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Engagement and technology, with parents

Our founding partner, Joe Mathewson, discusses how regular and reliable communication between schools and parents, which can be a challenge in large secondary schools, can be supported by educational technologies that are playing an increasing role in bridging the gap between school and home.

Many parents are keen to be involved in their child’s school life, whether assisting with after school clubs, fundraising for facilities, being involved in decision making on key school matters or engaging with the learning conversation between child and school. While this is so, the majority of information that schools share with parents has, traditionally, traveled one way, with many parents relying on their child to bring home school newsletters or paper homework slips that can be forgotten or lost. Face-to-face meetings can also be difficult to arrange, especially for parents who have separated or live abroad, meaning some parents only get the chance to talk to their child’s teachers at parents’ evenings and other school events.

However, in today’s connected age, parents demand that schools make regular contact with them and keep them up to date with school news as well as their child’s achievements, well being and development. Parents also expect to be offered two-way communication, providing them with an opportunity to give feedback and offer input. Different schools have different priorities, but one thing is the same for all, the need for a system that keeps parents informed and offers coordinated, accurate, up-to-date and timely information.

Mobile technology 

The proliferation of mobile technology in schools is encouraging the implementation of bring-your-own device and one-to-one device schemes. With the majority of adults in the UK owning a smart phone, tablet or laptop, mobile technology is a medium that parents are familiar with, allowing schools to look to this type of technology for educational solutions. Some learning platform providers are looking at ways that mobile technology can transform the role of VLE in school to make it simpler for teachers, students and parents to connect. These providers can offer a web interface that works on any modern browser, responding to the type of device a student, staff member or parent is using and automatically adjusting the platform to fit the device that is being used.

When schools are investing in a parent portal, parents are provided with a login to school information and specific feedback about their child, including timetables, attendance, behavior, school reports and homework. When syncing this platform to a school’s management information system (MIS), any changes to the information pulled through the parent portal are automatically updated. This way, parents have the latest information wherever they are and whenever they want it.

In terms of wider school information, parents may, for example, want to take a look at the A-Level courses their child’s school offers its Sixth Form students in order to help the child decide on which subjects to study. Or they may be interested in learning more about the school sports teams or music lessons if their child has shown an interest, supporting their child’s extra curricular activities as they develop new interests and skills.

With regards to information specific to their child, parents may want to check teacher comments on their child’s homework, rewarding positive feedback or offering help to the child in an area where the child is struggling. If parents are fully aware of what homework is set and when it is due, the process of work outside of the classroom becomes far more transparent and encourages students to hold more positive views about it, seeing homework as an important and integral part of their learning. Parents can also receive attendance information, potentially making a difference to their child’s safety and avoiding the cost and time spent by schools that pick up on poor attendance after the event.

Information access

Parents are comparing the online systems they use on mobile devices to the systems at their child’s school system and looking for a match in standards. Parents are busy people, with busy lives, they need straightforward solutions when it comes to accessing school resources and information on their child. Providing parents with an email username to the school’s parent portal instead of a long, complicated login that is written down and can be lost is one way VLE providers can make information access and distribution simpler. This may not sound like much, but it is about keeping parents in touch. Offering a self-service password reset is another example, meaning parents do not have to go to the school for a reset that requires time and effort and may discourage some parents to obtain another login.

Most children have two main educators in their lives – their parents and their teachers. Parent-teacher relationships only work well if a teacher not only responds to any problems and questions, but also reaches out to share concerns and celebrate achievements with parents. Finding the best way to manage communication between schools, students and parents will enable students to learn in a supportive environment, achieve the best possible results they can, attend school more regularly, behave better and demonstrate more positive attitudes to their education.

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