Chris Burton, assistant headteacher and ICT development teacher at St John’s Church of England primary school in Bradford explains how they have improved their primary parental engagement
Finding a way of engaging with parents was particularly important to us. Feedback suggested that parents didn’t read emails or texts but, interestingly they admitted to looking at apps. We knew that this was where we needed to work on our parental engagement.
While primary parental engagement is generally associated with updating families with administrative issues such as the dates of parents’ evening, inviting their children on school trips, or requesting dinner money, we also wanted something that would encourage parents to get involved in their child’s development.
If we could keep parents updated daily about each class topic, such as the books they were reading or any new area of focus in maths, parents could help to consolidate this learning at home.
The benefits of our school app included full customisation and an easy-to-use interface. Another advantage is the fact that it links directly with the school calendar, so we don’t have to duplicate information.
We started the roll out to just Years 2 and 3 at first. This went really well, and the only complaints we received were from the other parents, who also wanted access! So, we rolled it out across the school. On the first Friday of having the app we sent out letters to encourage people to download it and saw 30 downloads that night.
Slowly we stopped updating news on our website and only posted this on the app. The app development team even set it up so that news posted in the app also appeared on the website, so that teachers could add regular news.
Like most school communication systems, we use it for numerous administrative tasks: collecting club applications, consent for trips, reminders about parents’ evening or outlining the kit needed for PE the next day.
Bringing parents into their child’s development
We also wanted to get our parents involved in their children’s learning.
Each teacher now has a page where they can share information with parents on what the class has done each day. This encourages parents to discuss this with their child in the evening or even, ideally to consolidate this learning with fun activities at the weekend. We send out extension work activity ideas to parents via the app that they can complete with their children to broaden their understanding of a particular topic.
Teachers can post information on class topics, recommended books, and of course the weekly spelling list.
Today we have a strong majority of parents, guardians and extended family members using the app but of course, like all things, some want to continue receiving paper based communication. Despite the Piota app being available on both Apple and Android app stores, a few parents say they don’t have a mobile phone that is compatible. Other objections are simply from parents who are not comfortable with any technology; some just simply prefer letters, information sheets and calling up our office to find out what they want to know.
Out of 500 students we had just 45 returned requesting that information continues to be sent via hard copy letters.
So, like many schools we have improved our communication with parents considerably. Whether it’s an administrative message or about bringing parents into their child’s education, the app lets us send out quick efficient messages that teachers have time to write and parents have time to read.
Rather than having to send out 500 letters that take ages to write and proof read, we can send simple, to the point messages.
We are certainly achieving a higher level of parental engagement, saving money and of course, saving time. While we haven’t yet calculated the cost savings you only have to consider the cost of our office staff’s time printing off 500 letters, let alone the cost of toner cartridge and paper; the savings are considerable.
When children have been on a trip we send a survey out to parents finding out what they enjoyed and what could be improved; it’s all about having a conversation with our parents.
In real terms, our chosen app wasn’t the cheapest but I believe it certainly delivers the greatest return on investment. Getting a system that means teachers can quickly post out information and requests and that parents have time to engage with is the winning part of our system. Inviting them into their child’s learning and giving them the tools to support their development is something that is hard to measure but is certainly be welcomed by everyone.
This story originally appeared in the Telegraph and Argus. You can read this piece here.