When it comes to engaging with parents, it can be a challenge for schools to know which methods of communication work best. Is it a text or email? Is it a letter sent home? As a school, it’s hard to be sure that parents are receiving this information and that they truly understand the information you are sending them.
We have recently conducted research on how primary schools are communicating with their parents which has raised some interesting issues. Secondary schools often have a much harder job to engage parents, as it can be a step up from the communications they may have been receiving from their primary school, and we are keen to hear from secondary schools on the types of challenges they face.
Gathering parents’ and teachers’ views
To explore how primaries are communicating pupil progress to parents and how this is evolving, we undertook research with parents and primary school teachers. We surveyed 1,014 parents of primary school children and 850 state primary school teachers in England, at the end of the summer term 2016. The survey made for some interesting findings around the types of information parents would like to receive and how they would like to receive it.
The vast majority of parents think schools do a fantastic job, but the research suggests that many want more nuanced information about their child. For example, over half of parents (57%) feel that primary school reports are either too generic or do not contain enough information about how their child is doing. More than a third of primary school teachers (35%) agreed with this sentiment.
Surveying teachers and parents in parallel revealed some interesting differences in perspective on this. Most teachers (79%) think that their schools provide the right amount of information to parents on their child’s progress and yet there is still a third of parents (34%) that say they do not receive enough. Parents vary in how much information they expect from their school.
Engaging parents through technology
Technology can also provide an easy and cost-effective way to send information home to parents. According to our survey, over half of parents (63%) said that their child’s school does not offer pupil progress information via text but over a third (33%) would like their school to offer this. Similarly, only a third of parents (33%) surveyed receive their child’s pupil progress information via a mobile app or portal and 36% would like to see this offered.
This echoes some of the feedback we have had from secondary schools. Sale Grammar School, an Outstanding school in South Manchester, was one school which previously struggled to communicate with parents. The school ran a survey to find out parents’ engagement levels which revealed that only 25% of parents were happy with the school’s communications. Reports were sent to parents via post, as were data collection forms, which meant copious amounts of paper-based admin and letters being lost at the bottom of students’ bags. When the school identified low parental engagement levels, they decided to launch an ‘engaging parents through ICT’ initiative to improve their parental communications.
The school introduced online parent portal, SIMS Learning Gateway to engage with parents on a new level. They used it to send reports to parents, return reply slips online and to update student details. The school was delighted that the new initiative helped boost the parent satisfaction rate to an impressive 75%.
Sponne School in Towcester and Meadowhead School Academy Trust in Sheffield have also been working to improve communications with parents. Sponne School used our parental communication tool, SIMS InTouch, to send out a range of communications to parents and students. This includes sending out exams timetables, attendance certificates, praise cards, detention communications, as well as any general school communications electronically, rather than using paper. While Meadowhead has been using SIMS InTouch alongside parent portal SIMS Learning Gateway to share key information with parents.
Gary Bragg, Meadowhead’s ICT Strategy Manager, told us that the feedback from parents had been positive, particularly the wide range of information that parents can access from the new parent portal. This allows parents to access the information they are looking for, when they need it. The school had also been using SIMS Learning Gateway to communicate low-level behaviour issues. Gary explained: “The behaviour element has also been a benefit. We previously wouldn’t have contacted home about the low-level behaviour problems and we’ve had lots of praise about sharing the behaviour information.”
Working in collaboration for improved outcomes
Our survey results emphasise the importance of listening to parents’ points of views and the benefits of information sharing, whether it’s face-to-face, written communication or using technology. Good communication is the basis for effective home-school collaboration, and when parents and schools work together, children receive the support they need to thrive and grow at school.
We would be interested to learn if the trends we have uncovered in primary schools are also present in secondary schools. We are planning to run similar research on communications in secondary schools and would very much appreciate your input on the key issues you face when communicating with parents. Please do share your thoughts below.
To read the full survey report, click here