The following article comes from Headteacher Chris Foley, who shares his experience of hosting online parents’ evenings.

We have well-planned and rigid school calendar. It rarely changes to make sure staff are able to plan their school year, and we had scheduled our first Year 11 parents evening of the year in the final week of the half term. Given the complex situation we faced we decided to deliver this online. Here is how we tried to approach it!

Issue 1 – Network Know How

We began planning the event towards the end of September, and we were keen to exploit some of the successes we’ve had with live lessons. We use Microsoft Teams , and as all pupils and staff were in some way used to this system, we felt it right that we investigate how this would work for parents. I am lucky that @BonsonMrs works at our school, and she has been able to advise on how we can approach this issue. In essence we did the following;

  1. We bought additional licenses to access the Booking facility within the Microsoft suite– This allowed us to create a link that parents could access to book appointments with individual teachers. We made sure we had enough licenses for Year 11 teachers (no point in buying 100 licenses when you only need 50!). We then modelled this and tested how it would look.
  2. We decided each meeting would need to be 5 minutes. This is our normal parents evening slot time.
  3. @BonsonMrs then created an access guide for parents that we would share at the point the booking link went live. It was so important to us that this was clear. Before we looked to outline to staff our plans, we needed to know that it would work at the parents’ end. This is essential. This was well tested and worked well.
  4. We needed to clear that we would have enough capacity to deliver this if all staff were onsite. It became clear that we wouldn’t.
  5. We then ran a few trials in school where someone booked an appointment and then logged into it on any device. It worked.
Using Microsoft Teams in Lessons

It was only when we were happy that this was viable that we shared with staff and parents our approach. There is no point in promising something that can’t work (I think we’ve all learned that over the past 7 months).

Issue 2 – Planning for Delivery

A good idea badly delivered is a bad idea. We were really mindful that this could be a disaster, and it was so important staff felt comfortable. We took a number of key steps to make it as effective as possible.

  1. Staff were aware a few weeks in advance we were planning to deliver the parents evening online. We made the decision to close school to all Year groups at 12:30pm on the day. This allowed the parents meetings to be scheduled from 2:00 to 7:00pm.
  2. Staff were given the choice of holding these meetings either at home or in school. Most chose to go home. This helped hugely as it meant that we would have network capacity on site.
  3. A clear protocol script was developed. We wanted staff to be clear on the exact parameters of the meetings, and each meeting would start with them outlining it would only last 5 minutes. The script also gave prompts should there be a difficult parent, though these instances are rare.
  4. An amended version of the script was also shared with parents in advance. This was shared through letters and emails every few days in the two weeks up to the event and made a huge difference to the smooth running of the evening.
  5. We shared the booking link with parents 6 days before the event. This then gave parents time to book appointments. The booking link closed at 12:00pm the day before the event took place. This gave staff time to see who they would be meeting. We added in the Booking menu parents and pupil names so staff knew.
  6. We had a named SLT member on hand to deal with any parental concerns or complaints.

Issue 3 – Communication Timetable

The evening itself took place on October 22nd but we prepared the ground for it well in advance. These are the dates when we shared key information.

October 1st – We shared with staff the proposal that we would hold the parents evening online.

October 5th – we shared with parents the proposal that we would hold parents evening online and we shared with staff the draft protocols for the online meetings.

October 9th – we shared with parents the information that school would close early on October 22nd, and the parents evening protocols. We told them that on this day that the booking window would open on October 16th. Parents also received the guide to booking appointments.

October 16th – we emailed to all parents the booking link, and told them the link would close on October 21st at 12:00. We also resent the booking guide.

This all seems quite complex, but it was vital that information and guidance was shared in the right order.

Post Parents Evening

The event went well, however, we missed things in planning it, and we have now embarked on a clear review process including staff.  The issues we needed to consider more carefully were;

  1. Split classes – I would recommend you decide who “owns” each split class.
  2. Staff workload – given the nature of how a secondary school works, some staff had a full five hours. We are looking at how best to facilitate some level of break within the schedule, but also be mindful that these things tend to balance out over the year. Not everyone teachers every year group.
  3. Staff gripes – not everyone likes doing new things. Initially some staff were sceptical. You are never going to please everyone.
  4. Parents were not always on time – this is actually part of a broader cultural change that we need perhaps in how schools are viewed. That’s a blog for another time, I think.

For those schools who are moving to online parents’ evenings I would recommend it. Feedback from parents has been positive. It certainly makes the process slicker. Making clear that appointment times had to be adhered to makes life easier for staff. Nobody was still having meetings after 7 pm, and onsite parents’ evenings always overrun. Just be sure of the following;

1) Does the infrastructure work – check it, then check it again.

2) Drip feed the planning over a period of weeks.

3) Give really clear protocols and guides.

4) Review it – you will need to make changes.

If would like any of our guides or documents then please just contact me @HT_StMonicas, we’d be happy to share.

Author Chirs Foley

Author

Chris Foley

Chris is currently Headteacher of St Monica’s RC High School , within the Salford Diocese. He led the school out of Special Measures in December 2019.  He has spent over a decade in Senior Leadership positions, and was previously Headteacher of Holy Family RC and CE College in Heywood, Rochdale.

He was designated as  Local Leader in Education in July 2018.

He blogs on leadership and other school-related matters at On The Bus Education.

Follow Chris on Twitter – @HT_StMonicas