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Q for private school parents: Do you expect to be consulted about big changes to the school?

(36 Posts)
Pebbles574 Wed 01-Jul-15 12:24:21

I'm an old regular, but have NC for this, as a lot of friends and teachers at my DCs school would probably recognise me on here.

I'm just interested to know whether how I feel is normal, or if I just have unrealistic expectations?

Here's the context:
We had a new Head a couple of years back. He's meant to be one of the countries 'Education leaders' - well connected to Dept of Education, Exam boards yada yada yada etc
Anyway, in a short space of time he has come in and changed a number of things, many of which are quite controversial, so e.g.
- has put in a 3 year GCSE course (so options are made at the end of Year 8)
- has made Triple Science as good as compulsory
- has changed holiday times, so that summer holiday is longer/ starts sooner.
- has moved internal exams until the 3rd week after May half term, so there is only about 2-3 weeks post exams before the end of term.

These changes have all had a HUGE impact on some aspects of the school, notably all the Drama, Music, Art and extra-curricular activities which used to happen in the second half of the summer term.

There has been NO consultation with parents as far as I can see (I certainly wasn't consulted) and it all just seems to have been steam-rollered in. I know that many of the staff (especially arts/music/drama) are deeply unhappy about the changes, but don't feel it is in their power to do anything.

I am so unbelievably angry angryabout it all, bit I daren't do anything until i calm down! We chose the school on the basis of its strength in the arts, and now it all seems to be being undermined.

Shouldn't parents be consulted first about such changes? Shouldn't there be some discussion?
The Head is very unapproachable and seems to have an 'answer' for everything.
His background prior to this was comprehensive/ state grammar, so I wonder if he doesn't understand the slightly different nature of the relationship with parents in an independent school?

Ladymuck Wed 01-Jul-15 12:36:32

To be honest I wouldn't see any of those as necessarily "huge" changes, though I appreciate that the cumulative effect may feel that way. In fact I wouldn't expect to be "consulted" about any specific one of those items. I expect the school leadership to be able to make strategic decisions and implement them well.

Presumably it isn't actually the specific changes, but again the overall effect it is having on arts, which is an area you are particularly interested in? Some of the schools who opt for 3 year GCSE do so because it allows more time for pupils to have non-exam arts and creative lessons. I wonder whether this year the music and drama departments haven't managed to plan their year sufficiently to take account of the changes when considering when to put on shows, concerts etc. Because you can still fit everything in - it just may need to be phased slightly differently.

Certainly I would read the changes as signs that the school is trying to focus more on academics, which may not suit everyone, but wouldn't be a surprising move for a new head.

balletgirlmum Wed 01-Jul-15 12:42:19

Some of those changes are reasons why I opted for private education in the first place so I really wouldn't be happy if I were you.

ElephantsChild Wed 01-Jul-15 13:09:16

We had a big change in that the owner of the school applied for planning permission to change the building into something other than a school! We only found out by the usual planning notices and there was no 'consultation'.
At the PTA meeting we tried to offer our help and support to the headteacher. Instead of thanking us he went red-in-the-face angry and told us to back off as he didn't need us to fight his battles for him.

So don't expect to be consulted and don't expect the headteacher to be delighted at 'meddling' in his management.

Private school parents have very little power apart from to vote with their feet. It was one of the reasons why we swapped back to State as you have all sorts of statutory rights there.

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 13:19:02

To answer your point, Pebbles, about consultation - I was never consulted about anything like this. Independent schools think they know best. I am amazed they are going for 3 year GCSE's. They must be worried about results. Do they have enough of the brightest children who definitely benefit from doing GCSEs in 2 years? They are also abandoning the normal independent school mantra of the well rounded child because so many subjects will be dropped early. This is not the sign of well educated child but it is the sign of a result driven school. Triple science is ridiculous for all too. However, with three years to do it, I guess they expect good results. I agree it does not suit more arts based students though.

All new Heads change schools. The rhetoric is one thing, the reality is something else when they get there. They do tend to tell you what is best for you, because they are the experts, and you have to suck it up. They usually take a year or so to weigh it all up and then go for the changes. They will see it as what they are paid to do and I bet the Governors have set the head performance targets -hence the changes.

We had changes to boarding at weekends - weekly boarding from full boarding (no reduction in fees - no consultation!), removal of Sunday Chapel which meant the choirs never sang on a regular basis, removal of lots of school trips (except sports ones), establishment of a Foundation Office that ran fund raising events, thereby killing the Friends Association which existed for the same reason. Did I get consultation on any of this - no - not a word until it comes out as a decision in a letter. People complain, but no-one wants to move their child when they are settled and doing well academically. The character of a school never stays still though, especially when a new head arrives. Various other characteristics of the school were changed too, but I won't list them here. It ends up being a real disappointment.

iseenodust Wed 01-Jul-15 13:21:40

As a parent I would not expect to be consulted on most of those issues. I would expect a letter outlining the rationale behind key changes & the perceived benefits listed. He will have consulted with the governing body and hopefully the staff.

If there really does turn out to be a huge ongoing impact on drama, music etc then it would be reasonable to say 'we have noticed a fall in the quality & quantity, what plans have you in place to bring it back up to St Exemplary School's traditional standard?'

Pebbles574 Wed 01-Jul-15 13:41:05

Thanks - some helpful MN responses as usual smile

Perhaps 'consulted' isn't really to be expected, but I certainly would have appreciated a better briefing and discussion before such changes were rolled in. I think the thing is that I do not trust this head - he is all smoke and mirrors and seems to shy away from discussions with parents.

My DCs aren't really at an age when I could, or should, easily move them, and I suspect they probably aren't as bothered by the changes as I am!
My biggest fear is that some of the key Arts staff will probably leave, and then our reason for choosing the school will have gone!

Does anyone have any experience of group parent action forcing Heads to back down over things (like the dates of exams, for example)?
How do you go about it?

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 14:06:21

Our new Head sat in her office for a year and rarely went near a boarding house, let alone any parents! No-one knew who she was! Group parents action??? I bet it won't happen. People huff and puff. Some people might remove their children. A Head admit they are wrong? No - never! Staff will leave if they are not happy.

The dates of the exams were changed in our schoo; to before half term. They were previously after half term which meant the holiday was spent revising. I am with you on that one.

Bonsoir Wed 01-Jul-15 14:20:47

Very interesting topic. Here in France I have noticed that Parents' Associations are beginning to get their act together and challenge both schools and government bodies on changes that are implemented without proper consultation. Lawyers are getting in on the act too, providing advice about "reminding" schools etc about their contractual obligations.

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 14:30:01

Intereting Bonsoir - but what is in the contrsct that can be challenged legally? I would anticipate that 2 or 3 year GCSEs, exam dates and compulsory triple science are not part of a contract with parents. These are decisions that can legally be made by the Head.

We actually had weekend provision taken away at our school and you cannot do anything - except leave. Some parents were happy to pay the same fees for 5 days a week. Leave on a Friday and get back on a Monday morning. Although, it is interesting to note that they probably lobbied for that and it reduced the staffing costs at the school, so the school was happy. It fundamentally changed the "product" we had purchased though.

Pebbles574 Wed 01-Jul-15 15:38:27

MillyMM - that is the bit that I find galling - 'it fundamentally changed the product'. I can't imagine anywhere else in life where you would happily fork our £30k+ a year (2 kids in independent day school) and have so little 'choice' and influence over what you have purchased.
In theory you can always leave, but of course in practice once your children are settled at a school you're reluctant to move them.

I guess I come from a business background where feedback is regarded as a gift and an opportunity to further improve your offering, rather than some unwanted interference.

I can't decide whether to just write a letter requesting that they reconsider the timing of the exams and outlining all the impacts I have seeen resulting from the later dates. And then I think, 'why bother, what's the point?' my kids will probably just get penalised in future if I do sad.

I don't think the Governors have much of a handle on what's going on - I was talking to one at a social event last weekend and he didn't seem to know that the exam dates had changed.

ElephantsChild Wed 01-Jul-15 15:58:27

I can't imagine anywhere else in life where you would happily fork our £30k+ a year and have so little 'choice' and influence over what you have purchased.

In theory you can always leave, but of course in practice once your children are settled at a school you're reluctant to move them.

I guess I come from a business background where feedback is regarded as a gift and an opportunity to further improve your offering, rather than some unwanted interference.

And then I think, 'why bother, what's the point?' my kids will probably just get penalised in future if I do.

YY to all that. You don't even get a chance to become a parent governor.
Walk away and put the money in extra-curricular activites and tutoring.

happygardening Wed 01-Jul-15 18:42:07

Over the years I've seen various changes made to the schools DS2 has attended, we've never been consulted once, neither do I expect to be consulted.
I believe their lesson time table is about to be changed or has been changed and the rational behind it was included in a letter from the head to parents as I didn't actually know what the original time table my eyes started glazing over after reading the first few lines.
I just let them get on with it.
We did experience a shift in boarding at DS's prep from full to mainly weekly it was introduced slowly and achieved by not making full boarding compulsory for all who joined just after my DS and we certainly weren't informed until eventually it became very clear there were only a few full boarders left. I was annoyed but frankly unsurprised full boarding at prep is not popular.
OP if you feel that concerned why don't you ask for an appointment to see a member of the senior management team, they may have a different take on the reduction in time given over to art and may allay your concerns. I know nothing about the value three year GCSE course or how normal this is or what the pros and cons are but frankly I thought virtually compulsory triple science was pretty standard in the independent sector.
I do know it's easy to listen to gossip from other parents and pupils including your own, and assume comments like "staff are unhappy" "staff are leaving in droves" etc is true, my advise see how it pans out it might not be as bad a you think.

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 18:51:53

My knowledge of Governors at independent schools is that they look after the money and the strategic vision. They leave nearly everything else to the Head. Therefore I am not surprised your Governor had no idea what the head was doing because the governors would not discuss any of the points you raise. Often the detailed knowledge of the school by Governers in the independent sector is lacking. Do your children ever see a governor in a classroom, for example? Or do they just have Governor dinners and sit on the stage at speech day? They are essentially the great and the good who no longer purchase education. We did have a parent or two on the Governors but they were there for their legal and financial expertise, not to take any notice of parents. In fact one was dead against the change to weekly boarding, but a minority of one will not be persuasive. The other parent wanted weekly because his DD liked to go home and hated boarding.

Our fees were £30k a year for boarding - well, part boarding, because it could be as little as 4 nights a week. I have found schools to be reluctant to discuss anything very much and tend to have a few "pet parents" who are a sounding board but are actually cheerleaders for the Head. By neutralising our Friends Assiciation, it weakened the links parents had with the school still further. A master stroke if you want to sideline parents.

If you do write about the exams, I think the biggest difficulty you might articulate is how much work your children will need to do in the half term holiday, thereby making it a revision week and not a holiday. It is better to get the exams out if the way before half term.

I don't think the fact the head was at a state grammar makes any difference. Ofsted actually inspect state schools on their relationship with parents, ISI, from what I can see, don't really look at this. As a governor of a state school, I can assure you that we are responsive to parents views. Of course we cannot change everything to suit a minority but we do listen and explain our position.

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 19:00:10

Oh I forgot to say.... I wrote a letter once about A level choices because it appeared my DD was no longer going to be able to do an MFL A level she was studying at GCSE and she wanted to do this language at a University. I received a reply from the Deputy Head 3 months later. At this point you know you are not a preferential parent. I just wasn't rich enough!

Triple science is absolutely not pretty atandard in the independent sector (definitely not at girls' schools) and is not necessary for humanities or MFL students, for example. They would be better employed doing something else with the extra time needed for triple science teaching. The arts maybe?

Figmentofmyimagination Wed 01-Jul-15 21:22:08

Triple science, started in year 9, is compulsory at our school (all girls). I wasn't concerned by this, although I think some parents were at the time. It has worked out well I would say. Maximises the girls options, and I don't see it as having lessened the scope for arts teaching at the school. If you are concerned, I would go and see the head for a one to one to find out what's behind it.

Ours is not a fantastically academic school but the results are very good. I think the move to triple science was aimed at changing the school's academic profile - but I just thought it made a lot of sense from the girls' perspective, not to drop any of the sciences at this stage if there was the possibility of a three year syllabus.

I have only once queried a strategy choice - following a merger, the new merged school didn't stream for English. People have different views about this. I wasn't in favour - and after my meeting with the head of English I still wasn't persuaded - but at least I did end up with a much better appreciation of where the school was coming from. I think being able to talk things through and have a view is a big advantage of paying - but I'm not kidding myself that I have any direct influence. But what does really matter is that the parents go out into the community telling a positive story about the school - and this only happens if we feel listened to.

happygardening Wed 01-Jul-15 21:40:22

Surely the advantage of doing triple sciences is that it keeps your A level option open. My DS2 and many others I know swopped around quite a bit before actually choosing their Pre U's (A levels) one minute it was all sciences, then a mixture of both science and MFL's, then two sciences and two math triple sciences give you this freedom. It appears in some arts subject having it at a GCSE is not a prerequisite but this would not apply to the sciences.

Millymollymama Wed 01-Jul-15 21:55:09

Quite true. However if you know you are a linguist or just not so good at science and definitely not doing Pre U, triple science is just not necessary, or desirable, for arts degrees, even for the best universities. Also double science is not dropping a science - it is doing less exam papers in all three sciences. I can see that there is a push to do STEM subjects but lots of people do know these subjects are not for them and the extra timetabling of science does mean extra lesson time that could be useful to a linguist is lost, for example. It keeps your options open if you do geography and history but lots of schools don't allow this and many pupils do know they will never need science GCSEs ever again. Triple science is a bit of one upmanship. Looks good in the prospectus because we, as a nation, do not value the arts and look down on people who don't do STEM subjects.

Ladymuck Wed 01-Jul-15 22:43:02

I suspect that the strength of parental voice is directly proportionate with the availability of other schools in the area.

happygardening Wed 01-Jul-15 22:56:50

I'm curious about the idea of "pet parents" I don't think I know of any. I struggle to accept in a full boarding school they really exist. Most parents we know are too busy working to pay the exorbitant fees with their everyday life's and I suspect let the school get on with it.

summerends Thu 02-Jul-15 05:07:36

Pebbles I think the thing is that I do not trust this head - he is all smoke and mirrors and seems to shy away from discussions with parents.
Is n't that the crux of the matter for you? All the changes you mention have positive and negative aspects so views will differ from the parents. Many schools I know of have internal exams after half term for example, there is more teaching time up to the exams and still plenty of time to fit in extras after.
Personally I would much more irritated by MillyMolly's example of stopping full boarding provision but I accept that is my POV.
Headteachers will always have problems introducing change. Ideally they need the skills to take the whole school community with them but I imagine that when there is formal consultation it may just be an exercise in PR.
I would guess that the changes you mention may have been implemented (presumably successfully) at his previous school and therefore the governors would have known of them and his likely direction when appointing him. Whether they were right in their choice of appointment is another matter but ultimately it is the governors of a private school that shape the general strategy and vision of a school by these critical appointments.

Bonsoir Thu 02-Jul-15 09:34:32

I think that schools/universities need to wake up to the power of technology to unite their customers and have a coordinated voice. That power is not going away.

fleurdelacourt Thu 02-Jul-15 11:46:47

I do not expect to be consulted every time the headteacher changes something no. As a customer, I have chosen the service the school provides and I do not get a say in every tweak. If I am unhappy, I can choose to discuss this with the headteacher and (if the relationship is irretrievably damaged) leave the school.

Presumably the governors are happy with the changes? If the teachers really aren't, then it is up to them to discuss them with the head.

Barring the impact on drama events in the summer term, I wouldn't have any issue with these changes. the 3 year GCSE run is surely designed to give them the best chance of success? And triple science is no bad idea.

In our school, the exams are way earlier, meaning that everyone coasts for the last half of term - with lots of meaningless school trips and lessons spent doing word searches. I'd be far happier if more of the summer term was constructive personally.

Millymollymama Thu 02-Jul-15 14:01:28

"Pet Parents" are the ones who the Head greets with kisses because they have a special relationship. The ones who are always on the front few rows at speech day and whose children get a prize (or indeed 7 one year) for something even if they are pretty average. The ones who are invited to special events at the school whilst others are excluded. They often have a lot of influence in their sector of work and the wealth that goes with it which is of interest to a school that needs to raise money for projects. I know the school seeks them out because of their connections. A friend of mine refused to play ball but told me what she had been invited to and why.

Those with a bit less money are hand picked to show new parents round the school. Parents who can organise social events for the school and donate the most amazing prizes at the ball are very sought after. A pet parent is always picked to read one of the nine lessons at the carol service. They never, ever, criticise the school, or a teacher, to another parent. They don't gossip but they come to parent events occasionally to hear what others are saying. They are ultra loyal to the school but they quietly have influence. They don't need to write letters of complaint, or even a query, because their views are taken into account because they have unique access. Largely, they appear to everyone else as having perfect lives. Their children are always appointed to the leadership team in the 6th form regardless of their abilities.

Not all wealthy parents seek such influence, by the way, but there are parents who do want to be influential and expect their offspring to have recognition. Our school had lots of opportunities for parental involvement, even though it was full boarding originally. It was very obvious to the rest of us mere mortals who the premier parents were. If you are too busy to look, that's fine, (I don't work) and I attended lots of events at school and it was glaringly obvious. Maybe I am hyper sensitive though? I fully accept that criticism. However, I hate that parents and their children have an entitlement that is greater than others and it actually meant there was a "them and us" feel to the parent body, and eventually amongst the pupils, which was a great shame.

Bonsoir Thu 02-Jul-15 17:10:04

MillyMollyMama - there are always going to be some parents who are closer to the Head than others. Clearly some parents are useful to the Head. School politics follow pretty much the same rules as politics anywhere.

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