Open days - what do you say to parents? | Education Support Partnership

Open days - what do you say to parents?

It’s that time of year again when parents are visiting your school to decide if they want to send their child there. How do you cope with their questions - if your school is one that encourages teachers to talk to parents on open days?

There’s no shortage of advice to parents on what to look for as they do the tour round schools. Somewhat thin on the ground though, or even non-existent, is advice to teachers on how to handle what could be a tricky encounter. Suppose you’re unhappy at your school? Feel wellbeing isn’t being given the centre place it should be. Maybe you’re thinking of leaving. A parent wanders up to you and asks, “Why should my child come to your school?” Or suppose they ask the killer question: “Are you happy here?”

Happy

One parent told Ed Support that was their first priority in looking for schools. “I want to know the teachers enjoy working there because happy teachers communicate that to their pupils. So though activities arranged by the school to showcase what their students have done are interesting, that doesn’t tell me what I most want to know.”

Do you have a duty of care towards the school or its prospective students? “There are ways to avoid being directly negative if you aren’t happy,” says one teacher who prefers to remain anonymous. “So you could, say, point out the highly academic nature of your school or the arts emphasis - whatever it is. And put the question back to the parent - do you think your child would be happy and flourish in such an atmosphere?”

Wellbeing

Of course heads and SLTs who put wellbeing of their teaching and education staff at the centre of the school’s culture are much more likely to encourage teachers to be available on open days and to answer questions from parents. So if you’ve been asked to attend an open day or make yourself available, chances are your head and SLT trust you to make a judgement call on any questions from parents.

“It’s funny but even though I criticise my school quite a lot and have certainly had my problems working here when someone comes in from outside and asks you about it, I feel instantly protective about my school,” another teacher told us. “It’s a bit like family isn’t it? You can criticise them but if anyone else does - your hackles go up.” This is perhaps why many heads do encourage teachers to be there on open days. Parents may be suspicious if they’re kept away.

Also if you say something really damning such as, “I wouldn’t send my child to this school if my life depended upon it,” you could find yourself in hot water. It could affect references, your career or may even be regarded as slanderous!

Ethical

So it’s a bit of a minefield. Sometimes, a bit like the song, you say so much when you say nothing at all. If you’re deeply unhappy at your school and trying desperately to move it would be dishonest and unethical to tell a parent you dance cartwheels every day at the very thought of coming into work! But there are subtle ways to get your point across. Are you happy here? Smile without your teeth, nod and shrug an, “It’s okay.” Most parents will pick up on the cues immediately because a happy teacher will be all over them saying how great their school is and why.

You owe a duty of care to your school and your employers but you also, it can be argued, owe a duty of care to future pupils – and their parents too. They have a right to know if they’re likely to be entering a school where teachers are desperate to escape. And if that is the culture at your school, it’s not your fault. It’s up to the head and the SLT to make the culture work for teachers, education staff and students. Perhaps an open day can be a wake-up call for them?

Culture

If applications following an open day aren’t great or aren’t even high enough to fill the spaces or most parents put the school low down on their list that can send a message more powerfully than one you’ve perhaps been trying to telegraph?

We hear many times on our helpline at Ed Support that some teachers find they were much happier when they switched schools. However that can simply be because some cultures suit some teachers better than others. It’s the same with students. Some will take well to – or need – a highly-disciplined environment while other may thrive in a more laid-back school with a strong arts emphasis. So if you are clear about the strengths your school has to offer that can be sufficient signal to let a parent know whether they think their child will be happy there.

Sometimes accentuating what’s positive at your school is a way of also showing what the negatives are. And most parents will know or have a pretty good idea what kind of school they want for their child and their child wants too.

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