Diary of a headteacher: Planning the Open Evening

Written by: Diary of a Headteacher | Published:
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What a fantastic insight into headship under challenging circumstances! Having read his/her ...

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Teachers being strangled, parents being arrested?! Our headteacher diarist is planning for the worst but hoping for the best for her first Open Evening...

It was autumn term 1998 and I was sat in the hall of my school in south east London. It was parents’ evening and the mood could be described as tense at best. The school wasn’t doing too well and many of the parents weren’t very happy about it.

This was my second school and by this point I had somehow managed to be leading two departments. You’d think I might have been busy on that parents’ evening. You’d be wrong. There were very few parents present, which made what happened all the more dramatic...

The SENCO was the brother of a famous television presenter and comedian. They looked and sounded exactly alike, right down to the last mannerism. The only difference – one brother was funny by profession, the other by complete accident.

On this particularly cold evening, I can remember I was telling a parent about how their child was doing. This was interrupted by a strange muffled scream which distracted both our attentions. Looking over, we saw the SENCO being strangled – literally strangled – by a particularly angry and rather well-built parent. I distinctly remember the mum sat with me saying “Oh dear”.

Time appeared to slow down and everyone was staring as the scene unfolded. The strangest thing of all – for what seemed like ages, no one stepped in to help the SENCO. Everything just stood still in time in some awful twilight zone moment. Finally, the parent let go and the SENCO was taken away to compose himself.

Bizarrely, the parent wasn’t even thrown out but carried on speaking to other teachers. Luckily, the SENCO was very resilient and did actually return to meet more parents, albeit looking a bit more dishevelled than when he started.

When this happened way back in 1998, I thought I’d seen everything. Surely such things didn’t happen in other schools? Twenty years later, I realise now that a parent strangling the SENCO is just the tip of the iceberg of what us teachers face.

What made me think of this mad event now I’m an east London headteacher? Well, we’re currently planning our Open Evening and, as ever, there’s a story from my current school to rival anything I’ve seen before.

A couple of years ago (five interim headteachers back), on an Open Evening that started off so well, the police were called to my lovely school. The story goes that a mum and dad were annoyed by the school and decided to take this up with one particular teacher. Others stepped in to try to calm the situation down – unsuccessfully. The parents attacked three teachers at once, the police were called and the parents were taken away in a van.

Not something I want repeated on my first Open Evening!

The success of this event is key. Our numbers are very low in years 7 and 8 and we can’t afford for them to be the same next academic year. Not one parent has visited my open mornings. We’ve even gone as far as advertising them in the programme of a Premier League football club to try to get some parents in (accompanied by a photo of me with the team captain, no less). We’ll know if that works next week.

So we’re planning our Open Evening and it’s got to be nothing short of amazing. Guests will arrive to a twinkling hope tree, covered in fairy lights where year 6 students will hang their hopes for year 7. There will be a piano on the grass next to the tree that will be played throughout the night.

Sixth form students will be performing Hamlet’s seven soliloquies. The drama department will be putting on a show of Beauty and the Beast and the food department will produce canapés served by students dressed as Mrs Potts and Chip. All of this before the year 6 students and their parents have even made it into one classroom. We’re really pulling out all the stops to make this successful.

You’d think nothing could go wrong. But, my learning point in my first year of headship is expect the worst and make sure you do everything in your power to mitigate against any potential disaster. It’s my job to make things work, whatever is thrown at us.

Let’s just hope that the worst that comes my way is a plate of canapés dropped on the floor or a sixth former who forgets their lines. After a successful open evening, to be or not to be, that really is the question.

  • SecEd’s Diary of a Headteacher is written by two different headteachers. The author of this entry is a headteacher in her first year of headship at a secondary school in east London.


Comments
An interesting angle on what can go wrong on these occasions. I thought it was just (some of) the kids who approached parents evening with a sense of trepidation. Looking forward to hearing how open evening went.
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This brilliant, sorry to hear you had bad experiences but to look back on them you must laugh even just a little. Not that i condone violence against teachers or anyone, i think its the way you have put it.
Hope to read more stories on life as a headteacher

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Fingers crossed, definitely need a follow up blog, the suspense is too much! I do hope the evening was a success, a very enjoyable read.
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So hope it is a great success, a joy to read!
Can we have a follow up blog, don’t leave us in suspense ??

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What a fantastic insight into headship under challenging circumstances! Having read his/her previous blogs I can’t wait to see what could possibly follow sewer flies, a hidden swimming pool and a strangled SENCo!
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