Communicating with parents effectively is the first step in parental engagement. We know that schools make great efforts to involve parents at every opportunity in the early years but as the child grows older, and probably travels to school independently, inevitably there are fewer opportunities for 'a quick word' with the teacher. This is when schools need to take a close look at the potential of different media such as the website, school planners and apps to fill the gap.
Unless there are concerns about behaviour, special needs or slow progress, many parents with children in secondary school only meet teachers face to face at open evenings so there is a risk that they will feel out of the loop, as these examples show: ‘Apart from letters about parents’ evening, the only time the school gets in touch is to ask for money. I feel I’m being treated as their own personal cashpoint,’ complained one mother on a parent forum.
Another felt that school communications were not well planned: ‘TBH I don’t mind paying for stuff but I could do with more than 3 days’ notice. A months’ notice would do so I could budget for it all.’
Imagine if these parents were getting up to the minute information about their child; if they could look at their child’s planner and see merits and awards, details of homework and forthcoming exams, they would certainly feel more involved in their child’s education and be more positive about the school.
Choosing the right medium
A few years ago schools were experimenting with media from Facebook to texting and traditional paper-based newsletters. However, they often ran into problems. Emails were time consuming while texting proved to be expensive and unreliable as many parents had pay as you go phones and changed them often so the school did not necessarily have the current number.
More than one school found that parents made inappropriate comments on Facebook and Twitter which generated bad feeling and could have led to litigation.
Schools have now mostly settled on a communication strategy that works for their community. However, some still fall into the trap of bombarding parents with information so that they receive almost daily updates via apps, newsletters or eBulletins about test dates, school closures and cancelled clubs. The danger is that it can lead to information overload, where parents forget important information because there is just too much to remember.
It is hard to strike a happy balance but senior management will want to ensure parents have round the clock access to key information so they do not have to phone the school or keep asking the teachers and this is why planners and the school website have retained their popularity.
The planner in particular is an opportunity for the teacher to communicate directly with parents about their child’s academic progress and conduct. It can also highlight potential problems since parents can check their child’s record of absence and instances of misconduct before behaviour becomes a major issue. In this way schools and families can work together.
What do parents need?
Conversations with parents tend to fall into two main categories. Either they need specific information such as dates and times of events or they have a serious concern about their child.
The school website can play an important role, as can the school planner. Parents will need to know dates of holidays, when the school is closed for inset days, their child’s timetable, homework schedules, exam dates, precise information about uniform and how to report absence.
It is much better to sort out personal issues face-to-face such as what parents can do if their child is reluctant to go to school, if they think their child is being bullied or seems unhappy. Encourage them to get in touch but use the planner and website to make the process easy for them so they know who to contact and when is the best time during the school day.
It is essential is to make sure all school communications are easy to use, free from jargon, attractive and engaging to look at, easy to understand so that and parents can find information at the very moment when they need it.
When they get their communications right, parents will have a clear impression that the school is well organised and professional and they will feel reassured that their child is in good hands.
Penstripe offers a wide range of planners and can work with your school to develop personalised content that will ensure that students, parents and teachers can easily access the information they need. Please call 0113 231 0995 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to speak to our expert education team and see how your school can maximise the value of their Student Planners.