St John Evangelist is an Islington primary school with 301 pupils from Nursery to Year 6. The proportions of minority ethnic students, EAL and FSM are all well above average and the school was rated Good in all categories by Ofsted in October 2014 with comments praising its strong leadership, effective promotion of British Values and good pupil behaviour.
After a meeting with headteacher Tina Oliva on 20 May 2016, Piota built an initial app, provided training in how to use it and published the St John Evangelist app for parental engagement in the Apple and Android app stores on 4 June. The school launched it on 7 June and sent out a survey via the app on 12 June asking parents for their initial views on how useful they found it. They received 20 responses within a few days, all positive and including overall impression comments such as ‘Brilliant’, ‘Thank you for making life easier’ and ‘Think it’s really great!’.
Based on this the school decided to go ahead with the app, messaging parents ‘Thank you for the overwhelming ‘thumbs up’ for the App and its usefulness’. The process above was effectively risk-free for the school as its month’s free trial ran from 4 June to 4 July. If the school had decided not to go ahead anytime up to 4 July it would have owed Piota nothing.
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By the end of term on 15 July there had been 312 downloads of the app, over 5,000 page views and the school has already extended use of the messaging facility beyond simple reminders about events. It posts trip reports crammed with photos of the children enjoying themselves, highlights class assemblies to which parents are invited, reports in real time on the school’s EU referendum vote, and passes on selected information about local council or diocesan services on offer.
Mrs Oliva commented about some aspects of the school’s experience as below:
Q: Why did you consider getting a school app?
A: Parental engagement was already good but there are always some parents who don’t pick up things. No matter how much you send out they still miss things. Messages on the app seem less intrusive than texts and the ability to format messages on the app more flexibly and include pictures makes them a more friendly way to communicate.
Q: How tech-savvy were you?
A: Not greatly. I like playing with things but lose patience if they don’t work immediately.
Q: What benefits did you hope to achieve using an app?
A: Parents would be better informed about dates and school information due to easier access to information
Q: How easy or difficult did you find the app to administer?
A: Really, really easy. We thought it would be complicated and time-consuming but it has been a really effective easy way to communicate with parents. It’s also simpler than writing the newsletter.
Q: How did you find Piota’s service level in the training/ pre-launch period?
A: Quick and flexible.
Q: Did you research other apps?
A: Yes. Piota’s app seemed less busy than the other ones we looked at.
Q: How do you think about or calculate a Return on Investment for the app?
A: I think of it in terms of “social capital”. Parents now feel more engaged.
Q: Describe the parental reaction to the app
A: Very good. No one has said they didn’t like it which is rare for any initiative. It has made people’s lives easier.
Q: Describe the staff reaction to the app.
A: They like being able to send pictures to parents easily.
Q: What features really make a difference to the day to day communication of your school?
A: News and pictures. In our parent survey they said they wanted more pictures.
Q: What is the next feature you would like to see added to the app?
A: Nothing. I like that it is simple and clear.
Q: Do you believe the app could help raise children’s outcomes and/or close the attainment gap?
A: It is a good way to communicate achievements especially in enrichment activities such as singing. It raises the profile of these to all parents and gives them more significant status. Parents can also see how their children get involved in the community – it’s a really good way of celebrating community involvement.
Q: A summary comment?
A: The whole school community likes it. All feedback has been that it has been really easy to use and positive. Everything has been positive about it.