Parent Teacher Night Interviews: Scheduling Makes All The Difference

By Chris Cooper.

Want to connect with parents? Think your current school parent-teacher night (PTN) events work well? How would you know? Parental involvement is so important to student outcomes that the USA has proposed jailing parents who don’t attend interviews (

There is a revolution underway in how PTN events are scheduled in schools and surprisingly, it makes a big difference. It all relates to the ‘method’ used to schedule interviews.

Historically, students went round with paper, manually booking interviews with teachers. This is the most common method still in use today. The advantage? It’s simple. But what are the hidden costs?

  • It is educationally poor. Less organised students rarely book properly, if at all.
  • It is unfair. This method favours those who book early, over those who book later. It doesn’t fairly allocate interviews according to the needs of
  • all participants.
  • It is bad for parents. Only ‘early booking’ students get time efficient schedules for their parents, and families with multiple children usually have poor quality schedules. Late booking parents can’t see who they want, as key teachers book out quickly.
  • It leads to poor reporting. Schools rarely know which, or how many parents attend interviews.

Online Booking – A Better Way To Book The ‘Old’ Way?

Several systems now provide online bookings allowing parents to interact  with teachers directly and easily to organise their interview schedules. Removing students from the process is great; it empowers parents and saves teachers time in organising bookings manually.

Schools can then see who has booked and parents get printed schedules produced quickly. There is no doubt encouraging parents to interact online is good, but is this method the right approach?

Online systems allowing parents to book interview times directly are just modernising the age old method of organising interviews, without changing the method itself. The goal of such events is to best connect with parents, yet the method of either parents or students booking interviews manually to specific time slots is very inefficient – regardless of whether they use paper forms or the web to ‘place’ their bookings. Examples
of systems using this older method include:

Online Booking – What Doesn’t Work?

On face value, basic online interview booking works well – far better than paper systems. Yet it introduces a range of new problems which are not immediately evident.

Teachers are often wary of, or lobby against, online booking as they rightly feel they are losing control of their own schedules. No longer able to ‘negotiate’ with individual students when booking, teachers often find they need to stay for the entire event to see that ‘last Interview’, when they feel sure that they could have organised an earlier booking themselves. Unfortunately, parents have no regard for the teacher when placing bookings, as their focus is solely making a booking, not negotiating bookings that work best for both parties.

Another issue is ‘time bias’. Sequential booking has the problem that parents who book later are disadvantaged. Keen parents use online systems to book earlier, and book more interviews than they would otherwise under a less efficient paper system, which takes longer and can’t be done all at once.

It’s easy to say ‘bad luck’ to late booking parents, but it is these who are usually less organised, or have students in more educational need, and find out about the event late, or go to book later than the ‘good’ parents. These are precisely the parents teachers most want to see!

Parents are often unaware of the names of their child’s teachers, and some inexpensive online systems don’t link teacher names to students, which may cause confusion. Some don’t require user authentication. This could lead to some teachers placing ‘phantom’ bookings to block out their late slots, or parents booking more interviews than they should, or children generally getting up to mischief.

Connecting With Parents

A great quote from teacher Dr Linda Cameron is at

”Teachers seldom get to meet the caregivers of the children who we puzzle over, the ones that we would love to help more and the ones for whom some insight into their lives might be helpful in determining how to meet their needs.”

Most teachers know PTN events are dominated by parents of good kids. What’s less known, is the METHOD used to schedule events is a key factor in the problem. Make booking easier and you see more parents, but make booking FAIRER, and you see more of the parents you really need to see.

Where interviews are booked sequentially, there is a big time bias against less organised parents – or those whose child has alerted them late about the event. This is exacerbated by basic online booking systems which make it even easier for early bird parents to book lots more interviews quickly, and take all the good times.

There is a critical difference between a FAIR method of organising interviews, and one that biases against the very parents you need to see.

Timetabling Versus Booking Interviews – Which Is Fairer?

Years ago, timetables were done manually. Then software arrived, and most schools now use software to help with timetabling, such as allocating students’ elective subject choices within lines and so on. Computers analyse millions of combinations to find what works best for all students. If students were to be allocated electives as they ‘booked’ into them, it would be inefficient and unfair – which is why schools run a central algorithm to allocate them all together for best fit.

A revolution in interview schedule methods has at last brought this same approach to PTN events. Centrally scheduled events allow parents to place ‘requests’ to see teachers (usually online, but can be paper). Once most requests are in, the computer analyses them to find the best fit. The school then publishes the schedule to parents. Late comers may still book the remaining slots as usual, but most parents have already got a schedule which far better suits them.

While it may seem merely a technical difference, timetabling interviews gives results that are much better in so many ways. This method removes the time bias entirely, as all parent requests are considered equally and fairly at the same time. Where before early bird parents booked out the busy core teachers early on, a parent priority system ensures all get equal and fair access to teachers in high demand.

Ensuring parents book (and also attend) events relates to how well it fits their schedules. Timetabled interviews vastly improve this, compared to ‘booking’ interviews.

Benefits: Teachers, Parents And Schools!

An executive staff member from a school which switched from an online interview booking system to a centralised interview scheduling system said:

“We saved several hundred dollars in not having to give staff meals, as the system condensed interviews so much that we sent most teachers home before the meal break! Unheard of!” David Stonestreet, Deputy Principal, Sutherland Shire Christian School.

Algorithms can consider teacher schedules as well as parents, so early marks are possible for some when their interviews are scheduled as close as possible. This removes the biggest concern teachers have with online ‘booking’ systems which don’t consider teacher time quality at all.

Many schools have also found the greater efficiency in this method allows them to conclude events up to an hour early compared to previous paper booked events, but they conduct more interviews in this time as they are more compactly scheduled.

Interestingly, a side benefit of computerised schedules means parents have far fewer gaps between interviews, and thus are always moving to their next interview quickly. This greatly improves on-time running of events, where both parents and teachers have schedules which they need to adhere to.

Two examples of interview timetabling systems are and

Scheduling To Make A Difference

The role of the parent-teacher interview is about connection and communication for the benefit of the students, who are the business of schools. These occasions are more successful when participation is maximised and when all involved feel the organisation of these events is efficient and considerate of their personal time. Online booking AND the subsequent timetabling of interview times is the latest technology with these specific aims. Many schools, large and small, government and private, now use this approach. Entire groups of schools like Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation and the Catholic Education Office SA also use it for most of their secondary schools. Comments from schools that switched to the ‘timetabling’ interviews method, report it has significant benefits over online ‘booking’ systems their schools were previously using.

You may want to review your schools systems of scheduling interviews, noting it is the scheduling METHOD which makes all the difference.

Chris Cooper is a director of Edval Timetables, and active in educational scheduling research. He has also published a government accredited textbook.

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