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Schools need to make parental communication count

Less is more when it comes to parental engagement, says ITV This Morning's Sue Atkins

Posted by Julian Owen | May 29, 2019 | School life

It isn't just pupils, but parents, too, who can feel a little out of their comfort zone when making the transition from primary to secondary school. Not knowing how it all works can make for an anxious time, as familiar routines are replaced by a new set of rules and procedures. 

New classrooms, teachers, friends, homework requirements, and the move from the familiar to the unknown, can make for an exciting - yet challenging - time. Indeed, a report by the World Bank identifies the transition to secondary school as one of the five most important life stage transitions for young people. 

Quite rightly, then, the focus for most schools during this period is giving parents as much information as possible to help prepare their children adjusting to their new environment. 

But, a cautionary note: flood parents with too much information, and you risk overwhelming them so they tune out from your updates; too little, and you may leave them feeling uncertain and unconnected. Putting in place the right communication processes, from the outset, will help establish an important bridge between home and school. 

So, what information do parents need to help support their children make a seamless transition? 

Implementing the right processes from day one will establish an important bridge between home and school, reassuring parents that clear lines of communication are in place

Messaging that matters 

It’s widely accepted that involving parents in their children’s education is a powerful motivator of pupil performance. Pupils do better when their families are informed and engaged, as they are much better equipped to support them throughout their education journey. 

Ensuring your messages hit home will play a crucial part in keeping parents connected and on board. Using targeted messages will mean they know that, when they receive an email from the school, it will be relevant and needs opening, not deleting. 

Simply pressing ‘send’ won’t mean your message will land with your audience, or get the parental action you might be seeking. The rule to remember is the three R’s: target the right parents, with the right information, at the right time.  

Parents new to the school need information to guide them through new systems and procedures, from how to contact form tutors to booking slots at parents’ evening; details about Year 9 options or Year 11 field trips aren’t yet important to them. 

Simplify your systems 

As the saying goes, ‘less is more’. This can certainly be applied to multiple school communication systems – having too many could reduce engagement, rather than encourage it. Parents can be confused if the school operates too many systems, uncertain of where to find the information they need.   

According to a recent survey by parent communications specialists, ParentMail, 62% of schools believe using two or more systems to communicate with parents can lead to reduced communication effectiveness. Despite this, 45% admitted to doing just that. 

Important messages can be overlooked if parents are receiving information from different school sources, potentially leaving them frustrated and disengaged. 

Think about investing in a system that enables you to manage all parental information in one place: emails, payment collection, booking appointments for parents’ evenings, etc. Reducing communication channels will not only help reduce staff workload, but save money in the longer term and lessen parental confusion. 

Pupils do better when their families are informed and engaged, as they are much better equipped to support them throughout their education journey

The right platform 

Torn notes found at the bottom of the school bag, long after the event referred to, are - thankfully - a relic of the past. While schools now have a diverse range of communication channels to choose from, it’s important to enable parents to access information in ways they like; also, to remember that what looks a good idea on paper might not translate well to another medium. 

Using social media and WhatsApp, for example, is not without its pitfalls. Safeguarding privacy, for instance – parents want to know that their details, and those of their children, are safe and secure. That, and limited space for content, should give schools pause for thought when thinking about adopting these channels. 

My advice is to keep social media for highlighting pupil and school achievements, from tournament success to musical triumphs; send important messages via your other communication systems.   

Flood parents with too much information, and you risk overwhelming them so they tune out from your updates

A true test 

Not sure if you have the balance right, or have chosen the best means of communicating with parents?  Then ask for feedback. Why not send out a short survey to parents to find out their preferences for things such as the timing of newsletters, whether they are feeling in the loop, and so on? 

Find out whether they want to be able to update contact details or give authorisation for school trips online, and this will help you determine which features to start using first. 

Good communication speaks volumes 

Making the transition from primary to secondary is a milestone for both pupils and parents, a chance to harness the enthusiasm of an engaged audience and secure their support for years to come. 

As nervous pupils pose for the obligatory first day photo with hesitant smiles and oversized blazers, now is the time to let parents know how and when you will be contacting them throughout the year. Implementing the right processes from day one will establish an important bridge between home and school, reassuring parents that clear lines of communication are in place. 

Sue Atkins is ITV This Morning’s parenting expert, a former deputy head, and brand ambassador for ParentMail

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