Meet the Parents started in September 2012 at Yerbury state primary school in North London. It was the idea of one of the parents, Madeleine Holt. She approached the school with the concept, they liked it, and they agreed to host the events.
Madeleine says: “I was frustrated at hearing in the community some quite negative things about some of the local secondary schools and yet when I spoke to parents whose children were there, they were generally very pleased with how their children were doing. The idea behind Meet the Parents is to provide a formal forum for parents to ask pointed questions of pupils and parents who are experiencing the local comprehensives schools at first hand. The aim is ultimately to make the process of choosing a secondary school for your child less burdened with anxiety.”
Whereas schools often feel obliged to present a totally positive picture at their open events, the informal Meet the Parents evenings are a chance for parents to talk more frankly about their experience. Panellists obviously tend to be broadly positive about their choice of school or they would not be so keen to take part. But it still allows prospective parents the chance to ask tough questions – for example about discipline in class or how much children are really pushed – and get answers from the horse’s mouth. In the three years since we have been running the Meet the Parents events, we have found that having as many pupils on the panel as parents works extremely well. Children are nothing if not honest, and the primary school audience most often directs its questions at them.
Here is what some of the people taking part in the first Meet the Parents event had to say:
Christine Hornby, Member of the Audience
Parent of Year 5 child:
“We can’t thank you enough for arranging the events. As both of us work we don’t have an established parent network to help us navigate the minefield this process appears to be. It was deeply reassuring to meet parents who have been through this before and get an insider’s view (both pupil and parents) of Parliament Hill.
The timing of the event was spot on. I was able to visit the school and then attend the Meet the Parents event straight after, fresh with questions. Giving the pupils the space to speak was a great idea and their openness much appreciated.
I also thought the tone of the event was judged right. We were not being ‘sold’ the school, any questions whether favorable or not seemed to be answered honestly. The space at the end for an informal chat was also much appreciated.”
Mike Ash, “Middle Class” panellist,
Parent of secondary age children:
“Social divisions can cause harm to society, and a prime breeding ground for such divisions is the education system. When middle class parents attempt to get their child into the perceived ‘best’ schools (sometimes by any means necessary!), some schools will experience a disproportionally large middle class intake, with the opposite effect on neighbouring schools.
In either case the school does not enjoy a balanced mix of social groups among its pupils, which only serves to further class and social division between people and areas. The issues of bad behaviour, bullying and inadequate learning do not disappear in schools dominated by the middle classes, yet these schools’ reputations are hardly questioned. Other schools may have unjustified reputations brought about by unfounded hearsay and gossip, which can persist for many years. Such schools tend not to have a vocal middle class presence among parents to challenge these rumours.
We should ask ourselves what do we want from our schools? Of course our children need to be taught Maths, English, Science etc. , but they also need to learn how to communicate and interact with people across a whole range of backgrounds. We want our children to grow up to be rounded and successful individuals who will perhaps contribute towards healing some of the divisions in our society.”
Our first ever Meet the Parents meeting – attended by parents at Yerbury primary school, North London, Sept 2012. Some of the parents on the panel brought their secondary age children along to answer questions together about their experience of the local comprehensive school, Acland Burghley.