Out with the old, in with the new

Tina Oliva

Tina Oliva is the headteacher at St John Evangelist Catholic Primary School in Islington. Improving parental communications has been a key target for the school, with a view to improving efficiency and making parents feel like they’re part of their child’s education. The school now has an app, courtesy of Piota, in order to achieve this.

Website: www.stjohnevangelist.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Image courtesy of author. Image courtesy of author.

For any school, communication with parents is essential, but finding the best way to do this can sometimes be quite difficult. The traditional route of the letter sent home, as you might expect, has fallen out of favour due to the number of notes lost crumpled in the bottom of school bags. We’ve also found that SMS communication wasn’t all that effective either, as parents found it too intrusive due to the sheer volume of text messages sent. One parent, Daniel, told us: “You would get every single update for all 400 pupils at the school to do with classes, events and activities; it was a lot of information at once.”

The need to consolidate our information and communication became very apparent, so we wanted to find a way that would allow parents “Why not build an app for the school?”to access the information they required in a format that was convenient, looking at alternatives to text, letters, and even the school website. It needed to be simple, effective, and an open channel through which we could talk and listen to parents, and we wanted it to be a means to developing wider relationships with the school community.

This is where the idea of an app came in. Most people today own smartphones or a tablet device onto which they can install a wide range of software applications that perform a variety of functions. There are many news-focused apps on the market, so why not build one for the school to provide a tailored news source geared specifically towards our stakeholders? Parents are often incredibly busy and this meant that they could access the information that they wanted on-the-go, so that information was never lost or forgotten.

The personal feel of the app was a big plus for our parents. We upload photos and updates of everything that our pupils are doing, whether it’s their class assemblies, concerts or sports days, and their parents love this; it really gives them the chance to be a part of their children’s education and know what’s going on in the school, no matter where they are.

There are a number of practical benefits to this way of working too, as everything is kept in one place. For instance, we had an issue “Moving away from paper has been well received by parents.”once where an INSET day was altered, but because the notification was sent via letter, only half of these were received, and many pupils still arrived at school on the day. With the app, we can issue a notice to parents and update the calendar at the same time, so that if parents want to verify the information they have, they can just double check at the push of a button.

We have moved directly from paper-based communication to the app, which has been well received by parents, as Daniel explains: “The school could have used emails to communicate with parents, as I’m sure many schools do, but realistically, the notifications that I really needed would be lost within the clutter of my inbox, including messages for every car hire company I’ve ever used! It makes so much sense to leapfrog this stage, and I’d recommend moving straight to a mobile app to any school.”

We’ve had plenty of feedback from parents who we have used to develop our processes, which is another way of getting them involved with the school as a whole, and they love that we’re doing more to celebrate the successes from around the school. We also use the app to survey our parents, asking them what they like and what they want to change about how we’re working.

The content belongs to the school and the parents too, which is important for safeguarding – unlike a website, where everyone can access and download the photos and news from the school, the app keeps everything together in one place, protecting the identities of our pupils.

In developing an app specific to our school, we’ve been able to create an easily accessible platform that really reflects who we are, and that really gets people involved. We’re really proud of what we’ve put together, and we put a lot of effort into maintaining it to keep our parents engaged and involved with the school. It has promoted very personal conversations with our parents and stakeholders, and we hope to roll this out further so that teachers can update their own materials to really personalise it for each class too. We’re using the technology to our advantage in a way that makes sense for everyone in our school, and it’s working incredibly well!

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