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VIEWS & OPINION


The failings of school- home communications and how to avoid them


Comment by


LAWRENCE ROYSTON, managing director of Groupcall


Half of primary and a third of secondary schools do not believe they are effective in communicating with parents, research commissioned by education communication experts, Groupcall, has found. And it seems parents agree, with 56 and 58 per cent of primary and secondary school parents respectively deeming the school’s website ineffective when it comes to providing them necessary information. Parents have expressed a frustration with being unable to reach various parts of their school, and means of distributing information are reported as coming up short. Undoubtedly, communication needs to be a two-way street. Our research has showed us that half of primary and a third of secondary schools do not believe they are effective when it comes to communicating with parents. It was a startling discovery for us as well; when we first examined school-home communications, we had no idea what to expect. We dug down into some more detail and it became apparent that there are some clear trends in terms of the areas to be improved, and that perhaps some guidance is needed to stop other schools falling into these same traps. The top line figures never show the whole story. After all, the majority of schools didn’t seem to think there was an issue- there were still two thirds of secondary schools giving themselves four or five stars when we asked how effective their school-home communications are. Yet even those who were positive overall acknowledged that there were shortcomings. We asked about some of the more specific aspects of their communication strategy with a view to highlight some of the more common mistakes. In primary schools in particular, senior leaders are very aware of how much room for growth there is, regarding their use of technology. Just 5 per cent believe that they are fully utilising what is available, and 42 per cent indicate that they have a long way to progress. When we analyse which channels are actually in use, these figures tell a very interesting story. Less than 40 per cent of schools make use of social media, one of the easiest to use and most effective channels of two-way communication, and less than 20 per cent use a school app allowing direct messaging. Email and text are heavily relied on as a means of communication, but they aren’t always the most personable means for parents. It can often feel like speaking to an unmanned inbox or phone number when replying to mass communications, particularly when compared to social media and direct messaging apps. The research, available for download on our website, www.groupcall.com, flagged up a number of areas that schools can target to improve their parental engagement along with a commentary on what the findings mean for the direction education could be taking in the future.


Of course, schools are all different, and what is a problem for one could well be a strength for others. We recommend hearing about what you can do directly from those most affected: the parents. Draw up a survey with your board of governors and use the information you receive to find the crux of the problem; review your emergency systems; draw up action plans; and most importantly, make sure to find the most cost-effective solution to your problems.


16 www.education-today.co.uk


Comment by FLEUR SEXTON, joint managing director, PET-Xi


Technology can help reduce the


attainment gap


School teachers all over the country will have begun the new academic year with a renewed sense of purpose and committed to working incredibly hard to help all their pupils to do their very best.


Yet despite the many years of hard work schools put in, the attainment gap between the very poorest children in England and their (non- disadvantaged) peers remains. The latest study from the Education Policy Institute suggests that the most disadvantaged pupils are more than two years behind their classmates when they sit their GCSEs. So among the five million plus teenagers who received their GCSE results last month, far too many disadvantaged young people will not have achieved a decent pass in English and maths - resulting in a future career path likely to be paved with poor outcomes.


Although the employment prospects of youngsters in the UK are slowly improving, there is still much to be done. The latest statistics on youth unemployment, published in the summer, show that 562,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in March-May 2017, about the same as the previous quarter. Although that is a pleasing 55,000 fewer than a year ago, there is still much to be done. Youth unemployment is costing the British economy £45bn per year, according to research from PwC, as well as of course being a personal disaster for the young people involved One thing which I feel could help these youngsters is a renewed focus on technology. Today’s school children and students are the first generation of true ‘digital natives’ – also known as ‘millennials’ - who have grown up with technology.


Spending much of their free time online messaging friends and playing games, this generation is completely at home in front of a screen. So it’s vital that as teachers we capitalise on this love of technology and use it to reach out to them on their terms. Technology helps to take the fear out of learning because it is a platform with which they already feel at ease. They are more likely to be interested in learning if they can use their phones, computers and iPads in school.


Integrating technology into the classroom is particularly useful in addressing the needs of disengaged pupils. Working with children to overcome their barriers to learning and development involves trying all sorts of different approaches to teaching. A kinaesthetic style is often most successful for disengaged learners who don’t like listening to or following orders, but who learn best when doing something physical or practical – such as on a computer.


I also welcome the fact that Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) training is now available in schools. These qualifications are globally recognised and improve employability for students by validating their skills in Excel, Word and PowerPoint, which then helps them to progress towards their career goals. The Key Stage 4 learners who receive MOS Office Suite training can achieve a GCSE A* to C equivalent for this valuable vocational qualification, which is used by employers to validate the proficiency of their employees in computing skills.


I think all of us working in education need to get right behind initiatives like this and work to make sure our children are well prepared for the world of work. Vocational education and training can be key to taking that first step on the employment ladder.


September 2017


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