Students taking control of parent-teacher interviews


CHILDREN are taking over parent teacher interviews in a bid to make them more accountable for how much they learn at school.

Public, Catholic and private schools around NSW are turning their backs on parent teacher interviews in favour of "student led conferences", which experts say gives youngsters more responsibility for their academic performance and spares parents from education jargon and "gobbledygook" they can't understand

Among the Sydney public schools adopting the new practice are Rozelle Public School where teachers "take on the role of facilitator, rather than that of leader" and students "rehearse" what they're going to tell their parents.

"They select appropriate work samples and rehearse what they will say about them," the school's website says.

Dana Tse with her son Justin 6. Picture: Tim Hunter.
Dana Tse with her son Justin 6. Picture: Tim Hunter.

Newtown Performing Arts High School have also adopted the new method because the conferences make parents, teachers and students work as a team.

"The Student Led Conference goes for 15mins and is run by your child. It is a great opportunity for students to share work that they are proud of and to discuss goal setting as a team."

At Hawkesbury High School students show samples of their work and must identify areas where they could improve their performance.

Other public schools adopting the practice include Sylvania Heights Public School, Blue Haven Public School and Campbelltown Performing Arts High School.

NSW Secondary Principals' Council president Craig Petersen said the new style held the student accountable for their learning.

"In a secondary school, students have at least six teachers, so (parent teacher interviews allow for) an average 10 minute interview slot … it is a really superficial."

"It gives the parent and the teacher a much richer opportunity for discussion around that student's growth."

But he said some schools didn't change to the new system because they wanted to give parents honest feedback.

"They don't want the child in the room when they're having a conversation - they want to be able to say (the student) is a little brat, he doesn't pay attention in class, and if he doesn't lift his game he's going to be in strife."

At Trinity Grammar School in Summer Hill, the school has decided to introduce them in addition to parent teacher interviews.

"In contrast (to parent teacher interviews), Student-Led Conferences involve only the students and their parents - the teacher has no active role beyond supporting the boys," a school spokeswoman said.

Rozelle Public School. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
Rozelle Public School. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone

"The objectives of Student-Led Conferences are for boys to guide their parents/family members/guardians through their 'learning journey', articulate personal growth and challenges, and celebrate their achievements."

Dana Tse, whose 6-year-old son Justin attends the school, said the conferences gave her a better idea of what her son was actually learning.

"It is really informative about all the little things they do in the day to day," Ms Tse said.

"I think because you're able to engage with your child in the classroom, it gives you topics to talk about. Sometimes when they come home and you ask them how their day was you get nothing, but when you're there you can interact and ask what they've been doing."

However Australian Catholic University Education expert Professor Kevin Donnelly warned primary school students were too young to judge how their learning is progressing.

"If you're talking primary school, half the time kids can't read and write and add up - how are they going to self evaluate?," he said.

He said in older years of high school it changed the dynamic and students could blame the teacher for their dismal results.

"Teachers are now in a situation where they can't be candid, they can't be honest."

"What's to say (the student) is not going to use it as an opportunity to have a go at the teacher and say it is all the teacher's fault."

Kevin Donnelly. Picture: David Geraghty
Kevin Donnelly. Picture: David Geraghty

Griffith University Professor Peter Grootenboer said the new model benefited parents because it made it easier for teachers to understand.

"I think if you have got them talking in a three-way conference, you get past the gobbledygook," he said.

"When teachers have to write it down, you get captured by reporting requirements which are couched in learning outcomes and educational terms which might not mean anything to the parents."

Griffith University Professor Donna Pendergast said the student led conference increased a student's engagement with what was being taught.

"This is where the self regulation and the responsibility for learning shifts from the teacher's domain and students start to set their own goals," she said.

"In the traditional model where the student is not even there and they're talking about the student in absentia, usually the teacher might say they got this results, the student can't comment on what happened … there are a whole lot of gaps in the narrative in the assessment that's taking place."

An NSW Education Department spokesman said parents could see how their child was going through ongoing assessment processes.

"Student led conferences also provide an opportunity for parents to engage more closely in their child's learning," he said.