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Views & Opinion


Using homework to engage with parents


Comment by Alvin Clarke, sales manager at Penstripe


Generate revenue by making your facilities work harder


Comment by Chris Smith, Head of Community, Kajima Partnerships Limited


At a time of intense pressure on educational budgets in the UK, many schools are not capitalising on a potentially significant revenue stream with clear social benefits and few attached costs. School facilities, particularly those of secondary schools, represent a


vast and currently underutilised resource in the UK. According to Sport England, schools, colleges and university sites own 39% of sports facilities in the country, including 77% of sports halls and 61% of artificial grass pitches. At Kajima Community, we’ve found that schools which do hire out


All the research we conducted during the development of PenstripeEdu has shown that parental engagement and support is key to a child’s success. Involving parents unobtrusively in the homework process improves the quality and consistency of completion, enabling the student to achieve more in less time. Young people are constantly on their mobile devices, so an app is a


simple, natural and reliable way for teachers to communicate and parents to monitor. An app makes the whole process so much more efficient and effective. They can bring teachers, students, their parents and school management teams together, into a cohesive team able to support learning more effectively than ever before. Homework planning apps haven’t been around for that long, but


already the originals are realising they will have to evolve quickly as research shows that managing homework in isolation is only partially addressing the issues. Parents need to be able to encourage their children into doing their homework and then to take a step back when time is genuinely tight, they need to be aware of their child’s time commitments and be able to assist them as appropriate. By providing a student with an easy-to-use homework planning tool


that, most importantly, also enables them to integrate school and social tasks into one up-to-date calendar, they are able to plan their time to achieve their academic goals alongside their social life goals. Parents need a real-time overview of the level of homework commitments so that they can support their child in planning and completing their tasks both on time and to a high standard. Our research with teachers has shown that early releases of


homework setting software have proved restrictive as homework only showed up in the system as a task list and could not be planned into a calendar schedule. However, with the latest apps teachers can set differentiated homework and sub-tasks and see when they’re complete. School management teams also have complete visibility of what homework is being set and when. Schools can use the latest apps to flag up extracurricular events,


schedule sports fixtures or plan educational visits via a channel that ensures this information actually reaches the parent - something which doesn’t always happen when relying on hard copy letters left at the bottom of rucksacks; parents can now be kept fully in the loop! Through our ongoing development process, we consulted with


numerous schools and student working parties and it became clear that a successful app should utilise the schools’ existing MIS to ensure ease of use and implementation – for successful take up an app must always make processes easier, not create another layer of work for teachers. It is crucial that apps sync seamlessly with schools’ MIS, so they can


be relied upon to be constantly up to date and fully functional on or offline. Most importantly, an app needs to work on all mobile devices so parents are not forced to buy a particular phone or tablet for them and their children to be able to benefit.


April 2016


their facilities, at local market rates, are generating average annual revenues of £40,000 – rising to as much as £350,000. That’s before taking into account the social advantages. Opening up


school facilities for public use supports community cohesion, engaging young adults and hard-to-reach parents. It raises the profile of a school within its local area. More than just an additional stream of revenues, it helps schools meet their social obligations. It is only right that facilities which have been financed by public money should be available for communal use, including on a not-for-profit basis. Given these advantages, why has this not been more widely adopted?


Some schools have been dissuaded by the perceived costs of opening their premises to the community – but these are often overestimated. For example, the wear and tear of having 12 adults in a class room after school hours will be much lower than for 30 children during the day. Heating and lighting costs are a minimal addition over and above the base load of a fully functioning school. Costs can also be minimised by managing expectations: making clear which facilities users are entitled to use and thoroughly checking before and after the sessions. There are certainly other challenges. But with the right support, these


are easily overcome. One is administration, which can be difficult if schools try to coordinate


several of their administrative functions to hire out their facilities. Efficiency could be significantly improved by a designated single point of contact using automated school lettings software. Another is complying with legal and regulatory requirements. For


example, some music concerts require a public entertainment licence; this must always be checked. The same goes with selling and servicing alcohol, but obtaining a licence is a relatively straightforward process. Schools need to ensure their premises observe health and safety laws, and they have the relevant insurance documents, coaching qualifications, and references in place from the hirers. They also may have a policy to assess their suitability for use by others by, for example, conducting Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on their clients. Then there are the marketing challenges schools face: making


communities aware that their facilities are available for use. A strong web presence needs to be maintained, with expertise to precisely target the online searches of commercial organisations and voluntary groups. Schools need a reliable online system to help manage bookings – for example, by providing a dedicated email for out-of-hours enquiries. They can also help themselves by working closely with community partners, such as local authorities and councils, other education and training partners, not-for-profits and local businesses. What’s clear is that these challenges are small compared to the


potential rewards. If just 10 per cent of the UK’s 24,317 schools opened their facilities for community use, it could virtually wipe out the £103m schools deficit. Much more than this, it would provide a valuable service to surrounding communities, from sports and social clubs to charities and local businesses.


www.education-today.co.uk 17


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