Parent-teacher interviews at primary school: what to expect
Throughout your child's time in primary school, you might be asked to attend parent-teacher interviews, or conferences, usually once or twice a year.
These interviews are usually just short meetings - about 10-15 minutes - between you and your child's teacher or teachers. Every parent is invited to attend at least one interview a year. At some schools, children also take part in interviews. Being invited to a parent-teacher interview doesn't mean there's a problem with your child's progress.
Interviews might be held during school hours, before or after school, or in the evening. Your child will usually bring a note home that outlines the available times. Some schools use an online booking system. It's good to make a time when both parents can go along, if you can. If you can't manage any of the available times, you could call the school to arrange another time.
It's important to be on time for parent-teacher interviews. But be aware that teachers might be running late because previous interviews have run over time.
Why it's worth going to parent-teacher interviews
Parent-teacher interviews give you a great opportunity to:
- learn more about your child's academic, emotional and social development
- meet and get to know your child's teachers
- help your child's teachers understand more about your child
- make plans with the teacher about how you can both support your child
- build a relationship with your child's school.
If you don't have any particular concerns, you might wonder whether it's worth going to parent-teacher interviews. But going along is one way to show your child that you're interested in his learning and what's happening for him at school.
Of course, if you do have concerns, it's a chance for you to raise them with your child's teacher if you haven't done that already.You might feel a bit nervous about going to parent-teacher interviews. That's normal. It might help to know that teachers can feel the same way, especially if there are difficult or sensitive issues to discuss, or if they're not used to giving parent-teacher interviews.
What to talk about at parent-teacher interviews
To get the most out of parent-teacher interviews, it helps to be well prepared.
Interviews might be held early in the school year so the teacher can find out more about your child. For this kind of interview, it's a good idea to think about the information you want to share with the teacher. For example, you might want to talk about your child's strengths or interests, or areas of learning where your child might need more support.
Interviews for children in primary school are also often held around the time school reports come home. One of the first things you can do for this kind of interview is read your child's school report carefully and note down anything you want to ask about.
It can help to take a list of questions and information with you to interviews so you remember what you want to talk about. The interview time tends to pass quickly.
If you're not sure what to talk about, here are some questions to get you started:
- What are my child's interests and strengths?
- What does my child struggle with?
- How much homework should my child be doing every night?
- What can I do at home to help my child with schoolwork?
- What can you tell me about my child's behaviour in class?
- How is my child getting along with other students?
- What support services are available for my child at this school?
If you don't get through everything you want to discuss, you might need to arrange another meeting with your child's teacher. If your child is present during the interview, you might want to request a separate meeting without your child to discuss any concerns.
Talking with the teacher: tips
Being open and friendly will set you up for positive communication with the teacher. You can show that you respect what the teacher is saying by listening carefully and trying not to become defensive, even if you disagree with feedback about your child.
It's important to get as much out of the meeting as you can, so it's OK to be direct when you need to be. For example, you can ask the teacher to explain, clarify or say more if you don't understand what's being said.
If you have a concern about something, try to be specific and avoid blame. Combining a request with understanding will usually help. For example, 'Freya says that when you explain things it makes it clearer to her. Would you mind if she asked you to take more time to explain when she's learning something new?' It can also help if you mention something positive at the same time.
If you have to discuss problems with the teacher, it helps to come ready with some possible solutions, or at least some positive and practical suggestions. Be willing to listen to the teacher's ideas too.
If you make any decisions, it's good to agree on who will follow up and when.
Should your child go to the interview?
Some primary schools have student-led conferences instead of parent-teacher interviews. In this case your child is expected to attend and lead the discussion about his work.
If you want your child to be part of the interview and this isn't what the school usually does, it's best to ask the teacher about it before the interview.
You might prefer to keep the meeting between you and the teacher, especially if you feel the focus of the interview will be on things your child is struggling with. That way you can talk to your child's teacher freely and can discuss the meeting with your child afterwards.
After the parent-teacher interview
You and the teacher need to follow up on any decisions or solutions that you agree on at the interview. For example, you could arrange a second meeting or a follow-up phone call in a month's time.
If you agree to try some new strategies, a follow-up discussion gives you both the chance to check how well they're working. If you need to, you can adjust them.
Arranging parent-teacher meetings at other times
If you have any concerns about your child's social or academic development, you don't have to wait for a formal parent-teacher interview to talk about them.
Your child's teacher will be happy to arrange a meeting with you to discuss any issues. You just need to contact the school to make an appointment. Some teachers are also happy to be contacted via their school email account.
Parent-teacher interviews are often held in open or public areas. If you know that you want to raise a sensitive or confidential topic with a teacher, it might be a good idea to arrange a separate meeting.
You can also arrange a separate meeting if you want to discuss something that might take longer than your allocated 10-15 minutes. For example, you might want to tell your child's teacher about something going on at home that could be affecting your child's behaviour or academic performance, like the death of a grandparent or a parental separation.
Informal contact with your child's teacher
If you have opportunities to meet your child's teacher at information nights or other school events, it can be a good time to socialise. This can help when you meet for formal parent-teacher interviews.