Keeping parental communication easy

Effective parental engagement is an important part of school life, as is making parents feel a part of their child’s development, writes headteacher, Tina Olivia

Tina Olivia, headteacher at St John Evangelist Catholic Primary School, in the heart of Islington, knows that effective parental engagement is an important part of school life. Tina wanted to bring a new level of efficiency to the school’s parental communication while making the parents feel a part of their child’s development.

Achieving 100 per cent parental engagement was the target. Tina shares the school’s story, and offers advice to other schools based on their journey.

At St John Evangelist Catholic Primary School, we had always used very traditional parental communication; regularly sending letters out to the parents, alongside texting and posting updates on the school website.

We recognised that this wasn’t the most effective way to keep in touch with our parents; responses to texts were low and parents, in general, found this too intrusive. Letters were equally ineffective, with many getting lost between the school and home.

One of our pupil’s parents, Daniel Beazer, remembers the historic struggles of communication with the school: “The school’s method of communication was mostly paper-based, but we also received SMS. You would get every single text for 400 kids in however many classes, outlining lots of activities and events; it was a lot of information to to take in.”

Communication by letter also had its pitfalls, Daniel continues: “Paper would go out in the kids’ school bags, and would regularly get lost between the school gates and front door.”

What to do next

It became very clear that we needed to standardise our method of communication, so we started to explore alternative opportunities to communicate with the wider school community. We not only needed to make the process more efficient and effective, but we also wanted to find a way to build our relationship with the parental community.

We had looked at the standard large parental communication online systems but it was clear that they were just too complex and detailed for what we needed. We just wanted a simple, good value way of engaging with parents that they could easily read and respond to. Most parents are as ‘time poor’ as teachers; any effective communication system has to recognise this and keep things simple.

App with ease

We found that an app was the most direct, easy, cost effective and successful tool. All parents had mobile phones and can read information sent to them via an app on the go. As consumers, it’s how we often take our information in, and the ease with which we do it can feel like a bit of a life hack sometimes, simplifying a task that previously may have taken much longer.

The increased ease of accessing information means that, ultimately, we’re more likely to do it. As Daniel highlights, “With an app, all this information is there in one easy-to-reference spot which we can access at pretty much any time. Not crunched up at the bottom of a school bag with the remains of a three week old bag of crisps. The parents I have spoken to love it, especially the photos and reports we get of the class assemblies, concerts and sports days. It’s increased the communication between parents and the school and made them more personal.

“The school went straight from text and paper based communication to a mobile app, leaving out the email stage. I am glad they did as I am sure those emails would be lost in the sea of spam. And we wouldn’t get to find out about what our children are really up to during the school day.

In fact I’d recommend any school using paper and text at the moment to go straight to a mobile app like Piota and leapfrog the email stage. Confusion of dates are now non-existent, as every parent can simply check our calendar.”

Another great feature of the app is that the messages in the app can be accessed quickly and efficiently. Using the app allows for individuality and, although it may sound strange to say, it’s both less intrusive but more communicative than previous systems, simply because it allows parents to check the app exactly when they want to. With the app being compatible with various technological devices, the notifications can be adjusted at our parents’ wishes.

Variety of information shared

From events such as sports days to important messages regarding one of the year groups, all information is available at parents’ fingertips. The parents can have their say too, as we often use surveys asking them what they like, what they want changed and what they want to see more of. Asking parents for their input in this way has proved to be the ideal way of building our relationship with them and ensuring that they feel like a valued part of the school’s community.

Celebrating success

One of the most popular things we now do is to celebrate the children’s successes. If a school team completes something successfully, or a child has done something noteworthy, we send this out via the app. We’ve found that there is no better way to promote the success of the school community and help parents understand their child’s learning experiences and progress.

Security

From a security perspective, Daniel also highlights that the app relieves all parental worries about security and the safety of their children. “All photos are contained within the app, so only approved users will have access to them; the school owns the content, safeguarding it from just anyone”.

From a headteacher’s point of view, the issues surrounding safeguarding are important. The images cannot be downloaded from the app, so the identities of all our students remain completely protected, which has given our parents real peace of mind.

Going forward

Our app has done a great job of creating a user-friendly, engaging and safe environment for all parents to use. Teachers and parents enjoy using it, and love its anytime, anywhere accessibility.

We are proud of our school app, and are sure that other schools around the country will soon begin to experience the multitude of benefits too. Our lives, as teachers and as parents, are increasingly busy but we’ve found that, since introducing the app, our rate of communication and response is far higher.

This is down to how fast, effective and personalised the communication is now. If there is too much complexity then it does negatively effect the rate and quality of dialogue between schools and parents, so keeping things simple but personal is key.

In the future, we would like to see teachers have the ability to use the app directly, rather than it coming from the school office, to push even more content which may be personalised to each class.

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