With over 9 million interviews booked since 2006 through our Parent Teacher Online (PTO) service we have a wealth of aggregate statistical information that schools can benefit from. In this article we look at the length of time allocated to parent-teacher interviews and how this affects the effectiveness of the event.
Statistics at the school level
Schools can use the statistics provided in their own PTO system to analyse the effectiveness of these events over successive terms and years. Analysing booking behaviour of parents isn’t normally possible when using any kind of manual booking method and even some online booking systems don’t provide this information.
This analysis is worthwhile because parent-teacher interviews represent valuable time that parents can get to meet teachers and discuss their students’ progress. Teachers also use their time, often in the evening, to meet with parents. Why not use the statistics available to optimise parent-teacher interview events?
Structuring parent-teacher interviews is a balancing act using limited resources like teachers and times to try to maximise parents’ ability to see the teachers they wish to see. It’s not normally possible or even necessary for every parent to see all teachers of their students – there just aren’t enough time slots – and in practice these events only work because parent participation rate is less than 100%. Not all parents make bookings, and most parents don’t book times with all teachers, only those they need to see.
If the stats show that most of your time slots and teachers are near fully booked, it may be time to tweak the settings to allow more parents to see the teachers they wish to see.
If the stats show that most of your time slots and teachers are near fully booked, it may be time to tweak the settings to allow more parents to see the teachers they wish to see. Achieving this means the following: (a) increasing the total time: starting earlier, finishing later or running over more days, AND/OR (b) decreasing the time for each interview. Having teachers stay later or attend extra days may not be an option, so the question becomes how short can an interview time slot be? Before we discuss this, some overall statistics are of interest. These stats are for Australian schools only – we’ve focussed on Australia and excluded data from schools using the service in the United Kingdom and other countries. In the majority of cases bookings are for regular classes/subjects, but bookings for things like career counselling are included, which may skew the results slightly.
The big picture – nationwide statistics
As the provider of this service we are in the unique position of having a bird’s eye view of these statistics, so we can see patterns and trends across a large number of schools. We’ve seen an enormous variety in requirements for how interviews are structured and the system is flexible enough to cater for all but the most obscure and complex requests.
We’ve also seen that each school has a tradition of how interview times are structured, that’s evolved over time, and when moving to an online booking system a school will usually want to implement exactly the same structure. That’s fine, but while the traditional structure might be thought of as optimal, sometimes the statistics tell a different story. Ironically we’ve seen that introducing a good online booking system will actually increase parent participation (because the booking process is easier and more accessible than in a manual system) and this can potentially put strain on what was thought of as a satisfactory structure.
We’ll focus now specifically at what length of time is allocated for parent-teacher interviews, drawing on historical aggregate data for around nine thousand interview events held at Australian schools.
Primary interviews are typically 10 or 15 minutes,
and secondary are 5 or 10 minutes.
This chart shows the most common interview time lengths we’ve seen used, showing the total number of bookings over 9 years of operation for each interview duration. Primary interviews are typically 10 or 15 minutes, and secondary are 5 or 10 minutes, with some at 6, 7 and 8 minutes.
This chart shows the number of classes for which each student can possibly be booked:
Primary students are typically in only one class, so we usually see fairly generous interview times of 10 or 15 minutes. Although we often see primary interviews for specialist teachers (Music/PE/Art etc), this isn’t usually the case and we rarely see the number of classes that are typical in secondary years.
For secondary, students are typically in 6 to 10 classes. This multiplying factor necessitates shorter interview times.
Another view is how many students each teacher can potentially be booked for:
Here we see a relatively small number of students for primary teachers (around 25). For secondary teachers the data also shows a sharp/brief peak at around 25 (perhaps an a), but consistently high numbers between 70 and 120 (peaking in at around 95).
For a teacher who can potentially be booked for 100 students, even at 5 minutes per booking this is 8 hours and 20 minutes and nearly 17 hours if the interview length is 10 minutes! If 4 hours of interviews occur with no breaks, at 5 minutes this allows 48 parents to be met, and at 10 minutes just 24 parents. This may not be helpful if the teacher is “in demand” and has 120 students in his/her classes.
So how long is a parent-teacher interview?
As a parent who attended interviews for two high school students I found the allotted 6 minute time-frame just enough to cover what the teacher had prepared from class results, plus any issues I wanted to quickly raise. If any more lengthy discussion was needed I knew the option was always there to book a separate time with the teacher. The popularity of 5 minutes as a time slot for high school interviews allows more parents to be seen, but is 5 minutes really adequate? Some schools even impose a limit on parents (via a setting in PTO) so that they can’t see the same teacher more than once for the same student, but the side-effects of these policies can affect some parents badly. A parent contacted us once saying that 5 minutes wasn’t enough time to see a teacher for the three subjects that the teacher taught for his daughter, and this in her critical final year of schooling.
What has your experience been of parent-teacher interviews, organising them or participating as a teacher or a parent?