PARENTS evenings must be ruled out either online or face-to-face under new guidance being prepared for Scotland’s schools.

The warning from the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) highlights fears over spreading coronavirus in classrooms and internet security issues if they are held digitally.

Seamus Searson, General Secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), said any new material issued by ministers and education officials must state clearly that such consultations should not take place.

It comes after the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group (CERG), chaired by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, agreed that “concise guidance” would be produced in a bid to support and enhance the involvement of parents in their children’s learning.

But Mr Searson said there was variation across the country over whether schools were planning consultation meetings.

“The key point about any new guidance on parental engagement is that it should not be up to the schools to interpret whether they follow it,” he said.

“A survey of our reps at 150 Scottish secondary schools found that 80 per cent were not holding consultation meetings with parents this term, with 20% saying they were intending to hold consultations.

“Similarly, 33% of our reps came back to say that their school had decided to cancel parents evenings for the whole school year, with 67% saying they were planning to hold consultations after Christmas.

“Such figures are a concern for us. At this point, our feeling is that one-on-one parent consultation meetings are not safe, whether they happen physically in schools or remotely online.

“We can’t have parents visiting school premises because of the Covid risk and, in terms of online meetings, the ICT security is not really there which could potentially put a teacher in difficulty if, for example, they are filmed and that footage gets out there.

“And the amount of time that could go into organising a remote parental consultation would take away from teacher activity in other areas.

“What we’re saying to parents is that these are not normal times and schools will be having contact with them in other ways.”

The minutes of the most recent CERG meeting acknowledged there were “pros and cons to both face-to-face and online or telephone parent consultations, as well as pressure on schools to provide the same level of parental engagement as in previous years”.

The record also stated that the Scottish Government and schools watchdog Education Scotland were “working together to develop concise guidance with examples of good practice to support schools and early-years settings with strategies and tools for engaging with parents”.

It was noted that, for some families, “digital communication” was “having more traction than previously used methods”.

Mr Searson said that, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to disrupt education, it was important to find other ways of facilitating involvement.

“It could involve publishing online reports or guides on what youngsters should be doing or working on, for example,” he said.

“Or it could be providing strategies for parents to support homework activities. And, if parents are worried about their children, they can always lift the phone to the teacher.

“If the Scottish Government and Education Scotland are working on new guidance for parental engagement, it has to be clear on what cannot take place, which are face-to-face and remote meetings between teachers and parents.

“And the guidance should not create more work for teachers in a way that takes them away from overseeing learning if, for example, they say teachers should be producing more reports on pupils to send home. 

“Also, we wouldn’t be keen on an entirely new system. I’m hoping measures outlined in any guidance are measures schools are already using rather than something entirely new.”

Eileen Prior, executive director at parents’ organisation Connect, who said previously that her group was “beyond disappointed” with the SSTA’s call to do away with online consultations, stressed that “any, and all, efforts to sustain and improve parental engagement” in children’s learning would be welcome.

“We know that some schools have already held telephone parent consultations (including in a school with over 600 pupils), so if there is a will, there is a way,” she said.

“It is more important than ever for parents – who carried the weight to trying to engage their child in school work during lockdown – to be respected, listened to and supported as they continue to be involved in their child’s learning.”

She added: “Schools and local authorities have legal obligations under the Parental Involvement Act. What schools offer must work for parents, not just for schools, in terms of when and how this communication takes place.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is vital that schools continue to support parental engagement during this unprecedented time. We recognise that this can be in a wide variety of ways and we are working with head teacher, school leader and parent bodies to develop advice to schools.

“Our experience during the period of school closures reinforced the vital role that parents play in supporting their children’s learning, the importance of listening to parents’ expertise and the importance of communicating with parents about their children’s progress.

“The advice being developed on behalf of the Covid Education Recovery Group (CERG) will share innovative and practical examples we are aware of from schools across Scotland.

“The aim is to support all schools to consider what will work for them and their parent community; to ensure that workload is manageable while being mindful of the obligations placed on schools to involve parents.”