Deborah Fisher, Head of SIMS Independent, explores how…
The digital revolution has shaped a whole new world of work in the last decade or so, where technology such as smartphones and tablet devices enable us to work faster, more effectively – and often more creatively.
This is a trend that has increasingly been reflected in schools too, with the explosion of educational apps that have introduced exciting and interesting new ways for children to learn, both in the classroom and at home.
But is there more that mobile technology can offer education? Some schools are using it to strengthen home-school links, support safeguarding and give teachers greater freedom and flexibility in how they manage administrative tasks.
A keystone of home-school communications
All schools appreciate the importance of involving parents in their child’s education, but an important step in achieving this is to find the best way to communicate with them.
At Manchester High School for Girls, providing parents with a central point for information was the way forward as Jon Haves, ICT Development Director, explained: “Parental expectations have changed, and our parents were increasingly asking for more regular information about their daughter’s progress. They don’t always want to wait until parents’ evenings or the termly report to find out how their child is getting on at school.
“So, we decided to introduce an app which parents can download onto their phone or tablet and see a whole range of information about their child’s school day, from confirmation that they have arrived at school on time, to details about merit points they have been awarded, or the outline of the latest history assignment they have been set,” continued Jon.
“Digital communication has enabled parents to feel much more part of day-to-day school life, and they have secure access to information about how their child is progressing in all subjects,” said Jon. “This makes it easier for parents to provide support from home, throughout the year.”
But engaging with parents is not the only advantage of introducing an app in school.
Supporting schools in their duty of care
For schools which use paper registers, it can be a challenge to keep track of their pupils’ whereabouts throughout the school day. Teachers might take attendance, then registers will be keyed in by someone in the school office, by which time a pupil may have moved on to a music lesson, left for a dental appointment, or gone home unwell. With safeguarding becoming increasingly important in schools, technology can help teachers to know where their pupils are at any given time throughout the day.
At Westholme School, staff have instant access to the latest information on a child’s whereabouts. “Electronic registration ensures there’s no lag in getting attendance information into the school’s computer system,” said David Marsden, IT Manager at the school. “Teachers can check straight away where a pupil is, whenever they need to, from their tablets. So, if a parent rings in to say they will be late collecting their child, we can find the pupil quickly and let them know, wherever they are in the school.”
When something unexpected happens, having parents’ contact details to hand on a mobile device can make all the difference. “If a pupil is waiting to be picked up, but their parent has not arrived, a staff member can look up the family’s contact details in the car park and give them a quick call, rather than having to take the pupil back into school and search for the details in the office,” said David.
Instant communication with parents is also vital when there is a change of plan, as when a member of staff is bringing a class back from a school trip and the coach is stuck in traffic, Westholme can access parents’ numbers securely on tablets and get in touch with them to let them know that their child will be later than expected.
While an app can be a valuable tool for safeguarding, schools are also finding that mobile technology is helping them to free up lesson time.
Lessons where every minute counts
Schools have largely moved on from paper-based processes and embraced more efficient ways to manage administration and minimise time spent on routine tasks. Developments in mobile technology offer schools the tools to streamline their classroom management too, so that teachers can make the most of lesson time right from the word go.
Teachers at King Edward’s School, Bath, have found that using a tablet device to take the register, or access and record key pupil and class information throughout the day, gives them back those valuable minutes that can be devoted to teaching.
“When a teacher needs to take attendance, it can take a while to fire up a laptop, log on and key in details of who’s in class and who is not. It’s surprising how much time this can take out of morning registration or the beginning of a new lesson,” said David Middlebrough, Assistant Head (Curriculum). “Some of our teachers now take the register on their tablet devices using an app from SIMS Independent – and this has cut down on the time it takes to record attendance and note any late arrivals. Speeding up registration means pupils are focused more quickly on what they are learning.”
Being able to manage tasks such as taking the register is particularly valuable in teaching spaces where PCs are not generally used. “Teachers out on the sports field or in the music room can now record attendance on a tablet, and the details go straight into the school’s management information system, so no time is wasted taking paper registers back to the school office,” concluded David.
Our digitally connected world is evolving at an ever-faster pace, and schools have much to gain by embracing mobile technology to help them cut right down on routine administration so that they can focus on what really matters. Delivering inspiring lessons, keeping children safe and happy, and working closely with parents to boost a child’s achievement and enhance school life.
The mobile technology used by the schools featured includes the Teacher App and Parent App from SIMS Independent.