Government research has shown “the more intensely parents are involved in their children’s education, the more advantageous the effect on pupil achievement”. What’s more, “schools which successfully engage parents make use of a broad understanding of parental engagement, and their parental engagement strategies accord with the interpretations and values of the parents they are aimed at”. In other words, schools who successfully engage parents/carers, do so with parents/carers in mind, reaching them in a way that works for them.
The 2010 White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’ discussed schools’ accountability to parents/carers: “In the past, too much information has been unavailable to parents, too difficult to find or not presented comprehensibly.”
Further research has revealed that one of the major concerns for modern schools is trying to get parents/carers to engage more (Clare Campbell, 2011). You only need to speak to a teacher to begin to see that they are desperate for parents/carers to play a more pivotal role in their children’s education and to be engaged in the learning process. So why is this so difficult?
Never before have parents/carers been bombarded with so much information. Whether it’s banking, shopping, social media, special offers, school and club messages, or bills that need to be paid, it has become very difficult to gain and hold their attention. Traditional approaches such as letters, and even email and text messages, have now become outdated as parents/carers have become ever more sophisticated in their use of technology. The challenge for schools is simply keeping up with technological advancement, as they risk even more difficulty engaging with parents/carers who now expect to be able to pick up their school messages in the same way they do everything else – on their mobile phone.
Email, though a more modern approach to reaching parents/carers, has become the go-to way for advertisers to reach people, which means a busy inbox. According to email provider Sendmail, 90 percent of messages we receive in our email inbox are spam, and although filters sift out some of the junk, the average inbox is still filled each day with new clutter – discouraging many of us from reading our emails. Text messaging has been used by many schools for the last 10 years but this is severely restricted in terms of the length of the message that can be sent and, for many schools, costs can add up to hundreds or even thousands of pounds each year.
With advancements in technology moving at such a rapid rate, parents/carers no longer expect to receive important information in these ways. In order for schools to be able to reach and engage parents/carers with what’s going on at school, they need to step into the same world, delivering this important information in the way parents/carers are used to consuming it. The smartphone has levelled the playing field and almost all parents/carers now have them.
The UK is now a smartphone society, according to the Office of Communications, who reported that at least two thirds of UK adults carry their smartphone in their pocket: “Over half of smartphone owners regularly use their devices on public transport, at work and while shopping – collectively, UK consumers check their smartphones over a billion times a day”.
Effective communications with parents/carers means getting on their wavelength, and using the tools and technology they use. This represents a challenge for schools that often lag behind on the technology curve and now need to get on-board with it or even ahead of it.
The irony is that mobile apps – the bane of many parents/carers and teachers lives to date – may just be the vehicle to improving pupil outcomes in the 21st century. Receiving information on a smartphone app means parents/carers don’t need to go looking for information – it finds them.
With mobile devices already beginning to outpace desktop devices, forward-thinking schools are already considering a mobile-first solution for communicating to parents/carers and wider communities, and it’s quite likely that, in less than five years’ time every school will have its own mobile identity, including its own mobile app.
This week’s blog was brought to you by ParentMail
 Clare Campbell (2011) ‘How to involve hard-to-reach parents: Encouraging meaningful parental involvement with schools’, pg. 2, para. 2
 Janet Vorhaus and John Goodall, J. (2010) ‘Review of best practice in parental engagement’, pg. 20, para. 3
 Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission (2014) ‘Cracking the code: how schools can improve social mobility’
 DfE (2010) ‘The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010’, pg. 66, para. 6.4