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

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.

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.

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.

Book a demonstration

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.

Mission Grove's school app

How to successfully launch a customised school app

There are so many benefits to having a customised app for your school. The ability to instantly share information with parents means that there is hardly any missed communication, your staff will no longer need to chase up on letters home and you will make huge savings on administration costs.

Most importantly, parents will feel more informed and more engaged in the school community.

In order to reap these benefits, you will need to successfully launch your school app to ensure that parents, staff and pupils are completely on-board.

Customised app for parental engagement

School app training

In January, Mission Grove Primary School in Walthamstow launched their customised app. Parents were invited to the launch, where they received a full demonstration of the Mission Grove school app and how to use it. Parents were shown how to download the app and, by the end of the session, it had been downloaded over 1,000 times.

Whilst the presentation to parents was underway, pupils were busy taking photos from around the school to add to the app to capture a ‘day in the life’ at Mission Grove. Teachers and support staff were also given training on how to use the web-based management system to publish updates to the app.

The benefits of launching your customised app

Engaging the entire school community in this way will have ensured maximum success with the app.

“As a primary school teacher, it is wonderful to experience those moments within a school when the pupils, staff and community are excitedly working on a project together.”

Martin Burrett, UKEd Magazine

 

“The app is cool!”  

Jemima and Asha, Mission Grove pupils

The Mission Grove app is available to download free for Android here and iOS here.

If you would like more information on how a customised school app could improve parental engagement, please click here.

How a MAT app could help you to raise standards and improve efficiency

Benefits of a MAT app - Tech over tradition?With recent budget cuts and the continuing recruitment crisis, school leaders are increasingly under pressure to achieve more with less. Leaders of multi academy trusts face an additional challenge, because the work of school improvement is so different at scale. Raising standards across one school relies on the personal touch, whereas a MAT CEO needs to communicate a clear vision from a distance.

At Piota, we believe that clear and effective communication between staff, pupils and parents is at the heart of school improvement. Our custom built apps are designed to help schools to streamline communications, enhance parental engagement, save time and cut costs. Here’s how a MAT app could help you to raise standards and improve efficiency across your MAT.

Cut costs and save time

How much does each school in your MAT spend on sending letters home to parents? How about text messages? And how much time do support staff spend making phone calls home? What if you could send unlimited instant push notifications to parents free of charge instead? With a Piota MAT app, you can.

Using your school app, you can get important information to parents at the touch of a button. No more of your support staff’s time need be spent on typing and distributing whole school letters. And no more of your budget need be wasted on expensive printing and text messages. Parents can also report their child absent through the app, saving your admissions officer hours of time on the phone.

The average school still spends £60,000 on printing, in spite of the world of technology at our fingertips. Imagine the improvements that could be made to teaching and learning if each of your schools had an additional £60,000 to spend!

Streamlined communications

As a leader of a MAT, you need to be able to establish and clearly communicate your vision and expectations. An app enabling communication across all the schools in your MAT at the touch of a button is a powerful tool to help you to achieve this.

Of course, whilst there are benefits to having consistent policies and practices across schools, each school within your MAT is unique. Our apps are fully customised and branded so that users associate their app with their school, but you can still share news and information which is relevant to the whole MAT across the platform. This allows you to maintain a sense of individuality between each school without compromising your messaging across the trust.

Piota gives you complete freedom and flexibility with how you communicate. With a MAT app, you can carefully target your messages so that parents only receive the information which is relevant to their child. This way, you know that your message has been sent to the right people, and parents are less likely to disengage.

Compare schools

How happy are stakeholders at the schools within your MAT? Do you use surveys to gauge how parents, pupils and staff are feeling? How good is the response rate? And how long do support staff spend chasing up and entering the results before SLT crunch the numbers? Are you able to compare results across schools?

With a MAT app, you can easily find out how stakeholders are feeling using the survey tool. Send out quick surveys and the touch of a button, and get the results instantly. This way you can identify any schools within your MAT that are a cause for concern and act on any feedback quickly.

“At the moment, our parental consultations are going on and we are using the survey section to crunch data based on parental responses. That would usually take the headteacher several hours. It’s all graphed by the app.” – Dale Richards, Deputy Headteacher

Having this information at your fingertips can be very handy when Ofsted comes to call. More importantly, getting feedback little and often means that you can build stronger relationships with parents by making them feel valued and listened to.

Improve parental engagement

Getting parents onside is crucial to any school improvement strategy. But this can be a challenge if parents don’t feel connected to the school. A Piota app can help to change this.

Being able to get messages to parents instantly and update them when there has been a change helps to make them feel informed and more in control. If there is a last minute school closure, for instance, then the faster you can get the message to parents, the more time they will have to make the necessary childcare arrangements.

Sending unlimited notifications quickly and free of charge means you can share more information with parents,and more often. Instead of an expensive colour newsletter each term, why not send a quick weekly update to share good news with parents?

The more frequently you get in touch with parents to share good news, the more receptive they are likely to be when it isn’t what they want to hear.

If you’d like to find out more about how Piota could help you We are happy to offer you a no-obligation free trial of your MAT app. Just click here to get in touch!