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Are schools making the most of parental engagement tech?

Lawrence Royston is MD of Groupcall, which recently spoke to thousands of stakeholders to see how technology is utilised and what might be improved

Posted by Julian Owen | November 26, 2017 | People

The impact on educational outcomes for children whose parents are engaged in school life have been well documented. Technology plays an important role in helping to facilitate this. Groupcall recently spoke to thousands of parents and school leaders across the country to gauge how different technologies are used, to establish whether or not there is room for improvement.

What types of systems are used to contact parents?

There are a number of different methods of communicating with parents, including via the traditional picking up of the phone. What we wanted to know was the degree of technology used to broadcast messages on a larger scale. With the advent of social media and app-based technology, there is a plethora of means ready and waiting for schools to use.

The results showed a clear indication that social media and apps are starting to have an impact. Social media is now being embraced by a third of schools and the recent inclusion of app technology has reached nearly 20% of parents in both primary and secondary schools, although email and text messages are still the most popular means of reaching out to parents. Interestingly, primary schools appear to be adopting the latest technology faster than secondaries.

Is software helping parents assist with homework?

Receiving help from home is a well-established factor in improving a child’s attainment. Parents and SLTs alike were asked about the levels of assistance being provided, and there was a degree of humility from the schools that the parents did not seem to think was justified.

Schools believed they could be doing a lot more to help parents with homework, particularly among the secondary sector, 30% of whom ‘never or rarely’ provide assistance. One of the early steps a school can take is by adopting a homework system; giving parents visibility on everything set, as well as progress. By having the extra touch point with the child’s education, a relationship can be fostered to encourage a healthy learning environment at home. According to the report, roughly half of schools state that they make use of homework systems, suggesting that there is still some way to go before its full potential can be realised.

'Interestingly, primary schools appear to be adopting the latest technology faster than secondaries.'

What methods are used to process payments?

While some may not consider it a form of engagement in the same sense as other, more conversational means, payments are a very regular touch point between parents and the school. As a result, ensuring that this has as little friction as possible is advisable when it comes to improving relationships.

Both primary and secondary schools were asked about how parents pay their children’s school for activities, trips, lunch etc. The expectation was that cash would be on the decline, due to it being more time consuming and insecure for school staff to process when there are other options available. The results were surprising: despite a number of easier, faster and more efficient means being available, cash was still the most prevalent payment method. It was interesting to note that cheques were still used by a large number, given how there is talk of phasing them out.

Another interesting thing to note was the rate of adoption of other means of payment between school types. Secondary schools are much more interested in dedicated payment software than their primary counterparts, but see less use of other digital options like bank transfers or PayPal. The numbers of parents paying by cash are similar across each stage, which suggests that all schools are moving away from it at the same rate - more than half of parents appear to have moved past cash, but only secondary schools have dedicated software as a clear alternative, suggesting some primary schools might not fully understand the benefits of parental payment software.

In summary, the majority of schools seem to be making use of the standard of communication systems - email and SMS. There are a number adopting more modern methods, and social media will no doubt continue to gain traction, but there is still a way to progress. Homework software is becoming much more accepted, with half of schools making use of it, and there is no reason why this number won’t continue to go up as people see its value. The area that is used less than could be expected is that of payment processing. Cash remains the most used, despite it being arguably the least efficient means to pay.

To download the full parental engagement research report, visit

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