Teachwire Logo

Dealing with difficult parents – An anonymous headteacher speaks out

It’s incredible how a small number of parents can make life so difficult for staff...

  • Dealing with difficult parents – An anonymous headteacher speaks out

Why do the emails that make your heart sink always arrive either when you are about to sit down to Sunday dinner or just as you’re settling down to watch something good on TV?

The phrases “I am very disappointed”, “I would like to know the reason” and “I am disgusted with” now have a physical effect on me.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of our parent body are amazingly supportive. We’ve worked hard over the past five years to build strong relationships and we try to listen to any issues early on so we can sort out small things before they become big things.

I’ve always said to my staff that although we have nearly 300 children, for each parent that is their baby. Despite this, it’s incredible how a small number of parents can make life so difficult for school staff.

For most parents, and seemingly the people who populate the DfE, their only experience of school is that they attended one. Their knowledge of the day-to-day challenges are small, if existent at all.

I don’t expect to understand what happens beneath the bonnet when I take my car to the garage. However, I wouldn’t feel the need to write a strongly worded email expressing my disappointment with the design of the mechanic’s overalls or asking for a list of all the tools they used and an explanation why.

Recent issues I’ve had to deal with include parents demanding an immediate call back to discuss an unknown issue, even if it’s the weekend, late in the evening or when teachers are halfway through teaching a lesson.

Parents have complained that staff are selfish for not planning their pregnancies around the school year and have griped about who their child sits next to (then complain again when they’ve been moved and ask if they can be moved back).

One parent moaned that their child with additional needs who was recognised in reward assembly for his singing “didn’t sing that well”, saying, “I know because I was in that assembly.”

Parents have called saying they are disgusted that their child has been asked to clean the toilets (clearly not true). I’ve been told that I’ve personally ruined a child’s life because the local high school announced their transition day at the last minute and it was on the same day as our Y6 leavers assembly.

I’ve been held personally responsible for every fall-out or disappointment that certain children encounter and have been expected to walk pupils to their parent’s car after school so they “don’t have to get out.” I also regularly receive long emails detailing the number of ways the school has gone downhill since I took over.

I could go on, but you get the gist.

On a serious note, I feel very strongly that schools have become the sticking plaster for many of the gaps in our society. We are responsible for everything from childhood obesity to holiday hunger. We work well over the hours we are paid and do it with a smile because for most of us this job is a vocation.

I know that I should turn my email notifications off on my phone but at the moment we are on alert for track and trace and sometimes nipping something in the bud means that it doesn’t end up all over social media.

I just wish that the small minority who take up the majority of my time would realise that we are human beings with our own families, issues and challenges. On that final note, here’s what I’ve learnt about dealing with parental complaints over the years:

  • Listen. Give parents a chance to get things off their chest. Their issue may be valid and easily sorted.
  • Try and arrange a face-to-face meeting or telephone call. Email can be misinterpreted on both sides.
  • Don’t take it personally. This is tricky but sometimes parents are annoyed at the system, not at you.
  • In the immortal words of Elsa, “let it go.” Some people just like to complain and whatever you do will not be good enough.
  • Smile. It reassures the genuinely concerned and really annoys the perpetual complainers.

The writer is a headteacher in the north of England.

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Make sure your assessment is effective with these expert insights.

Find out more here >