Martin Burrett recently discovered the benefits of school apps when his son’s school implemented a system that proved extremely effective in streamlining communication between teachers and parents, and is now about to implement a Piota school app in his own school. This is not a promoted article, but Piota are creating some magic for the UKEdChat Community – More details soon.
This article was originally published in the January 2016 Edition of our UKEdMagazine
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Maintaining and improving communication between home and school is always a high priority in schools and it is usually high on the list for any school improvement plan. Yet the seemingly easy task of giving effective, simple and non-threatening means of two way communication is difficult to get right for everyone.
Face to face communication is the best form of contact. One of the delights of teaching at key stage one for me was those few seconds of interaction with parents as they drop off or pick up their child. Sadly, this is not always practical, and as the child becomes more independent, the parents appear at the door less and less, until they leave the playground altogether. This is how it should be as pupils mature, but it means that communication between home and school becomes harder.
Many schools are very good at broadcasting school life into the community via email or letters, and parents may have a wealth of information. Yet other parents may feel bombarded by so much information coming through their inbox or in their child’s bag especially if they cannot filter what is relevant to them.
Social media has helped, with many schools using Twitter or Facebook to bring about better communication, yet not every parent has, or wants, a social media presence. Many schools are reluctant to engage in two way discussion with parents in the public arena of social media.
I was delighted to see that my son’s school has found the perfect solution. Almost every parent will have a smart phone these days and the school has designed an elegant Apple and Android app together with Piota. As a parent, I’ve been using it since September and I have been very impressed by what it can do and, being of a geeky-techie nature, I wanted to find out more.
I talked to the school about the reason why they have retired their email based system. ‘Engagement’ was the answer. While there was uptake of around one third of parents when the email system was introduced, this had fallen as parents cancelled the emails and even more simply didn’t read them amongst the clutter in the average bulging inbox. Because up-take was low the school felt that it needed to continue sending out paper letters and bulletins in addition to emails, making the whole enterprise redundant. Now engagement has risen with over two thirds of families using the app, more joining everyday, and in many cases both parents, grandparents and even social workers and other agencies downloading the app.
My son’s class teacher is delighted with it. Parents can set filters so they only get information specifically for them. Each teacher has a login to the web-based management system, which means that they can send out information to parents of just the pupils in their class, such as homework details, trip information and even permission slips forms, which the parents can electronically fill in and send back through the app. Posts can include formatted text, images and links to other websites so they can be crafted and customised as much as is needed.
I was so intrigued about the possibilities for my own school, that I contacted the developers. I met with the Piota team and they talked me through the management system. The online platform is reminiscent of school virtual learning environments and adding content was just like writing an email. The management system looks similar to the app with each of the same sections across the top of the webpage, so the interface is intuitive and easy to use.
The app can save time in the school office too. It has an events calendar which can be fed automatically from the main school calendar and filtered to what is relevant to a particular parent. New information and news from the school’s website can be automatically published to the app and filtered by the software’s artificial intelligence to the right sections. Schools can highlight new or important content with an alert in the phone’s notifications area so important messages can never be missed. Schools can also create new content, messages and alerts, which do not appear on the main school site. I immediately thought about publishing the best posts from my class blog to the app to make it more accessible to parents.
The app isn’t just a broadcast system. The Piota team are continually developing the app and parental voice is a key area. Parents can already respond to surveys and they can contact the school via forms within the app. For example, my son’s school has an ‘absence report’ form so parents can notify and give information to the school if their child will not be in. In a few months Piota are adding a function to allow schools to send messages to individuals and also allow individuals to reply. Soon schools could send dinner money receipts, parent’s evening times, and quick updates about a pupil’s good work or behaviour in class. I would be excited to shift the home reading record onto the app so parents can easily state which books have been read and how many times, rather than sorting through their homework diaries and making notes, which is a task which takes up far too much of my time. With per pupil prices starting from not much more than the cost of a homework diary, I hope that the diary can be replaced altogether.
There are plenty of opportunities for secondary schools, with specific homework tasks and reminders sent to the system, which could be personalised to each group of pupils, and reminders or notifications to their parents. With exams looming, it could be easy to send revision reminders, notes or questions through to pupils, to help focus them on a particular strand which needs further practise. Key reminders about school events, parent’s evenings, awards and progress could easily be added within the system, helping bridge the continually difficult lines of communication between schools and home.
Our pupils are with us in school for a small fraction of the day and creating continuity and understanding between home and school to improve their learning opportunities is essential to ensure pupils reach their full potential. Only with superb communication between home and school can pupils do their best. As a parent the app has brought me closer into the school life of my son, and the school is doing more in less time, more effectively, at reduced cost, with less headaches. Apps are the way forward for school communication and I’m looking forward to introducing a Piota App in my own school.