If there's one aspect of your child starting school that's sure to trigger a frenzy of domestic cleaning, it's the teacher's home visit. These seem increasingly common (although not all schools do them) and involve either the teacher alone or with the teaching assistant, coming round to see you and your child for a short period, usually just before term starts.
But is this all just an excuse for teachers to get a nosey at your house and check you really do live in the catchment area, or is there more to it than that?
Joanna Fleming, a teacher from Cumbria, explains that such visits are about building a link between school and home – a relationship between parent and teacher. "They're a really good opportunity to check things and explain any worries you or your child have," she says.They are also very much a chance for teachers to see children in their own environment, where they're likely to be at their most comfortable. If a new reception pupil seems especially shy in the classroom once they start, but were less so during the home visit, this will help the teacher understand that they might just need to come out of their shell more.
But onto the crucial question: do teachers care if there are a few crumbs on the carpet or the living room floor is strewn with rather too many discarded toys?
Joanna is reassuring that teachers are not there to see how tidy your house is (within reason), although she concedes it's nice if someone makes a bit of an effort and offers a cuppa. She does like parents to turn the TV off too: "It's often left on, or just turned down a bit!"
Anna Plasett, a mother of two from North London whose daughter Ella's teacher did a home visit last September, advises keeping preparations low key. "I didn't have a manic tidy up or get baking," she says. "I think it would have made Ella nervous." She recommends getting someone else to look after any (especially younger) siblings for the duration of the visit, if possible. "I asked my mother-in-law to look after my two-year-old as I didn't want her taking the teacher's focus away from Ella."
Home visit tips:
• See this as some precious one-on-one time to get to know the teacher and vice versa.
• Use the visit to raise any concerns you have, eg,. worries about toileting, development and the like. It's much easier to do this now than trying to grab her attention at the classroom door when you're among 29 other parents and carers.
• Explain to your child in advance that their new teacher is coming round to say hello and encourage them to get a favourite toy out to show them.
• Turn the TV off. Your child is unlikely to bond with the teacher if they're distracted by goings on on CBeebies.
• Offer a cup of tea and some biscuits. (No need to turn into the next Jane Asher – a good old-fashioned digestive or the like will suffice)
• Worry about making the house super-spotless. That said a quick clean up might be worthwhile if it makes you feel better.
• Bribe your little one to behave –they're bound to blurt out at the end, "Mummy, can I have that chocolate bar you promised me for being good now that Miss X is going?"
• Go over the top about how much of a genius your son or daughter is. If they are well-ahead of the game, it's certainly a mention but keep it brief. The school will do what's called a baseline assessment early on in the first term and should discover where your offspring is up to.
• Bear in mind the teacher might only stay a short while as they probably have a lot of other home visits to get through that day.
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years to be published by Prentice Hall Life in January 2011.