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Niel McLean: Technology can bridge the gap between parents and schools

Parental engagement is vital to a child’s learning and known to help raise attainment. Good communication with schools enables parents to learn more about their child’s progress, lesson plans and grades whilst also helping to identify any development or performance issues early on.

But, despite the number of communication channels available - from parents evenings to emails, after-school meetings to online reporting - a new report from Becta, launched today, indicates that misunderstandings, a lack of confidence and unclear communication channels are putting this at risk, with many parents becoming virtually ‘invisible’ to schools.

A key finding was that over half of parents admit to little contact with their child’s school, often once a year or less. This is a real issue for schools, with 60 per cent of school staff saying parents feel their job stops at the school gates and even more saying these parents simply do not realise how important their support is in their child’s development.

As a former teacher, I know that poor communication channels can be a real issue – parents who are not engaged are unable to support their child effectively and more burden is put on the teacher to support their learning. In addition, uninformed parents often take up more teacher time by asking questions about basic information, such as grades, attendance or performance which could be shared in a more convenient and timely way.

On the other side of the fence, as a parent, I know how easy it is to feel isolated from your child’s education and have a real thirst for updates on how they are getting on. However, our research shows many parents lack the confidence or know the best way to approach teachers, with some teachers - 43 per cent- admitting parents may find them ’difficult to approach’ sometimes.

Clearly, parents are crying out for sound advice on ways to simply – and quickly – get information from schools.

As the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning, Becta is campaigning for the adoption by schools and parents of simple technologies to improve communication. Our report shows that 89 per cent of parents feel it could help them get better involved in their child’s education and play a more powerful role if they better understood how to use it.

Many schools across the country are already improving their partnership with parents through technology such as online reporting, which enables parents and schools to share knowledge, improve communication and easily identify any issues. Far from replacing face-to-face conversations, online reporting complements and enhances the quality of discussions by giving timely and meaningful information to parents.

This can only be a good thing – an informed parent is an engaged parent who is able to work in partnership with a school to ensure their child has the most effective education possible. Schools need to ensure that they are able to deliver these technologies to the benefit of parents, teachers and students.

To find out more, visit www.nextgenerationlearning.org.uk.