One of my tasks this last year has been to improve the levels of parental engagement at my school. This was in response to our most recent Ofsted report. We were incredibly proud of the report, done as it was in the dying days of the last inspection framework. The team heaped praise on our school, and said they would be delighted for their children to attend it. It was a ringing endorsement of all that we were doing and all that had been done.
We aren’t complacent, however, and the phrase in the report that our head set me to focus on was to do with the “effectiveness of the school’s engagement with parents and carers”:
It has good relationships with its parents and carers although it has identified more could be done to improve communication.
We were graded “Good.” Not good enough…
There were several strands to the approach. I was already nominally in charge of the school’s website through the excellent content management system provided by Green Schools Online. It was fairly active, with a good news feed. The metrics were telling me we were getting a decent hit rate. But the problem with a website is that people come to it when they choose, to find out information they want, then leave. I wasn’t enough of a fantasist to assume that parents would spend their spare time avidly refreshing our website to see what new content we’d uploaded…
So I turned to Twitter. I was already immersed in the site, having taught Web 2.0 as part of A Level Media Studies in 2009, signed up the entire cohort, and followed the #Trafigura twitterstorm with my class as it happened. I still use the @hildrewmedia account as a teaching tool. I set up the @ChewValleySch account and pledged to keep it live and active throughout the year. The follower count has gradually built and the website metrics were showing that it was working in directing traffic back to the site, acting as a flag for new content.
So far so good.
The key, however, was to actually develop parental engagement. We needed to open up what happened in between the kids saying goodbye to Mum and Dad and coming back home for tea. We had to make visible the data that we already had through a parent portal. After an evaluation process we opted for Tasc Software’s Insight. The persuasive factor here was a visit to Heart of England School near Coventry, who were already running Insight. Seeing what it was achieving for them brought me back energised and focused, and with a clear plan. Get the kids using it, they said, and the parents will follow.
We started Insight in September and, approaching Christmas, we have over 98% of users engaged. We publish all reports online (saving the license cost of Insight in printing and admin time alone). Letters home go via the portal. All homework tasks are recorded there. Parents’ Evenings are booked through it. Parents can access live data and metrics to monitor attendance and behaviour – both rewards and sanctions. Absences can be notified, contact details updated, options choices made. Texts and emails alert parents when there’s something new published – and, of course, it’s tweeted.
Our self-evaluation this year has engagement with parents and carers as outstanding. It’ll take a year to get through the cycle and provide a full evaluation from parents, students and staff. Luckily Insight does surveys too…