Reporting to parents on the happiness factor

By Phil Neal

Deciding what should go into a school report is an exercise which challenges most school leaders at one time or another. Certainly, there is no shortage of pupil information to report on. Today’s schools hold a wealth of pupil data, any of which could be passed on to parents.

But when they open that brown envelope – or click on that attachment – what is it that parents really want to know from their child’s school report – and does this change as the child moves from primary to secondary education?

What parents want

A few months ago, this blog took a look at what parents of primary school children want to see in a school report, based on the research we carried out in the summer. Now that we have the findings of our survey of secondary school parents, we thought it would be interesting to go back and see how they compare.

What struck me most was how similar the information requirements of primary and secondary parents seem to be – parents with children of all ages told us they want to know if their child is happy and confident in class.

Three quarters (75%) of primary school parents told us it is very important to have information on their child’s happiness and confidence. Interestingly, for parents of secondary school children, this percentage increased to 77%.

Perhaps this finding is less surprising than it first appears. After all, if a child is not worrying about being lonely at lunch break, or being afraid of giving the wrong answer in class, they have more energy to focus on their learning.

However, this information, by its very nature, is hard to quantify. In our survey, only 46% of primary parents agree that they receive this information from their child’s school, while for secondary parents, the figure drops to just over a quarter (27%).

Pupil centred

Measuring and reporting on a pupil’s happiness is never going to be a straightforward task for a school. While pupil data can shine a light on a child’s current achievement and target grades, happiness is a much more elusive quality to pin down.

A closer look at a pupil’s attendance, effort and behaviour can provide some clues as to how content a pupil is in the school environment, and any sudden changes or dips can be an indication that all is not well.

But could schools take this a step further and collect their pupils’ views about how happy, secure and confident they are at school?

Maybe there is scope for schools to use some form of happiness scale of the type used in customer satisfaction surveys. Plotting how happy and confident each pupil feels against an average might give schools some valuable insight into their pupils’ state of mind, which could, in turn, be communicated to parents.

Equally, if a pupil recorded a low rating, this would set off alarm bells, prompting a class teacher or pastoral head to step in and help.

This approach might give parents of younger children a fresh perspective on how their child has settled in at school. While for a concerned parent of an uncommunicative teen navigating the turbulent waters of schoolwork, friendships and exams, this type of information could be very welcome indeed.

Regular contact

Perhaps the report is just one way that schools can share details with parents about how their child appears at school. It may be that short, yet insightful, updates on a pupil’s school life in between reports could speak volumes to a parent about their child’s happiness and confidence.

Of course, this is only realistic if it is simple to do and administer, without adding to a teacher’s workload.

A quick text to say that Ellie has been unusually quiet in lessons this week, or an email about Ben helping his classmate understand quadratic equations would deepen a parent’s understanding of how their child is faring at school. It would also flag up any issues before they become too deeply entrenched, and start to impact on a pupil’s performance in class. 

I have also seen how a regular, brief phone call to tell parents about something their child has achieved can have a noticeable effect on a pupil’s attitude to their work.

Whichever approach a school takes, I would say that the link between how happy and confident a child is in class, and the progress that they make, should never be underestimated. By working closely with parents, both primary and secondary schools can keep an eye on their pupils’ wellbeing – and make a world of difference to how they do at school.

If you would like to find out more about how your school could use email and text messaging to contact parents, you might want to take a look at our SIMS InTouch product range.

Or check out the latest SIMS Parent app which gives parents access to information on their child’s school life from their phone.

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