I recently attended a three-way conference at my daughter's international primary school to discuss her academic progress. The school recently informed parents that it was giving such sessions a trial, but I'm not sure about their value. My daughter said very little during the meeting, and it was hard for my wife and me to be totally open with the teacher about our concerns, as our daughter was present. I also wonder whether the teacher was able to be totally open with us. What is the value of these meetings, and do most schools have them? Teacher Julie McGuire replies: Three-way conferences, for parents, teachers and students to talk together - as an extension of the more traditional parent/teacher meetings - are a relatively new initiative in primary schools. Some secondary schools have been involving students in parents' evenings for a while, and more and more primary schools are following suit. They are intended to strengthen the triangle of communication between the child, parent and teacher. Students are encouraged to be reflective. They learn how to assess themselves and take responsibility for setting their educational and personal targets, with the full support of the teacher. The success of the conference depends on making sure the student is properly prepared. This would likely include an individual meeting with the teacher to discuss their work, behaviour and future targets. Students should be clear about the format of the conference, and may have notes outlining things they have excelled at and targets for improvement. This allows the child to lead the discussion, although clearly the teacher may interject. Pieces of work may also be shared with the parents. Of course, Primary One children will need more prompting and guidance from the teacher than older children, so the meeting may appear to be a little more contrived. Young children may be over-awed by the situation and will not necessarily have the verbal skills to contribute. However, they will build up confidence and skills as they move up in school, which will help them develop skills for life and the future workplace. This type of conference is new to your daughter and, whatever her age, this might explain why she was quiet or reluctant to talk. With experience she will become more proficient in voicing her thoughts and taking an active part in the meeting. She will hopefully have benefited by listening to your discussion with the teacher, and it gives you a good opportunity to follow up points at home. Occasionally it may be inappropriate to discuss a sensitive or difficult issue in the presence of a student but, whenever possible, difficulties should be treated positively and included in the student's target setting. When carried out well, three-way conferences engender an ethos of openness and trust in which students are not hearing second-hand what the teacher has said. They allow parents to have meaningful conversations with their children about their studies and to support them more fully at home. Academic progress, of course, is not the only factor in a successful and happy school life. Achievements in arts subjects and personal qualities - such as social and leadership skills - are also extremely important and should be recognised and celebrated. I suggest that you give the three-way conferences a chance before you make a decision about their worth. Feedback from parents in some international schools has been very positive.