Part of my role at Castle Phoenix Trust is to help simplify and centralise the IT systems across our three secondaries and two primaries in Coventry and North Warwickshire.
The work has started to make a major impact on parental engagement and the continuity of learning across the trust.
All parents want a simple, single place where they can find everything they need to know about their son or daughter’s learning and progress and other school information, without the need to use lots of disparate systems, each with their own password.
Our secondaries led the adoption of a platform called Firefly. Each school had a lead teacher whose role was to encourage the development of the platform at each school and to share their approaches with each other so that they can learn and develop together. Experience has taught me that you really need to give careful attention to the implementation of technology, if it is to be successful.
The system is used by staff, parents and pupils. For our staff, it provides a hub for everything they need to do their job; for example, if they need to check the behavioural policy or teaching and learning expectations, upload homework or check on their performance objectives, this the place to go to.
“Experience has taught me that you really need to give careful attention to the implementation of technology, if it is to be successful”
The system played a key role during the latest lockdown. A new centralised continuous professional development (CPD) portal went live on the system in late January to help support staff. The portal contains CPD on remote and blended learning and includes information of good practice from around the trust. We think it’s a really valuable resource.
Pupils also use the system during lockdown to access links to live MS Team and resource-based lessons and, in more normal times, their homework.
For parents, the system provides them with a single window on their child’s work. They can use it to look at the timetable and see whether a lesson is live or resource-based, view lesson resources and see teacher feedback.
This sort of access helps parents, especially those with children in Years 7 and 8, support their child’s learning. It’s also a place to go to access information on everything from the school calendar, announcements and the latest newsletters.
We’ve had to be careful to make the system as ‘frictionless’ as possible; it has to be easy to log into, navigate and use. We’re taking things step-by-step as we learn more about what works, and what doesn’t.
No technology-based approach is totally infallible so if parents or students have an issue, I’m here at all times via email or phone to help. We’ve not had any real problems with the technology – the vast majority of issues are minor, such as forgotten passwords. It shows just how much parents and students are relying on the system.
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One of our key requirements when we adopted this technology was that it must be accessible through a web browser as well as a smartphone app. This is important for us because we can’t guarantee that our parents or students have the latest IT at home. Some do not have smartphones, or they have an older model smartphone.
“We’ve not had any real problems with the technology – the vast majority of issues are minor, such as forgotten passwords. It shows just how much parents and students are relying on the system”
The fact that our system can be used without parents or students having to download software – they access what they need through links to online information – was another big benefit. Downloading is a problem on older devices. It’s another bit of ‘friction’ that can put people off from engaging with the system and it can also make it harder for students to access their home learning.
During the last lockdown, all the indications showed that there was greater engagement from students – and parents – in lockdown learning.
I think that parents and students were more prepared this time around and they have slipped into remote learning more easily. We have provided training for staff, parents and children alike. The fact that everything students, parents and teachers need for remote learning can be accessed through a single point, without them having to hop around from platform to platform, has certainly helped.
On top of supporting parental engagement in our students’ learning, the technology has won over teachers. Marking and feedback takes up a lot of their time, but the fact written feedback can be replaced with audio and delivered through the portal is invaluable. Teachers say that the portal saves them time and gives them greater clarity in their job. It really helps them to plan busy schedules.
Next steps: A new e-book containing advice on improving parental engagement has been published by Firefly. Communicating Effectively with Parents, is now available here.