School reports: time to change - `You can get to work on problems straightaway'

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Rush Common Primary School, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

The idea of signing up for a "surgery" with your child's teacher may sound unpleasantly like going to the doctor to find out what is wrong.

But for parents at Rush Common Primary School, surgeries have given them the chance to talk to teachers in greater depth than in the past and at whatever times during the year that they feel in need of support.

The system began to develop about six years ago when, dissatisfied with the traditional combination of annual report and parents' evening, Rush Common School asked its parents what they really wanted.

More contact time with teachers, and more discussion of the contents of the annual report, was the reply.

So the school dispensed with parents' evenings, and each class teacher is now available one day a week to talk to parents after school has finished.

There are three surgery appointments a week, each lasting 20 minutes or more, and parents sign up for them a week or two in advance. Most parents come twice a year, but they can attend more often if they feel the need. Only a very few fail to come at all.

The detailed written notes that the teacher prepares for the surgery on the child's academic, personal and social development, are collated at the end of the year to form the annual report, with spaces for parent and child to contribute.

Rush Common parents are extremely positive about the surgeries.

"It's personal and very private, and you can say anything you want about your child," says Gillian Hawthorn. "If there's a problem, you can get help, and work on it at home straightaway."

Gill Higgs says her son was a bit disruptive when he started at the school, and it helped her to come to the surgery once a term. "You felt it was a problem you were sharing with the school, and not just up to you to sort it out."

One of the chief virtues of the surgeries, says Helen Clark, acting head, is that they allow much more of a "two-way conversation" between parents and teachers. Pupils, too, can be involved in them, particularly further up the school.

"The preparation is quite wearing," admits Jenny Willett, deputy head, "but it's worth it because we feel we're giving parents much better, more detailed information."

"We are much more involved with the parents now," adds Gillian Thomas, a year four teacher and home-school co-ordinator, "and parents know what their child is doing right from the beginning."