Do schools consider working parents?

by Liz Benson

While most school administrators are undoubtedly aware that many parents work, the plight of working parents seems to be rarely, if ever, considered when planning school events. Despite the fact that many school administrators are likely to be working parents themselves, I’ve lost count of the number of last-minute invitations I’ve received to events that surely would have been scheduled well in advance.

Invariably, we get less than a week’s notice for events like sports days, parent-teacher interview nights, fundraisers, awards assemblies, performances, and more. And of course, it’s understandable that many of these events have to happen during school hours. But why the late notice?

Working parents can’t usually take a last-minute half day or full day of annual leave to attend these events. Most businesses are flexible and reasonable but they do require sufficient notice if employees need time off.

Parents feel guilty if they can’t attend these events due to work commitments, while children feel left out if their parents can’t make it. But if I’ve already scheduled a work trip, I can’t cancel flights and meetings at the last minute.

Even more surprising in some ways is the number of parent gatherings scheduled for coffee on a Friday morning or a lunchtime movie. Of course, not all parents work and, of those who do work, not all keep regular office hours. However, many do, and it can be isolating and disappointing to discover that it’s impossible to join in with school-related activities because they’re advertised at the last minute or scheduled during work hours.

At a minimum, it would be great to see schools put a bit more thought into how working parents can be included in the system. More than a few days’ notice for events would be a fantastic start. After all, surely the school’s calendar is set far enough ahead of time to let parents plan in advance.

Christine Armstrong talks about this challenge, the mismatch between the work and school days, in her book The mother of all jobs. “One mum winced when she realised that her child had perfectly replayed her response to an invitation to a school show at 11.30am two days later with: ‘My mummy says that if you put these things on at the start or end of the day, and gave some notice, then people like her with REAL JOBS would come but, as you don’t, no, she won’t be there’.”

An even better change (albeit a huge challenge due to conflicting working hours) would be to see schools hold more events outside of standard office hours so that working parents can attend.

What do you think? What measures have you seen schools take to bridge the gap for working parents, and what would you like to see change?