Communicating with Parents/Community

I learned an important lesson on Wednesday night when I attended a public joint school board and community council meeting in Dunbar to discuss the plans for a new school in the community. 

It was apparent that members of the community didn’t feel they were being properly consulted over the proposals – even though the decision won’t be taken until March. What was interesting was the difference in the way people responded to information. 

As a council official I was – for some – one of the ‘bad guys’ – to stereotype – a bureaucrat; not to be trusted; and not interested in public opinion.  It’s funny but I don’t think I said anything last night that I wouldn’t have said as a Head Teacher – yet the message was definitely influenced by my position.

So what did I learn? – we must improve our communication with parents and communities using as many ways as possible to give people an opportunity to access information and to express an opinion.  I think people do realise that such decisions do not go to a referendum but what they do want is to be able to have access to information upon which they can make up their own mind. I will never again – I hope – go into a meeting where people feel they haven’t access to information or that they feel a decision has been taken prior to the meeting – even if it hasn’t.

9 thoughts on “Communicating with Parents/Community

  1. Hi Don,
    I read your final sentence and I’m left wondering if you are committed to improving communications with the community or committed to never attending a public meeting again? I’m sure it was not the latter. 😀

    I’m also curious as to what kind of consultation the parents of Dunbar were expecting. I think a meeting with the Head of Education where they can ask questions and hear the proposals is a “proper” form of consultation.

    Finally, I’m curious, did you manage to; ease their worries; answer their questions; win them around, to you being a ‘good guy’?

  2. Pingback: Don’s Learning Blog » Dunbar Primary School Provision

  3. I was totally taken aback by the extent of the problem and how far the thinking has gone without consultation. I had the feeling that the meeting was a cosmetic exercise and nothing that is said will have any bearing on the decission to build a new all-through primary school across the railway.
    I feel that little was said while about the effect on present primary pupils and those who will join the school over the next three or four years. [I also think that ELC’s estimate of 3 years 5 months from April will inevitably prove to be optimistic!] I believe that parents of these kids should be demanding the best provision possible in the interim.
    Ian Fullerton, strategic planning officer at Dept of Ed gave a very (too?) detailed presentation with loads of statistics (designed to bore or bamboozle?). They could have easily been in printed form and handed out but he used a digital projector. I was sitting in the front row and had difficulty reading them. The problem would seem to be that DPS is unable to cope with the pre-school numbers, though why this was not realised earlier I cannot fathom – unless, of course, there has been a deliberate ploy to leave things to the last minute so that they can steam roller a ‘solution’ through. The only other explanation I can come up with is incompetence on the part of the strategic planners.

  4. Gordon

    Thanks for your comment. We have been surprised by unexpected, unpredictable and quite exceptional population growth in Dunbar . However, I’m confident that we can handle the pupil numbers over the next few years through careful management. I was head teacher at Dunbar Grammar School when the roll grew by over 150 in three years. At the same time we went through a troubled PPP building project and had 16 temporary units in the playground.. The lesson from that experience is that neither education nor health and safety need be compromised. In fact the school was inspected during this period and received one of the Scotland’s best HMIe reports and enjoyed sustained academic attainment over the same period. The key to all this was constant communication and engagement with parents – which takes me back to the point I made in this post.

  5. That is the problem there has been very little communication and engagement with parents. I am a parent and All I received was a slip in my sons bag the day before the meeting. I am also a member of Dunbar Community Council I was surprised to say the least to see that the CC were given top billing as meeting co hosts. At the last CC meeting 20/11/06 we were asked if we would like send someone along to the school board meeting to hear the proposals for the future of our school. This is not communication. If the CC are going to co host a meeting someone should at least have the common courtesy to let them know. A total lack of communication. It is the feeling of parents that ELC have already made up their minds on the future of our school but this is not a surprise as it all seems to happen behind closed doors. You say”The key to all this was constant communication and engagement with parents”. You need to practice what you preach.

  6. Quite clearly there is a lot to think about when considering future school provision – I certainly haven’t got my head round the options yet!
    I am more immediately concerned about managing the next few years – already there is evidence that DPS is bulging at the seams & availability of room for gym, drama, music etc is at a premium. I also hear of my children having insufficient time to eat their lunch or even limited lunch menu available by the time the 3rd sitting get to the canteen. Whilst additional numbers can be reasonably accomodated in huts, portacabins or whatever, this must be matched with additional provision for dining & other facilities.

  7. I know that this is not directly your problem but getting information from Dunbar Primary School is like getting blood from a stone. Here is a recent email that I sent the School with no response.

    There seems to be a total lack of Communication between the School and the parents. I believe there was a new Head Teacher appointed in December? As a parent is it too much to ask to be kept informed about something as important as this rather than having to rely on playground gossip. Having checked the School’s web site it too seems to be slightly out of date. The last School Board minutes are from 19/04/2005, the news page is blank and the welcome page says it all: “Welcome to the website of Dunbar Primary School. This site is intended to keep you informed about what is happening in our school. We hope you enjoy your visit(s)”.

    As a parent my children bring home newsletters and information on events that have already happened or things that they need to bring in the next day. Last jeans for jeans day it was nice to see the Teachers all dressed up but a lot of the children were not as the parents had not been told.

    Communication needs to be improved.

    Gordon Saunders, parent

    There is also no information as yet regarding the future of our School. Are there to be anymore meetings or consultations? Has the descion been made? Are the parents and future parents going to get a say?

    Gordon

  8. I believe David Scott, the new head teacher who took up his post on Monday, has replied to your e mail. I know David is very keen to develop ICT at the school – which will include the website

    I am suprised that there was no communication from the school about Mrs Manson’s departure and her successor prior to the Chrstmas break.

    Information will be coming out to parents and members of the community about a public meeting to be held in Dunbar on the 30th January.

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