Culcheth High School drives positive change throughout the pandemic

Every school has faced unique difficulties over lockdown, and Culcheth High School was no different.

Whole-school communications are difficult enough to manage under normal circumstances, but during lockdown, Culcheth had to find a remote communication solution.

With a situation that evolved on a daily basis, they had to discover new ways to keep parents up to the minute on the latest happenings. Worst of all, a significant challenge was looming on the horizon: how were they going to manage Parents’ Evening?

Culcheth didn’t want to merely survive under these difficult circumstances. Instead, they were looking to thrive; they needed to act quickly.

Tackling lockdown difficulties

When it comes to parental engagement and enabling distanced learning, it’s impossible to ignore Culcheth High School’s story of positive, impactful change throughout the pandemic – and it’s all been driven by some interesting digital initiatives they’ve adopted.

Education Specialist Rikki Harrison spoke to Stuart Piggott, ICT Network and E-Safety Strategy Manager at Culcheth High School to discover more about their ground-breaking in-app newsletter and remote parents’ evening strategy.

Creating invaluable communications

Communication has always been at the top of the school’s priorities and this was no different throughout the coronavirus crisis. The school has made great use of the full suite of IRIS Reach functionality to keep lines of communication open with parents and students. However, one of the most impressive initiatives they started is the This Week newsletter, entitled #Thisweek distributed via the IRIS Reach app.

“We have a stream of up-to-date school information that comes through This Week,” said Stuart. “In fact, it now accounts for about 40% of our website traffic.”

“Communication was vital during lockdown, so we gave daily briefings to our community. This means the app never becomes stagnant and parents are always up to date. This Week has proved to be our biggest success and it’s the reason that parents have the app.

Thanks to their innovative use of the IRIS Reach app, Culcheth High School has a fantastic 80.5% signup rate for parents across the school, over four-fifths of parents are now actively engaging in and contributing to the school community.

“In people’s busy lives, if their phone is full, the school app can be the first thing to go. We turned it around so that parents  see it as a very valuable tool they want to retain, we’ve seen lots of additional signups over the past year.”

More than just a messaging app

IRIS Reach is more than just a school messaging app. It’s packed with evolved school communication functionality, such as permissions forms and easy-to-access, information-packed ‘microsites’ – and Culcheth High School makes great use of all of it.

With microsites, schools can publish critical information and make it easily viewable from within the IRIS Reach parent app.

“Key information about the school is there for everyone. People sign up to see what’s going on in the school, but we can then reach them with key information. We include media-rich content such as videos too which parents can access via their smartphones.

“We also changed the order of things within the app so COVID-19 information is at the top, making it easy to access.

“We had the right product to start with, so we didn’t need to improve on it. We simply added our activity which became instantly available for everyone in our school community.

“The communication we had with parents was vital for student and parent wellbeing. The second lockdown was the difficult second album – but there was a lot more usage.

“We have created a daily briefing as our Headteacher wanted to stay in touch more frequently through the pandemic. We saw the usage go up; we were sending a lot more out and getting a lot more back. Our engagement has increased substantially with parents.”

Remote Parents’ Evening

With parents’ evening looming, Culcheth High School had to decide on a digital solution. They opted for clever use of the IRIS Reach app.

“We ran our Parents’ Evening through the app with voice memos. We hosted the memos online and then sent an email via IRIS Reach with a 30-second voice clip from each teacher for each parent.

“We found a hidden benefit – the message can be saved and referred back to, unlike an in-person parents’ evening. Staff enjoyed it too as they had greater flexibility about when they calculate the time to create their Parent recordings for the event. We've even had parents listening to them in the car while on a drive with their kids.”

“Transition from Year 6 to 7 was also a huge change this year. We set the new intake up with IRIS Reach accounts from April and saw a huge uptake in the app around that time. As a result, 85% of Year 7 parents are now using the app. A little bit of investment goes a long way.”

Engaging today and tomorrow

To close our conversation, we asked Stuart why he built their parental communication strategy around the IRIS Reach app.

“It's ticked a big box we had with our parents and saves us having to find five products to do a similar thing to the one. It's always been a huge benefit, but over the past 12 months, it’s been great to have it and to know parents have the information they need.

“It's embedded into our school now, really. We’ve been through the initial design phase and we think we’ve got it right. You know you’ve got it right when you don’t have to think about it every day. The fact that it just works in the background without thinking about it is just great.

“We’re only going to build upon it. We like the new designs that we’ve seen coming from IRIS too – it's going to add more of a wow factor.

“Everything we do involves the app. There's nobody I know in school who has a bad thing to say about it – it's always ‘have we done this on the app’. Everyone who uses the app has had no issues with it.

“We’ll certainly be using it for the future, definitely.”

Go to IRIS Reach if you’re interested in finding out more or want to see the full list of features mentioned in this article first hand. We also have a wide range of software for schools and MATs for smarter engagement, financials, and management.