Internet allows parents to know what's really happening at school

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The Independent Online
THE DAYS of children fibbing to their parents about their homework may soon be over.

No longer will they be able to say "Honest, mum, I wasn't given any", if an experiment being pioneered by a comprehensive school in Essex is repeated nationally.

As a result of the "Parents' Gateway" project at St Martin's school in Brentwood, Essex, mums and dads can log on to the school's computer system and find out a wealth of information about what their children are doing at school.

For a start, it will tell them by 9.30am whether they have actually arrived. And, come the end of the day, it will also tell them whether they have missed any lessons.

John Christian, the school's director of information systems - who devised it - said: "We had parents coming to us and saying they didn't really know enough about what their children were doing at school."

Parents are offered their own password allowing them to see their children's files, but not anyone else's. The school has 1,800 pupils and just over 1,000 parents have asked to have a password.

During the past year, the "gateway" has had 20,000 hits, with one parent logging on as many as 127 times to find out about her children. On average, though, mums and dads are making around 20 hits a year.

Maureen Gunn, who has an 11-year-old daughter at the school, said: "I think it's a great tool to have. I don't have any issues with my daughter's attendance but it's nice to know she's arrived and is at school.

"The assessment information is the most helpful. It helps you to see how she is getting on with the level of work that's being asked of her, and the results she's got.

"It identifies her strengths so you can say: `Oh, she's really good at that' - and also shows you areas that she should perhaps focus on."

Mrs Gunn said: "The timetable is also there, so it helps you support her and make sure she's got the things she needs to go to school the next day."

On homework, said Mr Christian, parents can not only find out how much their children have been set but how much of it they have completed and what marks they have been given for it.

Pupils are also given a ranking of one to four to show how well behaved they have been - one means poor, four excellent. They are also awarded grades on a scale of one to 10 to show the effort they are putting in at school.

St Martin's pioneering work has impressed Capita Education Services, which installed the computer system and which services most state schools. As a result, many other schools have been visiting Mr Christian to see if they can replicate the system. Education specialists believe it will not be long before they follow in St Martin's footsteps.

Sean Massey, Capita's services director, said the school had understood the importance of involving parents with their children's education, allowing them to "view exactly what progress has been made with a topic and find out where their child needs extra support".

Margaret Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, said: "It sounds absolutely fantastic.

"The only concern I'd have is making sure that parents who aren't connected to the internet aren't disenfranchised. I know that they can go to a library and log on, but they could be at a disadvantage.

Mr Christian said the system had helped to improve performance at GCSE with more than 80 per cent of pupils - well above the national average - obtaining at least five top A* to C grades.

The truancy trawl has also helped them to tackle what had been a hidden problem. Teachers can now see which lessons a child has missed and whether the problem concerns a particular subject or a particular teacher.

"I wouldn't say it has actually cut the truancy figures," he said. "But that is because it has made us aware of something that may have been hidden - that pupils are failing to go to lessons after they have been registered for the day."

If this targeted truancy had been hidden from teachers, it had also been hidden from parents. Not any more.

WHAT PARENTS CAN FIND OUT ONLINE

w Whether their child is at school.

w Whether they have skipped any lessons.

w Their child's minimum target grade.

w The teacher's estimated target grade for their child.

w An assessment of how well their child is doing.

w Homework set and completed and what marks have been given.

w Their child's preferred learning style.

w A grade of one to four for behaviour, attendance, punctuality and engagement in learning.

w Details of their child's timetable.

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