Features: June 25th, 2010

The involvement of parents in the education of children is vital, but as they move on to secondary school communication channels are fewer and the independence which comes with growing up weakens the links. This article describes how technology can strengthen the links so that parents are in touch with schools and are kept up to date about what is happening with their children.

Parental communication is a topic high on the agenda for schools nationwide; Becta strongly recommends that secondary schools provide online reporting functionality, a form of parental engagement, by September 2010. Primary school counterparts should follow suit by the start of the 2012 academic year. Stuart Abrahams, business development director of Groupcall, discusses the importance of parental communication and the various ways it can improve school efficiencies.

Apart from the cost savings to schools, which are imperative, parental messaging addresses Ofsted requirements such as Parental Engagement, Safeguarding Children and On-line reporting, which should be on all schools’ agendas.

The parental influence

An essential element of a child’s education is their parents. Parental encouragement and involvement in the school day, such as interest in what lessons the child has and assignments that have to be completed, will increase the likelihood of the child being engrossed and encouraged in their education.

At different stages of an academic career, parents have differing degrees of involvement. Once students have started secondary school, they develop a new level of independence and this can sometimes signal the start of a breakdown in parental involvement. In contrast, with younger children, parents often collect their child and drop them off at the school gate providing teachers and parents with regular contact and communication. Many secondary school students make their own way to school and may not be particularly forthcoming with information about their schooling activities with parents. There are fewer opportunities for parent-teacher liaisons and as a result there is an increased need for alternative methods of communication between the two parties.

Research undertaken by the DCSF, ‘Parental Involvement in Child’s Education’ (2007) highlights that only 51 per cent of parents feel involved in their child’s school life. What about the remaining 49 per cent; where is their involvement? Children whose parents are actively involved in their school life are more likely to feel engaged and want to succeed. In 2008 former minister Jim Knight announced that the Government is introducing online reporting in order to “deepen the school-parent relations.” New guidelines seek to provide children with a positive and effective education and for this to take place a good level of communication is essential between the school and its parents.

With the arrival of Becta’s parental engagement targets there is the risk of excluding parents financially, and this could again trigger a digital divide. Many of us take instant internet access for granted and assume that other homes have similar access. However, in reality many low income families do not own a computer and cannot afford to purchase one, making online reporting a complex issue. In his 2008 speech, Knight commented: “We have to find a way to make access universal. More than one million children – and their families – have no access to a computer in the home.”

For children whose parents are not involved in their school life, there are a number of possible detrimental effects that may result. Children may become disengaged and lose motivation, which in turn could result in a negative perception of learning. Once a child has entered into this pessimistic view of education, unauthorised absences can occur.

A city council approach to raising school performance levels

Manchester City Council, an example of a forward-thinking local authority, had a number of key considerations when addressing unauthorised absences and parental relationships within the city. It wanted to improve parental engagement for local schools and their parents, whilst ensuring this could be achieved in a cost-effective way.

Vince Slatford, the councils MIS support manager explained; “As the support manager for school’s ICT, it is always a challenge to find new and intuitive ways of assisting schools in raising their performance levels. One of the many projects we are currently working on is to improve the attendance levels at each school and therefore that of Manchester as a whole. We were aware of a limited number of schools using various applications to text parents or carers. This seemed to be a cost-effective and time saving method of engaging parents at an early stage to discover the whereabouts of each child. We looked at a number of applications and chose Groupcall Messenger.”

Manchester’s school network of 167 primary and secondary schools now boasts the innovative parent communication solution. Effective technology systems that instantly and directly inform the parent or designated carer of a child’s absence are proven to boost attendance figures and parental relationships within the school. Through texts, multi-lingual voice calls and emails, to their mobile phones, landlines or computers, the system’s capabilities certainly take Manchester schools towards achieving Becta’s targets for parental engagement as part of its 2010/2012 agenda.

Vince continued; “Having such a diverse culture within the city, the messenger service will prove invaluable in reaching out to all parents and carers from all ethnic backgrounds.”

Reaping the rewards

As Knight explained in 2008; “Effective technology systems can significantly cut staff workloads – but it has to be manageable for individual schools and meaningful for parents.”

Parental communication systems are proven to reduce staff workloads by enabling an electronic form of contact so that staff can address unauthorised absences. This is a daily task which can take over an hour with traditional forms of communication, but at the click of a button the time is reduced to minutes. More cost effective than traditional forms of correspondence, such as letters and telephone calls which carry additional costs, schools can ensure substantial fiscal savings through state of the art communication systems. This was a key consideration for Manchester.

“Manchester schools have saved hours of administration time by being able to contact parents and carers effortlessly and in return having information about pupils’ attendance quickly transferred onto their school’s MIS systems. Something that had previously taken hours was now being concluded within minutes. Administrators are now having spare time to concentrate on other tasks but, more importantly allowing everyone concerned to know where each pupil is within minutes of the registers being taken,” described Vince.

Contacting parents with news about their child results in a number of outcomes; a feeling of ownership and involvement from the parent’s perspective, and the school’s ability to instantly log and transfer information of a child’s attendance and progression onto an MIS system. Vince concluded; “Since implementing our communication system we have realised that it can do so much more than track and improve attendance and it has enabled us to focus on the parental engagement strategy. Schools can send various forms of messages out to parents and carers relating to simple queries such as forgotten PE kits to school closures due to swine flu etc.”

Ultimately, it is a school’s duty of care to establish effective relationships with key stakeholders in a child’s education pathway. Parents are a powerful component of the teaching equation; through highly innovative and cost effective technologies schools can achieve the forthcoming Becta targets.

For further information please visit www.groupcall.com