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Technology: Helping mind the parent gap

Humphrey Perkins School's Mandy Sharp outlines how technology can assist in filling the information gap between home and school

Posted by Julian Owen | December 21, 2017 | Technology

It’s no surprise that parents can find it extremely difficult to go from walking their child to primary school and seeing their teacher every day to virtually zero contact when they start secondary school.

As can be the knowledge that their pride and joy will be exposed to the influences of much older kids, have to manage multiple subjects and teachers, and take on a lot more responsibility for their learning when they are there.

In fact, just mention starting secondary school to many parents and you will see their brows begin to furrow.

But today’s parents are data savvy and schools like ours are increasingly looking at how technology can be used to reduce parental anxiety as children move to the next important stage of their education.

Strong relations

The impact of a strong parent-teacher relationship in the transition period can be considerable in determining a child’s success in the move up – and for the many years afterwards. One way to nurture this is to give their parents access to more information about what’s happening at school.

At our school, we believe that putting data into the hands of parents is the way forward. By allowing parents to see real-time information, accessible via a desktop or through an app on their smartphone or tablet, we can give them the reassurance they need and then work with them to create the best learning environment for their child.

'The app is often parents’ first port of call when they have a question about their child’s progress.'

Lunchtime updates

With smartphones delivering communications around the clock, there is an expectation that information should be available 24/7. Our parents want to sit down during their lunch break or at the end of their day to see how their child is getting on or what equipment they need for tomorrow. They’ve told us it helps them feel that they are still involved.

Our app – we use the SIMS Parent app – links to information held within our school’s management information system (MIS) so teachers can communicate with parents on a daily basis, if necessary, without adding to their workloads.

This new technology is making a real difference, in particular to parents of our Year 7 students, but we have 500 parents in total using the app and we are seeing the benefits.

Parents can spot immediately whether their child has turned up at school, what homework they have, as well as any equipment they need for the next day. They can also see details of their child’s achievement or behaviour in lessons, so they can offer praise or support where needed from home.

Surprises are a thing of the past

This more regular contact through technology has helped to improve our ability to work with parents to ensure interventions are put in place quickly.

As the app gives parents access to the latest information from school, they can spot a drop in performance or behaviour and help us tackle it straight away. We had one student whose behaviour had suddenly declined in English. This sparked a conversation between parent and teacher soon afterwards, which confirmed the family had noticed similar incidences at home.

Because the parent was aware of the situation quickly, discussions took place and within a couple of lessons the student’s behaviour was back on track.

Often, when there is a dip in behaviour it could be because the student has been unwell or that they are handling a family issue outside the classroom. With more regular contact, teachers and parents can keep each other informed if a student is having a bad day.

Parents tell us that one of the key advantages of using the SIMS Parent app is that they do not have the dreaded ‘shock’ moment at parents’ evenings finding out about a behavioural incident – or a great mark in a maths quiz – that they were previously unaware of. And for teachers, it means that they don’t get the ‘why didn’t you tell us earlier’ scenario.

Time at parents’ evenings can now be used to have much more meaningful conversations about goals for the next term, what the student would like to achieve and how they will get there.

We’ve noticed that the app works wonders for older students too. Years 10 and 11 really want to do well in class as they have realised that their parents are more likely to give them permission to go out with their friends at the weekend if it shows that they are doing well on the app. This is a great motivator.

'Today’s parents are data savvy and schools like ours are increasingly looking at how technology can be used to reduce parental anxiety.' 

In pupils’ palms

Our parents absolutely love the new app and the results have been brilliant, so much so that we are now starting to roll out the SIMS Student app, which puts all the information students need in the palm of their hand.

Around 160 students are currently using the app, but we have already seen a positive impact. Giving students information on their own attendance and achievement is helping them learn valuable life-lessons, such as time-keeping and taking responsibility for remembering their PE kit, equipment needed for a school trip or cookery ingredients.

Time better spent

In my view, providing tools that enable teachers and parents to work together to support student progress should be at the top of a school’s priority list. Once it is in place, parents can see whether their child is doing well while they are in the classroom.

The app is often parents’ first port of call when they have a question about their child’s progress and it’s also their preferred method of contact with the school. The number of calls to the school office relating to homework, trips or day-to-day enquiries has reduced dramatically. We now get just one or two calls a week as parents have all the information they need in their hands. This enables our staff to focus on completing other tasks.

While engaging parents isn’t always easy to achieve at secondary school, using technology to put data in the hands of parents certainly pays off in our experience. It’s had a positive impact on attendance and performance, as well as giving parents peace of mind, without impacting on the daily workload of our teachers.

Mandy Sharp is Data and Exams Manager at Humphrey Perkins School

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