they organise and attend PTA events, they help out with sports events, they come on school trips, they help their children with their homework, and ensure that they turn up at the beginning of the school day!
In other words, parents have a wide-ranging and, almost universally, positive impact on the life of a school.
From the point of view of a headteacher, however, it is all too easy for the vast majority of this to be “filtered out”, so that all the headteacher is left with is the awkward ones who want to complain.
Could this explain my initial reaction to the parents’ survey? Clearly there are some less positive aspects to the survey’s findings; however, there are also many good and encouraging findings.
It is a challenge as a headteacher to ensure that the day-to-day reality of interacting with parents does not colour one’s attitude to parents as a whole.
While there are always going to be difficult parents, I believe that in most schools the vast majority of parents will be supportive and will appreciate all that the school and staff does for their son or daughter.
Perhaps we need to organise another survey to confirm this...
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.