What does it feel like for parents to be on the school run?
After a very busy start back to work, I dropped off my son at secondary school for the first time this week …
The school drop-off …
It was quite a surreal experience given the number of years I have worked in the sector. I found myself driving home with many different thoughts about my career, childhood experiences and what emotions my son will be experiencing.
We have decided as a family to drive him to the school gates and gradually drop him off further and further away, sometimes choosing to observe him walk through the school entrance and other times turning our backs. This is because we are new to the area, and the secondary school is located in a part of town we are unfamiliar with.
Primary schools help pupils transition well …
This new experience is ‘miles apart’ from life at primary school, where (most) parents arrive very early, stand with their children (mostly), and wait until the classroom doors are open for the teacher to come out and receive them. It’s a wonderful experience. On reaching year 6, privileges are introduced. For example, you can walk to school or leave the premises without an adult.
Primary schools help pupils transition well.
The secondary school run experience …
Of course, in secondary school, arriving at school is an entirely different story.
Having stood at the school gates for 10 years(!) of my senior leadership career, I have observed tens of thousands of pupils arriving and leaving the school premises.
On the whole, at the school gate as a teacher, ‘every day was a school day’!
My 6th sense, ‘safeguarding radar’, could spot trouble at the end of any London street. Yet, gate duty was predominantly safe, positive and calm – apart from the day one parent drove into the school gates in her car! – with thousands of small conversations to motivate and challenge. Small pep talks, detention reminders and jokes with various pupils you never taught, but saw at the same spot every single day, made school happier for us all.
I vividly recall a group of pupils congregating at the school gates, often disruptive and engaging in anti-social behaviour. I would always challenge this and support the pupils to help change their behaviour. I also took the opportunity to engage with their parents (where possible) to offer support and advice. It was relentless at times, but an important aspect of school leadership that no NPQ course could ever prepare you for.
3 school-run tips for parents
Throughout the years, I have recommended a few ‘quick wins’ to fellow parents (who are not teachers) to help make the school run easier for everyone.
1. Always speak up
During any given week of the academic year, all parents will have thoughts about their child’s school or class. No matter how big or small the issue might have been, or if there is no issue (perhaps a compliment to make …), say something to the teacher.
This helps the teacher stay ‘in the know’ and triangulate the information between classroom, playground and home.
2. Learn fellow parent and carer names
I’ve also recommended that parents get to know every adult in their child’s class.
On most days, you will see the same faces. Occasionally, you may see a different face standing alongside a child you see daily. I’d always recommend saying ‘hello’ regardless.
Making small gestures of communication allows you as a parent to build up a full picture of the conversations your child might have with you at home. For example, when they next mention a good or a bad incident with a classmate. This gives you the confidence to raise any problems with a familiar or unfamiliar face in the playground or know who to talk to when you need to invite them to your child’s birthday party.
In my own experiences, without immediate family, other parents and carers become your network of friends you will rely upon for childcare emergencies or events at home or school.
3. Say ‘Thanks!”
Finally, say ‘Thank you!’
Your child’s teacher works hard, often completing work beyond contracted hours. Teaching is also underpaid. I’ve never met any teacher who doesn’t want to get the best out of all children. It’s worth making your child’s teacher feel special sometimes. A considered ‘thank you’ can go a long way to motivating a teacher and may keep them in the profession a little longer.
It’s also worth considering what it would be like if your child didn’t have a specialist teacher. There’s a teacher recruitment crisis, didn’t you know? Be thankful your child has a familiar face …
The vast majority of pupils arrive at school alone, and although this is only the first experience for me, it feels quite an isolating experience. I’m sure it will get easier, yet I do wonder how we can improve the transition experiences for year 7 children …