Saturday, 14 August 2010

Engaging with families

 A couple of months ago I raided the Becta website for publications in the fear that they might suddenly disappear. Fortunately the government's cost cutting initiatives haven't included cutting bandwidth to the Becta website just yet, so the document I refer to hasn't disappeared yet. (Incidentally, I wonder what will happen to the publications when Becta does fold?)

Messages from the evidence: Engaging with Families talks about how technology can be used to engage with  parents more effectively. It is based on research from a 2009 survey and is intended to help schools to use what technology has to offer to improve parental engagement. There is an expectation for all primary schools to offer secure online access for parents to information about their child's learning and school life (assuming this expectation still exists).

Now I am well aware that many schools are miles in advance of our school, but here are some things that our school does to use technology to engage with families and what I would like the school to do in the not too distant future.

  • Text messages - we subscribed to a school texting system around 18 months ago and it has proved to be a massive hit! Staff love it because it is simple to use and it is an effective way to contact parents. the feedback from parents has been fantastic. I'm not sure how it will work, but next year I want to enable to function where parents can reply to the texts. I don't know if it will become over-complicated for our office staff to manage.
  • Emails - the same texting system now offers an email package. We mainly use the system to send newsletters home, reducing the number of printed letters by 75% in the process. In the next year I want to extend this to other letters (e.g. trip letters and after school club letters). This will save time and paper.
  • Twitter - although it's hard to tell how effective our Twitter feed is unless people start to follow, I'm sure the fact that our tweets are displayed at the very top of our website means that people must take some note of the news items that pop up daily. I only wish that the Local Authority would unblock it so it can be shared with the children in school.
  • Blogs - the Year Six blog that my colleague and I ran has been extremely popular amongst our pupils. Next year it's time to extend this throughout the school and one of my challenges for the learning platform is to demonstrate to staff how to use the blogging tool and get them using it! A blog about our visit to France and a visit in another year group proved to be very well received! It will be important to demonstrate to parents how and where to leave comments.
  • The school website (learning platform) - we are just scratching on the surface of the possibilities this offers. During the summer I will be redesigning the school's homepage to make it easier for parents to find essential information like holiday dates, diary dates and news. (I'm sure that I found a statistic somewhere about how many clicks within a website that a visitor will make before they get frustrated and leave. I want to reduce the number of clicks in order to find these items.)
  • 'Enable parents to book appointments and consultations online' - blimey! The document recommends this and it would be really cool. I just haven't got a clue how to do it!
  • Links on the school website - our Delicious bookmarks feed into our website (using RSS feeds) but I need to add links for parents like local council websites.
  • Homework - A survey of parents in 2009 showed that 97% had internet access. I wonder if I could set staff the challenge to distribute some homework to be completed online only?
  • Sessions for parents - I would like to offer sessions for parents to demonstrate how to use the school website and the different technologies we offer.
  • Online reports - Next year we will be revamping our reporting process. I wonder if we can make the reports available online?
Of course, the document reminds us that,
"No one-size fits all. Good communication includes a range of options to fit around parents' different needs and circumstances, including technology strategies and non-technology strategies."
I guess you can't beat face-to-face interaction in the end! But I'd love to hear from people about how they engage with parents using technology.

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