Please talk to us

Schools and parents talking to each other always seems to be an issue.  Or not talking, which is perhaps more often the case.  I saw a comment about this from a disgruntled parent on Don’s website a while back and meant to go and post a comment, only I couldn’t find it when I eventually went to look.  So it’s going to get a post in its own right.

I think the gist of the original comment was that there was lots going on in the school, including the appointment of a new head, but the parents weren’t being told anything.  This struck a chord with me for a number of reasons. 

Over the past year or so, the very successful head of Ross High, Helen Alexander, went on long-term sick leave and then took early retirement on medical grounds.  She was replaced just before Christmas.  Unfortunately the only information that seemed to reach parents during this period was a mixture of rumours and gossip.  Mrs Alexander wrote a letter to parents when she stood down but rumours had been circulating for a considerable time before this and the letter was almost too late.  There was no information about appointing a replacement but again, the rumour mill went to work and eventually Mrs Bartholomew announced herself as the new head in the Christmas newsletter.  I don’t believe the school website has been updated for a number of years.  The decision to enter students for Standard Grade in P3 rather than P4 was not discussed with P7 parents until it was far too late to do anything about it.  It’s just possible (although probably unlikely) that, if we’d known earlier, we’d have looked at other options for schools.

Whilst my children were at primary school, I was involved with the school board and acted as chair over the period of an acting headship and then the appointment of two successive head teachers.  I had a very good working relationship with the first of these who made a big effort to keep me and the board informed of everything that was going on in the school, including involvement in staff appointments.  The end of her tenure unfortunately coincided with an enormous increase in the volume of my own work and a concomitant decrease in the amount of time I was able to put into the board.  With the new head, the relationship was friendly but different and I discovered that I wasn’t learning of major happenings until board meetings, if then, and was often finding things out well after they had happened and the playground gossip was in full swing. This left me, on occasions, playing catch up.  I passed over the chair of the board as soon as I could to someone who was able to develop a much better dialogue with the head than I.

My point is not a real criticism in either case, as different people have different ways of working and personalities are all important.  It is more that schools in general don’t really see the need to tell parents about what they (the school) perceive as the minutiae of what’s going on.  Unfortunately, rumours spread like wildfire and the public perception of a school and how it’s faring is very important to the standing of that school in the community.  And to whether or not parents will send their children there.  I have had more conversations than I care to remember along the lines of “How are your children doing at XXX school?”  Spoken sotto voce with a commiserating tone.  “I hear it’s not as good as XXXX”.  I had one such conversation just after Christmas with a lady who has no intention of letting her children suffer Ross High.  Ross High does not have a great reputation in the wider community, however much on the up the results might be.  Pencaitland parents start moving to North Berwick at about P6.  Parents whose children have attended RH, on the other hand, speak of it in glowing terms – but I’m sure you all know that already! 

Keeping the parents well informed about everything and scotching the rumour mill are hugely important in building a good relationship with the community.  Head Teacher departure/appointments are too significant to be left to a casual mention in the next newsletter.  Schools talk a great deal about partnerships with parents but it has always seemed to me, from the moment that my children first entered the education system, that schools only want this partnership on their own terms.  Maybe they’re too busy educating our children to tell us about everything but, now that communication is becoming so fast and easy, that’s not really acceptable.  We do get texts about meetings and letters, phone calls about missed homework.  But try getting information about something off the mainstream.  Phew! 

I got put right in my place in our first couple of weeks.  I had phoned up, very innocently, to find something out (can’t remember what) and the response from the desk was “What! Am I supposed to know everything now!”  “Well, yes…” 

So please, tell us everything and you might get something positive back.   ANd GET THAT WEBSITE UP TO DATE!

10 thoughts on “Please talk to us

  1. I bashed this out rather late last night and I’m not sure it’s quite what I set out to write. Oh well, I’ll leave it and see what the echo chamber produces. gpm

  2. The link to the Ross High site perhaps makes my point – this hasn’t changed in 3 years!

    Comment on Don’s blog – yes that was the discussion I saw and particularly the comment from Gordon towards the end of the string. Sorry – I haven’t figured how to make links to individual comments yet.

  3. I know Dorothy Bartholomew is very keen to develop the school website and we hope to support it in every way possible.

    You’re points about communication are well made and we must find as many ways as possible to engage with parents and the community about what’s happening in our schools.

    Interestingly I’ve just got back from a school board cluster meeting in the Duunbar area. We mentioned the potential of using exc-el software and the simplicity of the system to develop interactive sites for parents and the school community. It would seem that you have many skills which might be useful for the school when they start to look at this.

    There is no excuse for rudeness – we are involved in public service.

  4. It would seem that you have many skills which might be useful for the school when they start to look at this   Whoops – time to get my head below the parapet…

  5. I have only got back to reading your blog for the first time in a while and have to say you make some very important points. As a parent of a P7 going to Ross in the summer I am concerned that there has been no open evening to try to show all the parents what is good and positive about Ross High. I have to say a huge number of my child’s class have rejected Ross as an option without having any information about the school and at the moment I don’t see the school trying to change that situation.

  6. Hi Jenni
    There wasn’t an open evening last year either – we wondered if we’d somehow managed to miss it but I think it just didn’t happen. My latest concern is that the S3s are starting to think about subject choices for next year (they’ve had a trial run, apparently) but there has been no information yet to parents on how the two years in this new scheme are going to be structured. Or if there has been, I’ve missed it. My next post I think.

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