Reaching all parents

Written by: HTU | Published:

Getting parents involved has always been a priority at Easington Colliery Primary School. Headteacher Harry Weightman recently took this a step further by publishing pupil information online via their parent portal.

Working with parents has a huge potential to advance children’s learning, and at Easington we have always known that children do not just learn in school, but learn a lot at home too. This is especially important for our pupils. Easington is a former coal mining town in the North East which continues to experience widespread unemployment, with some families being out of work for several generations.

Almost 40 per cent of our pupils have special educational needs and many of our children do not have a particularly rich home life. Consequently, our school needs to provide a breadth of stimulating first hand experiences; enrolling on a pirate ship or a camping trip to the zoo, for example. We also want parents to join us in this quest.

We know how crucial it is to have parents working with their children and supporting their learning, so we embarked on a project that we believed would give them the information they needed to get involved and encourage their child at home.

Sharing the knowledge

We have always kept detailed information about our pupils. We record details of children’s behaviour and achievement on our management information system daily as this helps us to recognise and reward progress.

Teachers at the school are keen to involve pupils in the process. “Every child in my class understands that their achievements and behaviour will be put on the system,” says Lisa Lakey, a year 5 class teacher at the school. “They can actually see the information being put on the system either standing by my desk or on the magic whiteboard.”

This information is incredibly useful to us as teachers and we came to the realisation that it would also be invaluable to parents if we could share it.

The first priority for us was to find a way that parents could access this information at a time to suit them; some of our parents are unemployed, some work part-time and some do shifts, so it was clear there was no one size fits all solution. We decided to use a parent portal to do this as it was so flexible – we could create a solution to suit everyone.

Timely information

Our first step was to send out a questionnaire to parents to gauge what they wanted to know from the school. What was surprising was the sort of information they wanted. We placed the highest priority on assessment and behaviour information but for parents the more basic information was just as important; knowing what their child ate at school, or accessing the school diary so they could plan their time around school events.

This helped us design the basic shape of the website. The benefit of using the parent portal is that it includes most of the information that teachers put daily into our management information system (MIS). There is no data transfer that needs to take place. Attendance, behaviour, attainment and progress information is all included as well as the school diary, an archive of letters to parents, lists of after-school activities, school meal menus and contact information.

We launched the site to a test group of parents to start with – six from each year group – and had them using the system for a month before we rolled it out to the rest of the school. The initial feedback was very encouraging. Parents were amazed by being able to see their child’s daily achievement score and any behaviour issues before their child got home from school.

Kristian Burnett, a father at the school, says that this ensures he can reward his daughter when she gets home if she has done well. “It’s absolutely fantastic. I can actually keep track of my children’s good or bad behaviour and work at school. My daughter is six-years-old and doing really well. She can see her achievements there on the screen with me so I am able to give her a little treat.”

A new level of communication

The parent portal has allowed us to provide another layer of communication to parents. We still send out paper reports four times a year, and have parents’ evenings each term, but the beauty of this system means the conversations we have and the letters we send are changing.

The information that we send now is more specific and there is more targeted detail in letters and reports. At parents’ evenings we can get more done, getting straight to the major issues, and parents can come with questions as they have had time to reflect on the information and they know what they want to follow up on.

Whole-school benefits

The change has been school-wide. The children’s response has been fascinating. Many of them have started to have daily conversations with their parents about how well they did in school, and they say that they feel really proud that their parents know about what they are doing. A good mark seems more official when they can look at it online with their mum or dad.

The other major benefit we have seen is an improvement in behaviour. Not only do we record good and bad behaviour points, which parents can see, but we also let parents know how we respond to different behaviour and what our process is for dealing with problems. Issues are dealt with immediately so they do not build up over time. From the children’s point of view, they seem to be learning better from their mistakes by being able to talk through any incidences with their family at home.

Jordan, a pupil at the school, backs this view. “I got two points for talking in class and my mum gave me a good talking to so I haven’t done it again. If you do bad things, I always get a good talking to but if I do good things, I get a present or more pocket money.”

We can also reach those parents that really do not want to engage with school. We have to respect the fact that some parents do not want to talk to teachers, no matter how hard we try to encourage them to attend school events. With the portal we can at least be sure that the information is there if they want it.

For others, the site is a useful window into their children’s day. A full-time working mum of three at the school recently told me how important she felt the system was to her. She wants to support the school but has difficulty as she has such a busy home and working life. With the portal she can see exactly how her children are getting on at school, so she can have meaningful conversations with them at the end of the school day.

“I work full-time so I access my child’s achievement and behaviour data on my laptop at work, and when I’m out at business meetings,” says Barbara Archer, another parent at the school. “I can suddenly tap in when I have five minutes and have a little look at what mischief or what good points have happened. What this enables me to do is to feel a lot closer to what is going on in their day-to-day life, which gives us something to talk about around the dinner table.”

A two-way street

Our major goal for the future is to make the communication a two-way process, allowing parents to communicate with us too via the online system.

We have already made some moves towards this with a page where parents can write comments, add feedback and ask questions. So far it has been used for whole-school issues – like getting their views on a new garden zone we are designing – so we can benefit from their experience. But we want to make it possible in the future for parents to respond privately to issues relevant to their child too.

Of course, schools always keep changing, so we have got to have the technology to be able to respond to that. Thinking about where we will be with the parent portal in just five year’s time is so exciting; there is real potential to do so much and take the relationships with parents to the next level.

• Easington Colliery School use SIMS Learning Gateway as their parent portal. Visit www.capita-cs.co.uk


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