'Could do better:' The fear and terror of school parents' evening

Darren Burke.
Darren Burke.

That annual joy that is school parents’ evening has just rolled around once more in our house.

Well, one of them has anyway. I have two sons and last week it was the turn of my eldest to undergo the pain and torture I’m sure we can all recall from our own youth.

I remember the fear and downright terror of being left alone for two hours while my mum and dad would wander up to the local comprehensive to hear what I’d done (and invariably hadn’t done) over the previous 12 months.

Back then of course, there were no mobile phones, so no way of getting an idea of how things were going as my parents shuffled from one classroom to another to hear of my successes and misdemeanours.

So you’d sit there, in your bedroom, nervously awaiting the key in the lock, wondering if you were in for a treat as a reward for your efforts or, more worryingly, a full on verbal assault on how you needed to pull your socks up, stop coasting and knuckle down to some work once in a while.

Back then, the reports were also handed out on the night, so there was no prior indication of what was in store. The whole evening would be rolled into one huge bundle of a knotted stomach and beads of sweat and a general feeling of trepidation, invariably followed by relief that things weren’t quite as bad as you’d imagined.

Like everything, things have changed now of course.

The reports are emailed out in advance, although alphabetical grades are a thing of the past, just a series of largely inpenetrable numbers indicating levels of success (or lack of it), accompanied by levels of attainment, falling into one of four categories - outstanding, motivated, coasting or unacceptable.

Happily, most of the grades were in the motivated category and there were no unacceptables, which is far better than his father who once received a particular testy report fairly rubbishing his skills at woodwork and suggesting I was resting on my laurels and slacking.

Needless to say, my slackness with the hammer and chisel never did quite see me becoming a carpenter - although the stinging rebuke didn’t quite have the intended impact, it simply made me even less interested in the subject than I’d previously been.

Mind, the fact that it had taken me the best part of two months to create a cup holder out of plywood probably had something to do with it.

The running from classroom to classroom with a slip of paper denoting your appointments may have been replaced with an online booking system, but its still encouraging to know some things never change - the whole system still goes haywire after five minutes and entails endless waits to see teachers, sitting on chairs just that bit too small for adults and seeing a bored teacher who has spent the last four hours shuffling through bits of paper and trying to recall names and desperate to go home.

“Could do better.”