Meet the Parents and Slow Education

schoolOne of the things I love about women (and there are many) is the way we introduce interesting people to other like minded friends. My friend Jane is great at this and through her I have met some really fascinating people. Last week she put me in touch with Madeleine Holt (ex Newsnight culture correspondent) to talk about her initiative Meet the Parents.

Knowing I am a passionate advocate of encouraging parents to support local state schools, Jane thought I might be able to help Madeleine promote her scheme.

Madeleine started Meet the Parents in September 2012 at Yerbury state primary school in North London as she was “frustrated at hearing such negative things in the playground about the local secondary schools, but when I spoke to parents whose children were there, they were generally very pleased with how their children were doing. I set up Meet the Parents is to provide a new kind of information service for parents, and ultimately to make the process of choosing a secondary school less burdened with anxiety.”

Anyone who has done the rounds of secondary school open days knows that schools all present a totally positive picture at their events, so Madeleine wanted to create Meet the Parents evenings to enable year 6 parents and children to meet parents and children from their local secondary schools and share their experiences.

Panelists obviously tend to be broadly positive about their choice of school, or they would not be keen to take part. But the events allow prospective parents to ask tough questions – for example about discipline in class or how well children achieve – and get answers from the horse’s mouth. The evenings seem to be particularly helpful if the speakers bring their secondary age children along to join them on the panel.

Keen to roll the scheme out across other London boroughs and beyond, Madeleine’s son currently is in year 6. She was prompted to the set up Meet the Parents after one of his friends told him if he went to the local school he would become a postman!!

Thank God Hackney and Stoke Newington in particular is not at all like that at all, with the majority of parents actively choosing the local school, even if they have the means to go private. The feeling of community across all classes and races is very special and my children have benefited from this enormously. But as house prices rise, I worry that this will change and initiatives like Meet the Parents are vital in order to encourage parents to make choices based on facts, not fiction and by facts I don’t mean league tables.

Education is about so much more that endless hours of homework, mind expanding activities and constant tests and I have never been able to understand many (middle class) parents obsessions with their children being “pushed” and exam results.

When I was a kid, we went to our local school and didn’t consider anything else. Nowadays (probably just in London) estate agents allow you to search properties by school catchment areas and Tatler (?!) magazine recently published a guide to the best state schools – which may as well be private schools, as the house prices in the catchment area are so insane!!

If your children have had a positive experience and good education in a state school, or you are thinking about secondary school choices, please do consider getting involved with Meet the Parents – if nothing else, in order to feel you have heard a honest account of what your local school is like.

Also check out Madeleines dad’s website Slow Education.



  • Tiffany says:

    This is incredibly well-timed for me – there is the possibility that we will be moving the whole family to London later this year, and both kids will have to go to state high schools …

  • Ruthie says:

    My kids are at Uni now- but oh how I remember the self- righteousness of those parents who were sending their children to private schools. This seemed to be entirely founded on creating and perpetuating- an illusion of the “dark side”- images of classroom chaos, bullying and drugs. One such mother said to my then 11 year old son at a playdate ” You are such a bright boy, it’s such a shame your parents don’t care about giving you the best possible education” Grrr. They then pass this propaganda on to their children.

    Even though we were committed to our choice of school , we spent many evenings questioning whether we were doing the right thing.

    Of course state schools are not perfect, the buildings may be shabby, and they are lower in the league tables ( er, they don’t select their pupils on academic ability…) but there is some inspirational teaching to be found, and as Jane says, a huge sense of local community- most of their teenage social life involved walking around our local town to friends houses, rather than needing to being ferried here and there- and this also fosters a great sense of independence.

    Fast forward seven years; my kids are both at good universities. I’m even happier about the fact that they are well rounded, resilient, comfortable across all of the so-called “social boundaries” and have a huge network of local mates. Oh- and in my son’s year – their ‘average’ (and most definitely not Tatler endorsed!) comprehensive school sent more kids to Oxbridge than the much coveted local private school.

  • Loan says:

    Cam, my 13 year old son, and I were happy to be guinea pigs for the first MTP panel at Yerbury school. I think Madeleine’s idea is one of those simple but brilliantly effective, grass roots actions which can change people’s perspectives. When we were choosing schools for our children an important part of our decision-making was based on talking to local parents that we liked and respected. One parent that had sent her child to a local girl’s state school which our 15 year old daughter is now at, told us that when her daughter got to Edinburgh University to study history, she was told her first essay was the best of the whole year. Pretty impressive! But choosing schools made us reflect on what we wanted out of education and we realized it wasn’t just about getting good grades. At our son’s school, when parents met with the head to talk about our values, we were heartened to hear other parents who said they wanted their child to have a sense of community, to do well but not at the expense of others, to develop awareness of self and others, Continuing on this theme that learning is so much more than just absorbing facts. I really recommend Peter Gray’s compelling article ‘Give Childhood back to Children’ featured in the Independent on January 13th, 2014 and which can be read online. Thank you Madeleine for committing so much time and energy to MTP and may it continue to flourish.

  • Jane says:

    Tiffany – you should get in touch, Madeleines will definately be able to help.

    J x

  • Jane says:

    Ruthie your experience perfectly mirrors mine, community spirit is something that hopefully our children will carry on throughout their lives. There would be far fewer “bad” schools if everyone thought this way.

    J x

  • Jane says:

    Loan, I have been meaning to read that article, thanks for the reminder.
    I agree with you on changing perspectives, so many people seem to revel in the horror stories about local schools, rather than the good things they achieve.
    My neighbours all use my kids as an example as to why they should send their younger children to our local secondary – it makes me very proud.
    J x

  • Jo says:

    A postman! My God! How dreadful!

  • Jane says:

    I know hideous!!! I always think being a postman would be a rather nice job, your’e your own boss, outside, wear shorts all year round and home by 3pm.
    J x

  • Rebecca says:

    Please accept my warm support from the US–my husband and I are both teachers in our local public schools and both our boys have gone through that system with great results. It’s incredibly disheartening to hear parents run down local schools as various for-profit organizations push to get tax money for charter schools. . . Voices like yours and programs like Madeleine’s are crucial! Thanks!

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