Toby Lester
6 minutes length
Posted: 17th September 2018

Parental engagement – a strategy for success

We talk about the importance of parental engagement a lot. The term has become a ‘buzzword’ in our offices and in schools across the country. When ParentMail first came into being over 15 years ago, parental engagement was the priority, sitting at the heart of our technology and ambitions. To this day, the subject remains the driving force behind our brand and a hot topic of discussion in the education sector.

Just a few weeks ago, Education Secretary Damien Hinds called for an “educational revolution” [1], in part to reduce the burden of, and time spent on, ‘non-teaching’ tasks. Those daily tasks carried out in the school office, from data collection and management to parent payment processing, take up hours of time every day as well as having a direct impact on the school budget.

Under pressure 

Pressure on schools, be it primary, secondary or Multi-Academy Trust, increases every year. Under scrutiny to evidence and improve efficiencies, maintain a good reputation and Ofsted rating, as well as staying ahead in the league tables with student academic success takes time, planning and prioritisation. These key aspects of every educational organisation often rely heavily on resource in terms of time, people and budget. Pressure in the education sector shows no sign of slowing; forecasts indicate that by the year 2027, secondary school pupil numbers are expected to rise by almost 15% [2]. That means there will be over 400,000 more pupils in England’s state schools than today. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers states the figures present a challenge, stating that schools are being asked to do so much more now than they were a decade ago. As pupil numbers increase, so too does the daily pressure on school management.

With such pressure we can become distracted from the topic of parental engagement. Attention strays to other issues; the upcoming Ofsted inspection, the ever-busier school calendar, GDPR, staffing and recruitment, suppliers and upcoming exams, to name a few. Every school holds their student’s academic achievement as their highest priority and school staff invest their days in supporting pupils to succeed; parental engagement, then, needs to remain a persistent topic of discussion. Rather than a time-consuming hindrance, engaging parents in their child’s schooling should be considered a beacon of support for teachers, staff and students

All parents as partners

A 2011 government review [3] investigated best practice in parental engagement. Research evidenced that not only do children perform better when parents are involved in their schooling, but also placed emphasis on the fact that schools that ‘improve and sustain improvement engage the community and build strong links with parents. Where schools build positive relationships with parents (…) evidence of sustained school improvement can be found.’ The benefits go beyond GCSE and A Level grades.

When it comes to parental engagement, the subject of social inclusivity is never far behind. Even for those schools with an effective and successful communications plan in place, there will be a segment of the parent community who it is almost impossible to engage with. Whether their responses to letters and forms are scarce or they fail to make an appearance on parents’ evening, engaging with these parents is an ongoing and difficult task. However, they cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside; evidence from Ofsted suggests that a critical element of learning and teaching is the relationship between the teacher, parent and student. Every parent deserves the right to be involved in their child’s learning, regardless of boundaries, be it availability, language barriers or more. As such, schools are tasked with thinking outside the box to identify the best methods of engaging with all parents.

Communications methods should be scrutinised to ensure they don’t contribute to the difficulty in building parent/school relationships. Traditional methods of school communications need to be reconsidered. Whether it’s print, paper and postage costs, missing pupil-post, data protection or environmental concerns, the number of schools fast realising the countless problems associated with paper communications is on the rise. In its place, where do we turn?

The tech revolution

According to the ‘Review of best practice in parental engagement’, ‘Information and communication technology ICT can contribute to improved parental engagement by providing a convenient means for parents to access up-to-date information about their child’s learning.’ The paper school newsletter which occasionally finds its way into the hands of parents can be out of date within days. Technology offers a reliable, timely alternative and supports a more flexible arrangement for busy staff and modern parents.

Becta 2008 [4] identified a number of ways in which ICT can improve parental engagement by enabling new channels of communication between parents and schools. Benefits included allowing parents to be more involved, better methods of capturing information and supporting flexible working methods for staff. However, at the time of this study, the Office of National Statistics reported that only 73% of households in the UK had internet access. Back to the subject of social inclusivity, almost 10 years ago ICT and technology in the school raised as many questions at it answered.

Fast forward to 2018 and the numbers speak for themselves. According to the Office of National Statistics statistical bulletin on Internet Access: 2018 [5], 9 out of 10 households now have internet access. Daily internet use in adults has increased from 25% in 2006 to 86% today. Mobile phones and smartphones remain the most popular device to access the internet with 97% of adults aged between 24 to 34 accessing the internet ‘on the go’. With parents performing most tasks from the device in their hands (internet banking, booking train tickets, arranging grocery deliveries etc) why would they expect any different when it comes to school communications?

Evidence tells us that adults want to use familiar technology (i.e. their smartphones) to perform daily tasks; it is convenient, easy and reliable. Our years of experience tells us that when parents are provided with a user-friendly and convenient method of managing school communications, schools receive a better response; before you know it, parental engagement is on the up, parent responses increase and student academic success is improving as a result.

These technology-driven successes aren’t only restricted to the classroom. With GDPR now in place, schools have a greater responsibility for protecting data. Loose-leaf filing systems and paper forms propose risk, as well as headaches when trying to keep information updated. A digital system from which multiple staff can manage data collection, consent forms, school dinner money and payments reduces the time spent on manual tasks and implements consistency – not to mention the comfort of knowing data is safe and secure.

The start of a new school year is the perfect opportunity to reflect on your school communications, parental engagement and objectives for the year ahead. With pressure on the education sector increasing, technology should no longer be considered an unnecessary or inconvenient expense. Instead, consider the opportunities tech in the office offers and the successes it can bring for your staff, parents and students.

Our modular range of applications is being utilised by thousands of schools across the country who are enjoying the benefits of improved parental engagement alongside welcome time and cost savings. We are proud leaders in the EdTech community and the provider of the UK’s favourite parental engagement system. We want to support more schools to make the most of modern technology – find out how we can help you.

To find out more about how ParentMail can support parental engagement at your school, enquire on our website, call us on 01733 595959 or email enquire@parentmail.co.uk for more information.