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Q&A with Joe: Firefly’s journey to launching a new Parent Portal

Next week will see the launch of Firefly’s new and comprehensive Parent Portal solution for schools, helping them to engage the whole parent community with a richer understanding of their child’s school experience. With only a few days to go, we caught up with Joe Mathewson, CEO and co-founder of Firefly to explore the parental challenges schools are facing and why they decided to embark on this journey.

1. First, what prompted you to embark on the development of a new Parent Portal solution?

When we first built Firefly as teenagers, the needs of parents were probably furthest from our mind! But as we have worked with more and more schools over the years, we have better understood the importance of the parent experience, from selecting a school, to supporting their child’s learning, to seeing their child succeed. The impact of this experience, both to student learning outcomes and, of course, on the tough choices that parents make when choosing a school cannot be overstated.

Prior to lockdown, our usage data showed that parents were already starting to use Firefly more and more heavily. And then Covid hit us and parents had to get a lot more involved in their child’s education; schools needed to double down on staying in touch with parents. Whilst we already had plans to help schools engage with their parent community, the pandemic, and its impact on schools and parents, made us realise how critical the link between school and parent is for supporting learning, and has really accelerated our plans for a new Parent Portal.


2. What challenges do schools usually face when engaging their parents?

It’s really tough delivering a good experience to parents. ‘Pupil post’ has never been reliable, and it breaks down in a world where schools can be physically open one day and closed the next. Schools tell us that parents are placing more and more pressure on them for visibility of what’s going on. This is concerning and handled reactively can be very challenging. The schools we are speaking to really want to be able to take a proactive stance.

Unfortunately, technology has historically let schools down in this area. It’s been unconnected to the teaching and learning and daily school life and has cost school teachers and support staff a lot of extra time and money.

Parents’ digital expectations for schools are also rising as they use more digital products in other areas of their lives. This puts even more pressure on schools to offer a better, more streamlined and sophisticated online experience.


3. What about parents - what pain points did you identify?

Parents are often overwhelmed by the number of systems and communication channels they feel expected to monitor. At the same time, they can be quite anxious and concerned that they really do not know how their children are doing at school. 

Covid has also made things harder for parents with the need to stay on top of both communications with the school and be more directly involved in their child’s learning. And they’re often coping with other pressures caused by the pandemic - financial worries, disruption to jobs and health issues.


4. What do parents want from their school?

We’re able to understand a lot about parents by talking to schools every day, as well as regularly talking to their parents, and seeing how they interact with our current product as well as those on our beta programme. This shows us that parents want to be informed, feel reassured and keep up to date with their child’s learning and experience of school. And, particularly at the moment, they want to understand how the school is keeping their child, and the wider community, safe.

In turn, understanding what’s going on at school helps parents understand and communicate with their children better and support their learning.


5. What can you tell us about this new parent portal platform? 

With the launch just days away, I’m not allowed to say very much or I’ll get into trouble! But please do keep an eye out for our webinars next week and book yourself in if you are able to. I’m really excited about what schools and parents will be able to do in our new Parent Portal.


6. What is unique about this new solution and what are you most excited about? 

As always I’m most excited to see schools start to use the new Parent Portal and get it into the hands of parents, teachers and students. I really believe it can make a big difference to schools and families by enhancing the parent experience at a very turbulent time. Connecting the whole school community together has never been more important, and doing it while reducing the burden on teachers is critical.

Perhaps most importantly, I’m excited about the difference we can make to student outcomes. Both ImpactEd and the Department for Education are clear about the impact parental engagement can have on students’ progress. And ultimately that’s what we are all about at Firefly.

Is it time to rethink the relationship between your school and your parent community?

Join us for our webinar where we will explore effective approaches for parent comms and give you a sneak peek into how our new Parent Portal can help reduce the admin workload.

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