Simon Rowlands, ICT Manager at Sale Grammar School, shares his top tips on parental engagement.
For primary and secondary schools across the country, meeting parents’ expectations to keep them both informed and engaged in school life and their child’s progress is an everyday challenge.
It's an area I know only too well, as I have a responsibility to provide our school with the solutions we need to help us better engage with parents. Eight years ago we ran a survey to find out the engagement levels of parents and found that only 25% were happy with our communications.
As a result, we launched an ‘engaging parents with ICT’ initiative to establish reliable two-way communication and an online collaboration area where parents could access information relevant to their child. In our most recent survey, which we now run every two years, we scored over 85% for parental engagement and I wanted to share my five top tips to achieve this:
1. Set expectations
Before you consider what you might need to implement in your school to increase parental engagement, take a step back and find out how your parents feel. If you have a high proportion of happy parents, you might only need to make minor tweaks and invest in other areas, whereas, if it’s lower, there might be more areas to improve than you anticipated.
We value parents as customers and set expectations from the start by using parent’s evenings to outline the specific ways they can get involved and make it clear how they are going to be communicated with.
2. Provide a portal on all platforms
You need to make sure that your website technology is consistent across all platforms. Using a parent portal at our school was essential to the success of the implementation of our ICT initiative. This consists of SIMS Learning Gateway, an online website and mobile platform, giving parents access to key information such as attendance, assessment, reports, achievement, behaviour and timetables.
As our parental engagement strategy evolves, so do the products that we use. The SIMS Parent app, which is the next generation of SIMS Learning Gateway, is going to play a crucial role in enhancing the way we communicate with parents. Everyone is using a mobile in today’s society and having piloted the app since October 2016, we’ve not only found it easy to manage, but parents have been telling us how simple it is to use. It will give parents the information they need to start inspiring better conversations with their children about their school life.
3. Two-way communication
When implementing an online system, you want to give parents the confidence that when they’re sent information, if they choose to reply, they will receive a prompt response. At our school, we use a contact form system where parents can direct their message to the appropriate department. This also reduces staff administration and helps save your school time and money.
4. The power of social media
Social media is another fantastic tool for engaging parents, but make sure you put policies in place that encourage the promotion of school events and successes across the platforms you use. We recently had a class trip to America and kept parents informed that their children had arrived safely by constantly updating Twitter.
5. Target hard to reach parents
How many parents are you reaching and are they engaged year-on-year? I’ve visited quite a few schools and when I ask how they are looking to target hard to reach parents, they often reply that if parents don’t want to use the system, they won’t!
You need to be targeting those parents who don’t use it and make a case for them to use it. We do this from the start by holding an induction evening when the new year 7s arrive in September and state that it’s a recommended school requirement for parents to sign-up to our system. We have a 95% take-up in all year groups and I would always advise that you need a high rate to make it a success.
I hope you found these tips helpful and please do share your own experiences of how your school engages with parents in the comment box below.