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.

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

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!

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.

International School App for King’s Oak School

International School app for King’s Oak School

King’s Oak British International School was established in 1994 by parents whose intention was to provide quality education in English for children in Bucharest, Romania.

Starting as a Nursery School it reached capacity in 2004 when the school moved to a new, purpose-built site. By 2016, the school evolved into a combined Nursery, Primary and Secondary School. With such growth comes increasing demands in terms of communication, in particular with parents. As a result, King’s Oak started to investigate the possibility of an international school app.

Previously, King’s Oak sent all communication by email and found that often parents would not open or read important communications. After research into the school app market and see how user-friendly and functional the international school app from Piota is, they decided to introduce it. Parents would find a school app intuitive and informative, and crucially, would no longer miss important alerts from the school.

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

International school app has a positive impact on the school community

Demonstration to launch took just 3 days and the positive impact on the school community was immediate.

Parents like new technology and the Piota App looks impressive. Parents want communication and the more ways a school does it the better. They love the app and what’s best is that it’s really setting us apart from other schools locally” – Stephen Marr, School Director

80% of parents check the school app twice a day

The international school app comes with an analytics package which helps the school quantify usage. As a result, Deputy Head, Ela Cable, can see that communication with parents has improved incredibly.

“We recently carried out a survey to parents about the app. More than 80% said that they check the app more than twice a day on average. We can target our alerts to parents, which we couldn’t do with emails. As a result, we can ensure that we better engage with our parents without bombarding them with information that they end up not reading. The Piota app has truly transformed parental engagement.” Ela Cable, Deputy Head

Find out more about our international school app

If you’re interested in understanding how a Piota app could help you improve communication and set you apart from other competitors, please contact us and a member of our team will be happy to help.

Why an app is the best gift for schools this Christmas

Christmas is a magical time of year, but it’s also one of the most stress-inducing. Schools experience the latter of these feelings more than most, as a mix of bad weather, full-on festivities and rises in unauthorised absences can be challenging to manage.

Piota app parental engagement christmasWith Christmas being so busy, clear communication between schools and parents is crucial. With so many events often taking place circumstances can often change at the last minute, so keeping parents in the know is key to avoiding a frosty relationship during the season of goodwill.

That’s why introducing a customised school app from Piota can be the best gift you can get your school this year. Presenting an instantly accessible information hub, these apps help keep parents aware and engaged about everything affecting their child leading up to the holidays.

Here are four areas where our parental engagement app helps schools enjoy a Merry Christmas.

Boost the Participation in Festive Activities

Christmas brings with it an avalanche of events that students can get involved in. Schools are encouraged to embrace the festivities and host a wide range of activities during December, including special Christmas dinners, the school nativity or even a carol concert.

A wide range of events means a wide range of letters and permission slips for parents to inform them of what’s taking place. This can cost a fair chunk of time and money, and it’s all too easy for these to get lost in students’ bags, meaning they miss out on the festive fun.

Our apps can reduce expense and increase engagement. App features like push notifications inform parents about any upcoming activities pupils can participate in directly to their phone, and consent forms can be filled in directly via the app, providing instant communication between the school and parents. This means no important information gets misplaced, and parents are always aware of when and where events take place.

Feedback forms included within the app also allow parents to make any of their own suggestions for inventive Christmas events, or they can offer to volunteer.

Clarify Important Dates and Times

Christmas is the usual end point for a school’s Autumn term. However, the specific date can vary from school to school.

Through our communication app, schools can keep a calendar of their term dates for parents to check throughout the year and send reminders as the last day approaches, preventing the opportunity for physical newsletters to be misplaced. Parents can also be directly informed if the finishing time is earlier in the day or year than usual.

It’s also important to consider that January is an important month for exams in secondary schools. Schools can send parents and students the dates and times for any assessments with the app, as well as any essential information and revision materials.

Prevent Getting Snowed Under by Calls About Adverse Weather

One of the biggest headaches for schools and parents around Christmas is the winter weather. The increased likelihood of rain, wind, snow and ice can make areas of the school grounds dangerous, and sometimes cause schools to close outright.

This occurred in December 2017, with thousands of schools across the UK forced to shut due to the weather, with many teachers and students unable to travel. Snow days always add additional complexity for working parents, who may need to make last-minute arrangements to look after their children.

Our app helps ensure tensions don’t escalate by directly informing parents that schools are closed at the earliest convenience – no need for the school to field hundreds of calls or parents to continually check the school website, instead, instant alerts are sent out as updates happen. Plus, when school is open but bad weather has caused hazards on the grounds, parents and students can be warned to avoid these areas and take any necessary precautions.

Alongside this, teachers can send work/resources through to parents for their children to complete while school is closed to make sure they don’t miss anything important.

We have recently upgraded our servers to handle the surge in traffic snow days can cause, ensuring schools maintain clear communication with parents during these potentially hectic events.

Keep on Top of Unauthorised Absences

A final area our app can help is with managing and curtailing unauthorised absences. The winter months can be a big cause of dropped attendance, whether it’s due to sickness, truancy or unpermitted holiday time.

This app helps you get to the bottom of the absences more efficiently and directly. Instead of having to spend valuable time individually phoning parents or writing letters, a standardised message can be sent to parents to check the whereabouts of their children, allowing them to provide a response and quickly solve any mystery.

This efficiency works both ways, as parents can complete a short absence form on the app about their child being unable to attend school, reducing the burden placed on admin staff to handle multiple phone calls at once, particularly during the winter cold and flu seasons.

An App That’s Not Just for Christmas

Keeping control during the hectic build-up to Christmas is a challenge for any school. But, by maintaining a strong link to parents during this period through our app, schools can increase efficiency of communication and enter the holiday period on a high.

However, our app is not just for Christmas – it improves engagement between schools and parents at all times of year. Piota’s trusted school apps streamline how you communicate with parents and other users, creating a one-stop-shop of essential information, increasing efficiency and reducing costs with competitive pricing.

If you’d like to learn how our dynamic mobile apps can help strengthen ties between your school and its community, contact us today for a quote, or get your free trial.

Five reasons to get a customised school app

If you could change one thing about the way you communicate with parents, then what would it be? Perhaps you would want to get through to more parents? Save money? Save time? Minimise missed communication? If any of these are on your wish-list, read on!

Reach more parents

Customised school app - improving parental communicationOver 95% of parents now own a smartphone and regularly use apps. With a customised school app you can communicate with parents in a familiar and friendly format, on the devices they have with them all the time.

“Being able to send unlimited messages and reminders directly to mobile phones as push notifications without worrying about the cost means there is hardly any missed communication.” Headteacher, Essex

Save money

With a customised school app, you can instantly send notifications and important messages home at the touch of a button. No more money spent on sending letters home. No more wasted letters, crumpled at the bottom of rucksacks. No more charges for sending text messages. Just instant, reliable and affordable communication.

Save time

How much time does your admin team spend on writing and sending letters home? How much time do your teaching staff spend chasing reply slips? These tasks can be completed using a Piota school app. Send instant messages and important information, manage reply slips and even conduct parent surveys.

Share important information

Since September 2016, it has been an Ofsted requirement to share certain key information on your school’s website. Why not go one step further and put it on the app? With a customised school app, teachers can upload information about what pupils are learning, including links to homework tasks, resources and support materials.  Putting this information where it can be accessed by the people who need it when they need it makes it so much more meaningful.

Improve relationships with parents

A customised school app allows you to send unlimited notifications to parents at no additional cost.  That means you can get into the habit of sharing the good news with parents on a regular basis in order to build positive relationships with them.  If parents are used to receiving regular communication from you and have had a positive experience, this will make them more receptive to all communication.

How could you save money with a custom built school app?

Printing vs Custom built school app

Here’s a tough question for you. How financially efficient is your school? Put another way, what proportion of your school’s spend per pupil goes directly to teaching and learning? Whatever your number is, the chances are you’ll want it to be higher. One area where schools can overspend is administration and printing costs. Despite the world of technology at our fingertips, schools are still spending more on printing than they do on IT, with the average school spending £60,000 a year on printing.

Some schools get through as much paper as 1,000 sheets per student per year. Some of this printing is necessary. But so much still gets wasted. Letters home crumpled and forgotten in school bags. Lost handouts that need re-issuing. If you’re looking for an alternative, then a custom built school app from Piota could be the solution!

Our custom built school apps are designed to help schools cut costs and improve communication between staff, pupils and parents.  Here’s how schools are saving money with Piota.

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Instant notifications to parents – free of charge

Push notifications are a cost effective and more powerful alternative to SMS text messages. Nayland Primary School has found that their Piota school app lets them get urgent messages to pupils’ parents:

“In the past we have used a text message system for urgent notes to parents. That system charges the school per text. Now we can use the Piota app for free.

“We have also reduced the amount of paper we send out – all our notes and letters go on the app..” – Deputy Headteacher, Nayland Primary School

Saving on administration costs while improving efficiency

Normally, cutting costs results in more work. Westfield Primary Academy has found that their Piota school app allows them to save money while having an even better school communication system.

“The app has saved the school money in administration costs and has enabled us to send out information to parents in a quick and efficient way.” – Headteacher, Westfield Primary Academy SWAT

Send more whole-school letters while spending less

How much does your school spend on whole-school newsletters? When Baysgarth Secondary School did the maths, they realised that it was far cheaper to invest in a custom built school app.

“We are a paperless school and use electronic communication to contact parents. The app has elevated this and enables us to reinforce the email messages we send out by sending instant push notifications to parents.

This has significantly reduced the cost of postage and text messages. The annual cost of the mobile app is very low; it actually costs us more to send out two whole school letters! It saves us money on postage, paper, printing and labour for enveloping and stamping the mail.” – PA to Headteacher, Baysgarth Secondary School

No photocopying costs to communicate with parents

One of the biggest drains on a school budget? Photocopying.

Lexden Springs Primary School found that their custom built school app allowed them to send information straight to parents without having to photocopy anything.

The 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.” – Office Manager, Lexden Springs Primary School

Save money with your custom built school app

We know that a Piota school app could save you money. In fact, we are so confident that we are happy to offer you a free trial of your school’s custom communication app. If you’re interested, then just click here to arrange a no-obligation consultation and demonstration.