An app for every campus

The Braeburn Group of International Schools is a group of co-educational international schools offering British/International curricula in Kenya and Tanzania; educating over 3,600 pupils. Each school has its own app, which parents and students download from the Apple and Android app stores, and there is also a group alumni app. We caught up with Andy Hill, Managing Director of Braeburn Schools Limited and Marcel Blackbeard, Group ICT Manager about their schools’ experiences of using their apps.

Apps are easy to navigate

The difference an app brings is the ability to target specific information to parents and create a more personalised experience. Being instantly available on their phones, easy to navigate and with push notifications alerting parents in real-time to Covid-19 bulletins and other urgent information, an app can serve as the go-to hub of school information. “Using the apps is a quick way to find the latest Covid-19 advice, term dates, information, payment methods and the events calendar”.

The schools have also found sending forms via the app particularly useful, as parents can self-serve by updating their contact information and report absences for instance without needing to call. This saves time and captures the information more efficiently.

Braeburn Schools Group app screenshots

A more streamlined method of communication

The schools needed a better way to communicate with their parents both locally and internationally. “We were looking for a more streamlined method to get in touch with parents”. Beforehand, parents were not engaging with emails and the website was not easy to navigate on mobile devices. Parental engagement had become a problem as exemplified by a recent school sports day; in the past, “only some parents had attended and many were unaware that the Sports Day was taking place”. Using its app to send out an alert and reminders to parents about the event resulted in most parents attending the following year.

Push notifications have been key

“The Headteachers are happy with the ability to send and receive instant push notifications” and teachers have been using the apps to share school news stories and publish trip updates. “Parents are happy too” – they feel more engaged and enjoy getting the updates from the schools. Group executives feel that Piota “really understood” their communication needs and service levels have been good.

The Braeburn Schools groups’ apps are still evolving and future plans include using the apps to communicate ever more personalised content. The group has recently rolled out the Registration feature with inbuilt MIS integration to parents, staff and students. And the new version of the app will allow parents with children at different campuses (as well as staff who work across multiple campuses) to receive alerts from both apps and view them interchangeably.

Getting an app up and running in just 3 days

Jewellery Quarter Academy is a secondary school with around 500 students in Birmingham. They first contacted us on March 10th and moved fast, launching their customised app to parents in just 3 days. Jamie Barton, Deputy Headteacher, told us how they were getting on with their app.

Children of Jewellery Quarter Academy

How did the school envisage using its app and how did this change in response to Covid-19?

Jewellery Quarter was looking for an app to improve parental engagement, but when coronavirus accelerated it quickly adapted it into a central online reference point for student learning resources. Initially, they provided learning resources on the app using PDFs in order to reach their whole audience, as many families did not have access to laptops. In response to the crisis, Jewellery Quarter bought and delivered laptops to families that did not have them so families had at least one device plus their app to access information. Making sure that the lower socio-economic families had access to the learning resources was paramount to facilitating home learning.

Using instant push notification alerts was particularly useful for sharing information about learning resource updates as well as broader information such as free weekly school meal vouchers provided by the government. The forms section improved data capture and rekindled engagement with parents. When Jewellery Quarter sent a message out to encourage parents to fill in the application for their voucher, “We received over 100 responses to the form within the space of 2 hours”.

See how you could improve parental engagement – Get a free trial of your own school app!

How has the app changed their communication strategy?

Very few parents were engaging meaningfully with the website, whereas they do with an app.“Having something that is in the palm of your hand has been a game-changer”. Push notifications are used to launch the week, share learning strategies and to point parents to where further information is housed. Having its own app has enabled Jewellery Quarter to provide a centralised hub of information that is easily accessible by their whole audience.  Parental engagement has increased, it played a vital role in communications during coronavirus and “it’s one of the main success stories of this academic year”.

How easy has their app been to use?

The staff love the app and are constantly suggesting new content for it. Staff, as well as parents and students, have downloaded the app to keep themselves updated and use the alerts to serve as reminders. When form tutors do their weekly check-in with students, they are able to refer to sections of the app and sign-post information. Both Mr Barton and the Office Manager manage the app and have found it very easy to use, “I feel like the management of it is really easy, it took me only half an hour to train our Office Manager on it”. After an initial training session, they felt well equipped to launch their app to their audience and had it up and running quickly with minimum fuss. The Office Manager handles administrative updates while Mr Barton handles teaching updates. Managing the app has been easy as he is able to update it without being in front of a computer, “I’ve got the console to do the editing on my phone and laptop, this gives the flexibility of location. If I am given some information to send out in an alert, I can do it then and there”.

See how you could improve parental engagement – Get a free trial of your own school app!

Which other features of the app are they using and why?

The app design is versatile and can be changed quickly. Jewellery Quarter created an extra-curricular section in the student area of the app which has Monday Masterclasses, Tuesday Talent, Wednesday Wisdom, Thursday Thoughts and Friday Fun and made each year group responsible for contributing content to them. “We tried to develop the student area with everything they will need to continue their learning and shared some myth busters about the coronavirus crisis”. They also use their forms to collect student suggestions and relay these insights to the student parliament.

Has the app been a hit with parents?

Their app has “become the chief medium of communication between the school and families”. This has provided a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the classroom and the home and the use their app to signpost helpful information and frequently asked questions. “Now I feel like we don’t have anybody that is unreachable”. So far Jewellery Quarter has had 800 downloads, 197 of these by Friday of the first week. In a recent ‘Our new app’ survey, 89% of parents were positive about the impact the use of the app has had: “It’s amazing, I like the hands-on information, it is very informative and easy to use”.

To find out about more about our schools apps, please see our website or contact us at: hello@piota.co.uk

Marymount Paris logo

Marymount Paris makes the most of its app

We recently caught up with Kate des Places, Director of External Relations at Marymount Paris to see how they were getting on with their app.

In September 2019, Marymount Paris decided to revisit their communications strategy. “Email management was becoming cumbersome” and it was all too easy for important messages from school to be lost in a parent’s already crowded inbox. Having a customised app that uses push notifications cuts through the clutter and makes sure information is both seen and received; “it made sense to have a daily communications tool you can put in your pocket; the information is literally at your fingertips”

Marymount Paris' app on Apple and Android devices
Marymount’s app on Apple and Android devices

Parents increasingly wanted information in real-time and available in a centralised place on their smartphones and devices, so the natural solution was to test an app.  This turned out to be the perfect solution as it allowed them to centralise all of the school’s information, arrange it according to different stakeholder needs, whilst also improving parental engagement. Marymount Paris has found that sending updates and urgent messages via their app is more effective than emailing parents; they are more visible to parents, and by centralising everything in one place parents have a hub for information directly accessible whenever needed. Kate des Place says their app has become the “go-to place for parents looking for information“.

See how you could improve parental engagement – Get a free trial of your own school app! 

The ability to customise their app was key for Marymount Paris, as they needed it to be flexible: in a complex organisation with lots going on, making changes to their app interface, scheduling alerts and updating information easily and efficiently is critical. 

During the Covid-19 crisis, the school has used its app to keep parents in the loop in real-time and ensure important information was communicated instantly to the relevant people in bite-sized chunks. They also quickly reconfigured the app design to feature more prominently their Remote Learning resources, making them super-easy to access via the app on tablets or phone. “Piota was so responsive“, always on hand to assist in making any changes and helping the school to fully maximise the effectiveness of its app. The architecture has also meant that the school can put safe, effective online learning resources within easy reach – at the click of a ‘button’ – of younger learners – many of whom are relying on iPads or tablets for school, and who are not used to navigating online platforms or the internet.

This has been extremely helpful for parents who are juggling teleworking and need children to become digitally autonomous overnight. Having an app has really made a difference to parental engagement too: “parents love it, it’s responsive and we can communicate things in advance”. The staff have encouraged parents to use the app by doing live demonstrations during drop-off and pick-up times. It has helped to build a stronger sense of community and encouraged a dialogue about how using technology can help parents feel more involved and by extension improve student’s learning. The school roll is 400 but the app has been downloaded over 1,000 times now as parents download it on all their devices to make sure they can remain in close touch:

Increased parental engagement on the app over time
Increased parental engagement over time

Marymount Paris has had a great experience with their app to date and are continuing to customise it to meet their needs throughout the school year.  They have found it so “easy to use” and are delighted that it is so accessible and easy to manage. Their communications team navigated it with ease: “Anyone can do it!”.

To find out about more about our schools apps, please see our website or contact us at: hello@piota.co.uk

New Primary’s app works wonders

We caught up with Karyn Ray, Headteacher of New End Primary School in Camden, about her recent experience using their school app during the coronavirus crisis.

Over time, the app had made communicating with parents much easier and the usage of the app has increased as the crisis escalated. Sending out alerts via their app was more helpful than emails as emails are not always monitored by parents at times like this. The school had been able to pre-load any information it wanted to send out and break it up into smaller chunks: “You do it once and it’s done”. Ms Ray told us that this was an effective strategy as parents can often feel bombarded when given too much information in one go. The app also allows schools to pre-select who can see which alerts, making sure any updates sent out are relevant and useful.

See how you could improve parental engagement – Get a free trial of your own school app! 

A significant increase engagement and views
Engagement and views have increased significantly

Using the app to communicate has also saved time. To email the whole school she used to have to split the mailing list into four to stay within capacity limits, and copy and paste the message to send it in four batches. Using the app she can do it all at once: “it can be up to 4x faster, and even while working remotely we can contact both staff and parents”. The app also displays information even when offline or during network outages. If an important alert has been sent out, the alert will still be readable for parents. 

Before using an app, New End communicated with parents via emails and text messages. Text messages had proved to be time consuming, expensive and inefficient: texts were limited by characters and if a link was shared it would swallow up the entire allowance. Switching to the app allowed New End to send out as many alerts as they needed without any restrictions, free of charge and as a result saved the school money. New End Primary now uses its app as the main communication channel with parents and is looking at phasing out email over time.

New End Primary's school app on an Android device
New End Primary’s school app on an Android device

New End Primary’s experience has proved that using an app can: improve parental engagement, (information is more centralised and easily digestible), modernise communications, (parents are tech-savvy and already use apps for every other aspects of their lives) and smooth the period ahead while schools are likely to be opening and closing more frequently and at short notice. The app can be updated instantly and information is easily shared and scheduled.

We’d be delighted to offer a free trial to any school.
Annual cost starts at £600 p.a.
To learn more please see our website or contact us at: hello@piota.co.uk

Back to school ready with school app checklist

School App Checklist

Get your school app, back to school ready!

Take a look at our school app checklist to ensure your school app is ready for the new academic year.

1. Raise school app awareness

Make sure new parents are aware of your school app, who to ask for support in setting up, and welcome them with a message in the relevant channel.

Remind existing parents too of the benefits and features of your school app as the more parents who use the school app, the more administration time you're likely to save.

2. Remind parents to update their chosen channels

Ensure parents don't miss important information by reminding them to update their notification channel on the school app to their child's new school year group. The best way of doing this would be to send an alert to all users on the Urgent channel.

School app checklist: remind parents to update channels

3. Content Refresh

Your school app is only as good as the information and content on it. So make sure you check that the information below is still relevant, correct and up to date:

  • Staff contact details
  • Lunch and dinner menus
  • Events calendar and club timetable
  • Online payment link
  • Other school news

This would also be a good time to remind parents to ensure their details are still up-to-date too. If you haven't already, put a Parent Contact Details form on the app, and send a message to all parents asking them to complete if and when any contact details change.

4. Registration check

If you have registration enabled (the requirement for parents to register and log in before accessing your school app), please check the registration page of your CMS to make sure the new years' information is in place.

Registration can be activated for greater security on all our apps, so if you are interested in this additional functionality, contact our support team for more information.

5. New staff training

If you have new members of staff joining the team this academic year, take advantage of our free and unlimited support and book training for new staff members today. We know how busy everyone within the teaching profession is, and our aim is to reduce your workload not add to it. Therefore, all our training takes place over the phone, we find normally 30 minutes is sufficient to get you up and running. If you have more detailed questions on the functionality of your school app, we can always extend the training session or have further calls later on.

If you would prefer to have face to face training on-site at your school, then we're also more than happy to arrange a convenient time to visit.

Our support team are always here to help so don't hesitate to get in touch.

We hope you've found this school app checklist useful, please forward to friends and colleagues too.

We're always looking for ways to improve our service to you, so if there's any feedback, or support you'd like to see, get in touch with our support team.

School comms transformed at Pick Me Academy

After a period of fast growth, Pick Me Academy in Bucharest, Romania, needed to adapt their school-to-parent communications (school comms). They launched their Piota international school app in November 2018.

Pick Me Academy Background

Pick Me Academy was founded in 2014 as a kindergarten teaching the British curriculum in an English speaking environment in Bucharest, Romania. In just five years since then, owner Denis Popescu has successfully expanded it to nearly 200 pupils on three sites, adding a primary school section, gaining Cobis accreditation and preparing to start teaching for the Cambridge International Examinations.

School comms

Coping with such fast growth has required adapting practice and procedures in many areas, one of which was school comms. In the early days, parents would contact Denis directly about all matters. As the school grew, this became too time-consuming to be practical. Pick Me met Piota in mid-2018 and saw the potential for a secure school app to both deliver a better service to parents and streamline communications internally.

School app launch

Pick Me launched it's school app in November 2018 and advised parents it would become the primary school communication tool. The school would stop using email, texts, paper and phone calls wherever possible - instead all school comms would be on the app. By Christmas 2018 the app had been downloaded 375 times (April 2019 update: 530) and has been used at least once by over 300 people every month since. The school now sends out only one routine email per month (parent invoices) and time spent on the phone with parents has dropped by at least 60%.

School app feedback

The app is “one point of contact for all kinds of messages, both sent and received” explains school director Tudor Popescu, and “it has had a big impact in freeing up management team time”.

Parents quickly learned to check the app instead of calling about everyday matters such as the lunch menu or their child’s daily schedule. When they do have a personal question, the app channels them straight to the appropriate school contact. Complaints have dropped because parents can no longer claim they did not receive an email about a trip for instance, when the evidence is on the app that they did. Parents submit optional activities choices on the app, making processing easier.

Feedback is also easier to collate. The school asked parents for feedback on the app about a Christmas present policy, it received over 200 responses in a week, automatically uploaded and summarised in a spreadsheet on the app console.

In summary, the app “helps parents to organise themselves, being easy to use” and instantly accessible on their phones.

“We can’t think what we would do without it now” says Tudor, “It really helps us a lot everyday”.

Denis now plans to extend use of the school comms app by providing more detailed information class by class. Equipping parents with even more information will enable them to meet the school’s vision of empowering children to reach their full potential.

For more information about Piota international school apps, please contact Arron Cleverdon, either by e-mail or +44 (0)7368 422479

Reduce teacher workload

Improve parental engagement whilst reducing teacher workload

Piota Apps, as a technology supplier within the UK education industry, has been set a challenge! Improve parental engagement whilst ensuring we reduce teacher workload by up to 5 hours per term.

On 3 April 2019, the Department for Education published a policy paper “Realising the potential of technology in education”. It’s purpose is to educate and influence both the education sector and technology providers to improve the use of technology.

“We aim to support and enable the education sector in England to help develop and embed technology in a way that cuts workload, fosters efficiencies, removes barriers to education and ultimately drives improvements in educational outcomes.”

The policy paper sets a number of challenges, requiring the education sector and technology businesses to work together to innovate effectively.

Reducing teacher workload

It’s no surprise that challenge 1 in the DfE list relates to reducing teacher workload. In a survey carried out by the NEU teaching union, 40% of teachers say they will no longer be working in education in 5 years time. The main reason for leaving teaching? Workload was the main reason for leaving for 62% of respondents.

So with our teachers, school leaders and support staff exhausted, what can we do to help reduce their workload?

This is where Challenge 1 in the policy paper comes in.

Challenge 1: “Improve parental engagement and communication, whilst cutting related teacher workload by up to five hours per term. Department for Education

Keeping parents engaged - improving pupil outcomes

A high level of parental engagement can be incredibly important for a child’s education and attainment. The primary reason that our school app was founded was to provide better communication between schools and parents. What has become increasingly important, is ensuring that the technology schools use to improve parental engagement, impacts positively on teacher workload.

Our school app has very positive feedback and we’re confident that it can meet the challenge!

“The app has saved us admin time as we are able to send out messages quicker than via other methods. I would estimate two-three hours of time per week are saved by this.” Russell King, Deputy Headteacher

And remember, it’s not only time that can be saved but also money with a mass reduction in the use of photocopying!

“[Our] school app has saved us money. It is so quick to get the information out to parents. No photocopying newsletters – just straight out to the target audience.”

After Easter, we will be gaining feedback from all our schools regarding the app and reducing workload. If you’d like to send us some feedback, or enquire about how an app could help reduce your teacher workload, contact us today.

We will be reporting back with our survey results and next round of innovation shortly!

A nursery app to keep parents in the loop

Have you ever wondered whether getting a nursery or school app would be “worth it”?

If so, take a look at the article below, written by Sal McKeown for Practical Pre-School, which describes the experience of The Barn Nursery School and the decision to invest in a nursery app.

Supporting families

Sharon Cooper, co-owner of The Barn Nursery School wanted a “go-to resource” where parents could find out what was going on at the nursery.

“For us, it’s about making the sharing of information as convenient as possible for everyone.”

The Barn Nursery App

The nursery school downloaded several other nursery app’s before deciding to go with a Piota app, as it looked attractive and easy to use. This doesn’t mean a compromise on features though. When we speak to customers, the key things they want the app to be able to do are:

  • provide a central source of easily accessible information for parents and carers
  • integrate existing communication channels (twitter / facebook / website)
  • display text, photos, PDF menus, and videos
  • send messages to parent and carer’s, with the flexibility to send to one, many or everyone depending on the content.

Our apps do all this and more, check out our features page for more information.

So, the apps are great for parents and carers, but what about from the nursery perspective?

We build the apps in a way which makes them accessible to all users. Reducing workload and administration time is usually one of the reasons you’ve decided upon an app, so we make them simple to use so you can start saving time and money straight away.

There’s definitely no need to be a technical expert in order to manage and upload content on to your app. Nevertheless, we do give full training during your trial, and have a friendly support team to provide on-going assistance / trouble shooting should you need it.

According to Sharon at The Barn Nursery School, you probably won’t!

“The app is simple to use and I think it’s very good value.” 

If you are interested in trialling your own nursery or school app, please get in contact with a member of the team today.

Talking Digital - The Barn Nursery School App

The School governors’ role in parental engagement

This month, the Department for Education (DfE) has released a new version of the Governance Handbook, which is a guide to the roles and functions of school governors in the UK.

One of the key changes compared to the previous edition was in section 2. Strategic Leadership, which now  includes a stronger emphasis on parental engagement.

Parental engagement

Here at Piota, many of us are school governors. We have long championed the idea that improving parental engagement is key to improving both school performance, student attainment and well being. So we are delighted to see the increased priority on this topic.

We’ve included an extract from the Governance Handbook below:

2.4 Parental engagement and community leadership

14. As the strategic leaders of their organisations it is vital that boards are connected with, and answerable to, the communities they serve, particularly parents/carers.
15. Parental engagement can have a large and positive impact on children’s learning. It should not be confused with parental representation on a board and neither should it be seen as a one-off exercise for organisations. Boards should ensure that their organisation is regularly communicating with parents and carers and that parental engagement is used by the board to inform their strategic decision-making. Communications with parents and carers should be clear in supporting them to understand the structure of the school, how it operates, and how they can support their child’s education.

How can a school app improve parental engagement?

Taking key points from the Governance Handbook, we identify how a school app can help governors fulfil these duties.

Boards should ensure that their organisation is regularly communicating with parents and carers

A school app offers an affordable, easy to administer, environmentally friendly method of communicating with parents on a 24-7 basis. With smartphone ownership so high, the vast majority of parents and carers will always have access to their phones. Sending newsletters, chasing absences, obtaining permissions and sending reminders and alerts has never been so easy.

Communications with parents and carers should be clear in supporting them to understand the structure of the school, how it operates, and how they can support their child’s education.

 Your school app is a central source of school information. Key contacts and event dates, absence policies and forms, links to parent-child activity and homework suggestions and parent evening reminders. All of which help parents and carers feel closer and more involved in their child’s education.

Parents and carers should be able to use these mechanisms to put forward their views at key points in their child’s education.

Within the feedback forms and surveys section of your school app, parents are able to give regular feedback. You no longer need to wait for parents evening to obtain their views. What’s more, you can collate and analyse written feedback much more easily than traditional feedback methods. This allows your school to respond quickly and purposefully.

 

Are you a school governor or part of a school community? 

Are you are a school governor or associated with a school who could benefit from a school app? Visit the schools page of our website to learn more about the features and functionality of our school apps or get in touch with a member of the team who can give you a demo. We can build your school app within hours and offer a free 30 day trial. So what are you waiting for…contact us today!

Piota school app used for community engagement

We were delighted to see Ibrox Primary School using their school app to promote wider engagement through a Community Coffee Morning. It was a great initiative to get their Junior Leadership Team involved and teaching them how to use the app too.

For any one interested in a school app and wondering if it would be easy enough to use, look no further, this Junior Leadership Team have it sorted! If you’re wondering about investing in a school app, contact us today for a free, no obligation demonstration and quote.