Blog: Parent-teacher meetings are broken

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  • Picture of Tom Gilliford
    Tom Gilliford
    Former Project Engagement Manager

Parent-teacher conferences (Parents’ evening to those of us in the UK) are in desperate need of a redesign. For too long we’ve been happy to allow this important part of the school calendar to be little more than a time-consuming annoyance. Here at the RSA we wanted to really understand how people felt about parent-teacher conferences and so we asked RSA Fellows and staff what three words they would use to describe these interactions- perhaps unsurprisingly the top three were: Formulaic, Awkward, and Rushed.


This is why the RSA has joined forces with The Teachers guild to ask educators from Sydney to San Francisco:

“How might we redesign parent-teacher conferences?”

To get us going we asked our Fellows what one thing they would change about parent-teacher conferences, here is just a few of things they told us:

“It often felt like an "us against them" set up - even if you look at the layout of the room. Parents and child would always be across the table from teachers in the sports hall. In reality, parents and teachers are on the same side - they both want the best for the young people in their care. I would like to see room layouts and methodologies/structures of conversation that encouraged consensus building to be used.”

“Try and improve the rushed and often chaotic nature of the sessions so that there is more time for reflection and mutual understanding between teachers and parents.”

“Make it student-led in terms of their work and their feedback about their own performance, behaviour and where they can improve. Teachers should guide students if they are unsure about progression or improvement.”

It’s pretty clear that something about our existing systems doesn’t work. People want a deeper and more meaningful experience but time, space and culture currently present us with barriers.

The relationship between home and school doesn’t have to be like this, and the moments in the school year when they are brought together should be the most constructive and powerful. We want all teachers to joining us on a 10-week design journey where they will not only have the chance to discover new and interesting ways to engage parents but also peak inside classroom across the globe.

Get involved:

Sign up and contribute to our discover phase

You can also share your experiences quickly using our survey

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  • Yes, I Agree with your article, Parent teacher conferences is needs to redesign, The better the parent teacher communication is very helpful to increase the student progress, and I also agree your "Time-poor" issue. But you remember that we are living in the 21st century, New technology time. Now school, college and education institutes are using parent teacher communication mobile app such mylyapp. I am a Teacher and we are using parent teacher communication app which is helpful to us for better school management. And this app is freely available at

  • I think it would be interesting to consider the individual words in the word cloud - the positives (informative, differentiated, interactive and data-driven - although some may query the latter) and the many negatives - as symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. They are the equivalent of the shadows in Plato's allegory of the cave - signs of the reality but not the reality.

    So the task is to deduce the reality of parent/teacher interviews and deal with those up-stream issues rather than the symptoms (since they will sort themselves out subsequently).

    My guess is that the essential problem is one of values - do teachers and parents value the same thing? And, if not, how can we shift that. The key may be in behaviours, since values are difficult to shift, but if you can change a behaviour to something which is at odds with your values, it provides a way in to change values.

    There is a lot of evidence now that the thing we should be valuing in education (and learning more broadly) is individual growth. By which I mean growing at a decent rate from whatever individual starting point a student may have. If our metrics were progress, effort and accuracy (meaning getting the subject knowledge decently right), parent/teacher interviews could be dramatically different. And, beyond that, students might properly learn how to learn. Which is presumably what education is all about (?)

  • Parents evenings/parent-teacher conferences are more often that not very poor experiences but surely that is a symptom of broken approaches? I wrote about this recently - check it out.

    I work for an organisation whose purpose is to improve partnership between parents/families and educators - putting energy into improving these brief encounters is worthwhile but only one part of the picture.

    • Hi Eileen,

      Thanks for the comment and for the link, i'll take a look. I'd encourage you to take a look at The Teachers Guild site and perhaps share some of your experiences with the community. 

  • it is good to see that this area of school activity is to be addressed. However  I do not see any successful outcome without any discussion being embedded in a recognition of the importance of the school's entire culture. There is certainly a huge advantage to be gained for parents, children and staff if  there is a wider remit with the school's ethos and cultural principles were identified .

    • Hi Margaret,

      That's a really great point and indeed something that has emerged so far during the Discovery phase of this project. In particular there seems to be a sense that rushed and uncomfortable parents' evenings are more a symptom of deeper cultural issues than anything else.

  • My son is at a grammar school in Year 8. At parents evening the teachers are spread throughout the school and not just in one room and students attend. But quite frankly, to get round all the teachers and spend 5 minutes with them took almost three hours by which time everyone was exhausted. Of course, there were necessary time gaps between seeing one teacher and seeing the next and so I can't see the time allocated could be extended. We sat down, had a chat, looked at some work, my son was asked what points he would like to make and then our time was up.

    • Hi Graham,

      Thanks for sharing your experience, unfortunately from what we've seen so far in the discovery phase of this project it is one shared by lots of parents. The lack of time seems to be a big problem in the design of these interactions and so its going to be really exciting to see what solutions emerge as we move into the ideation portion of this work.

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