Transforming parental engagement with a Parent Portal

Written by admin

Topics: Education, Parents

Now that I am on the train back home I thought that I would take the time to reflect on the session that Iain Williams and I delivered at the FROG conference yesterday, looking at how technology can shape transformational change with respect to how parents can engage in, and support, the education of their children. Unfortunately our time was cut short during the session, so I wanted to make sure that I spent some time here giving some flavour of the type of activity that can be developed and extended to engage with more parents.

For me, the online experience that parents need to have with school needs to be based on those that are positive and possibly more important, supportive of their child in an educational context. The ways that schools engage with parents using technology cover two broad dynamics – activities that focus on interaction and and those that focus on communication. I’m going to start with the latter as successful strategies adopted here will lead to enhanced parental interaction with the school.

Parent portals, where parents have their own credentials and virtual space, access to personalised information about their children can be extremely effective, as I will elude to later, but the major barrier and challenge for schools to overcome is that this technology when looked at discretely, is a pull technology. Effective dissemination of information and engagement in the education agenda is reliant on the parent make a conscious decision to log on to the system and retrieve information. This may be all well and good for those parents who are inherently supportive of their children and already have good relationships with the school. But what about those parents who need more guidance in terms of setting expectations and supporting their child effectively? In an ideal world I believe the best approach is a blend of push and pull technologies.

Pull technologies are those that require more effort from a parental perspective as they often require the parent to undertake a number of key actions to get the information. In contrast, push technologies are more ‘in your face’ with content being delivered in a more direct fashion to the parent. However, these often need setting up in the first instance – cue the all important face to face sessions with parents. I think the key is to use pull technologies to get the all important information to stimulate interactions between the parent and school, parent and home. But using push technologies to make parents aware of the need to log on and check for information in the first instance.

So, what kind of technologies lead to schools effectively covering the bases with their parent community?

Email – use your MIS to collate and manage your parental email addresses. From this various mailing/distribution lists can be created to enable target groups to be reached with relative ease. The flip side of this is that the school is introducing another tier of data to manage within the organisation. The data is only as good as that provided by parents, if they do not inform the school of changes then the system falls down. Again, it is about the school setting clear expectations. Many schools are moving towards giving their parents a discrete email account on their own systems for parents to use. Obviously there is a need for an effective AUP and clear guidance on how the service should be used, but parents still have to make a conscious decision to log on – if doing this they could easily log on to the parent portal. So really, we need to use systems that parents already use within their normal day to day lives – their own email accounts, rather than yet another one given to them by the school?

Mobile Apps – the process of creating mobile applications is becoming more mainstream and user friendly, allowing schools with relatively little experience in development the opportunity to create fairly simple, yet effective apps. These make it very easy for parents to start engaging with school as they just need to run the app. The simplest apps are merely feed aggregators that could pull together a schools Facebook presence, twitter and YouTube channel for example. These make for a very straightforward, robust and reliable vehicle for the delivery of content to parents and students alike.

Social Media – both Facebook and twitter can be used effectively to get information out to parents. The schools twitter feed also has it’s own RSS feed that can be very effective when used appropriately. However, many parents need educating as to how to get the most out of the mobile technologies that they own (see paragraph below on training). Crux of this approach is that parents need to be told about and enticed to engage with these social technologies in the first place.

It is clear that for any/all approaches to work parents need to be trained and supported to ensure that they understand the schools expectations on how to get the most out of their learning partnership with the school. Support sessions for parents are crucial in achieving this and really need to instigated at point of entry into the school. This is a prime window for the school to shape the aspirations of parents and set clear expectations as to how parents should be working with the school.

Strategies to support this:

  • Undertake a precise audit of parents focusing on: what parents want to be able to access online (drive questions away from just focusing on data), what technologies they have access to – computers at home,broadband, mobile phone types etc…..
  • Make sure that the school keeps the balance between electronic communications and face time with parents
  • Parental sessions to clearly articulate the schools vision in terms of how they expect parents to support their childrens education.
  • Run focused sessions for parents on how to access social media, set up RSS feeds coming in to their phones I.e. Pump priming


From a parents perspective it is all about getting the right information, in the right format and at the right time so that it becomes useful information to help the parent support child. All parents should be able to evaluate attendance, current effort, attitude, behaviour as well as performance. But the challenge to schools lies in (a) how best to present the data (b) explaining what the data means so that parents can turn it into useful information (c) showing trends.

Example of assessment data within FROG

Student report data presented to parents within FROG

It is important that parents are fully aware about how targets are set in the first instance (why not put a short video together that explains how targets are set in your school) and how often data is updated. What level of progress students are expected to make. Make sure that you explain attendance data and have secured your expectations on what good attendance is. Many schools are starting to equate school absence % over a longer time frame and use this to demonstrate the impact on learning and attainment. Schools need to bear in mind that the way in which data is presented needs to be accessible by all parents so think about the format and language that is used.

It is important that parents are able to see trends so that they are in a position to be pro-active and intervene at an earlier opportunity. An important job of the school is shaping an expectation as to how often parents should be logging on to to check the progress of their children. Schools need to approach this with a word of caution, as some parents can use this data in a destructive rather than supportive way with their children at home.

I have also had a think about some other areas that schools may like to explore when developing their parent portal. Successful parent portals help to build closer and stronger relationships between the home and school, allow parents to interact in different ways and add value to the home school partnership.

  • Virtual tour of the school – access to school maps. Generally schools are generally poorly signposted for those that do not know the site. Why not put something on the portal to support parents so they feel more confident when coming into school
  • Online galleries – parents love to see the work of their children being showcased. Why not set up a virtual art gallery and enhance it through allowing parents to make comments about the work they are seeing. There are some good AfL opportunities here
  • Use of discussion forums to support student learning – Why not have shared forums that parents can use alongside their children to enrich their learning experiences. This is something that the RE department at Costello Technology College is looking at this year. They often use the forums on FROG to set inquiry based learning, for example – this year they set a homelearning piece to the whole of Y8 – Who is your inspiration and why. Some 280 posts and 1400 reads later this activity was completed. What if parents could also respond and students broaden their horizons by taking these into consideration too? Empowering stuff
  • Use of discussion forums to support parents with school – a place for parents to talk to each other, a forum that parents can use to engage with each department if they have specific questions. The great thing about this approach is that each public discussion thread may support other parents that have the same question so a large knowledge base can build over time.
  • Create digital rich publications (newsletter) using services such as Yudu – reduces costs as well as enhancing the quality of publications by having images in full colour, video and audio.
  • Publishing the homework timetable for parents – Modern timetable dynamics create complex and personalised HW timetables, why not publish it to parents electronically so they can support their children in organising their home learning.
  • The obvious access to data – but make sure it is follows the data guidelines above
  • Parents engaging with learning – parents access community learning opportunities online
  • Supporting the parent to support the child – Publish all homelearning tasks to parents along with all supporting resources. Even create parent specific support resources that they can use to create shared learning time with their children as they work on things together. Have an area that parents can go to for support if they are feeling frustrated when trying to support their children. E.g. putting Maths ‘how to’ videos online so parents are kept up to date with how Maths is taught. It’s all about empowering parents to be in a position to support their children when the going gets tough.
  • Have departmental pages that parents can use to keep up to date with the curriculum that is delivered in each area. Links out to exam specifications and useful revision websites. Schemes of work accessible to parents for all years
  • Make sure that parents can access various calendars, including the all important examination timetable. Have a discussion forum that parents share with the examinations officer
  • , resources attached to activities, video’s to support curriculum, access to teachers, family learning activities
  • Parents engaging with school improvement – shape the portal so that parents can interface more effectively with SLT – share elements of the SDP.
  • Booking of parent evening appointments through an online system – also makes it easy for teachers to generate lists
  • Have lots of other hooks that encourage parents to use the portal – e.g. a whole section in digital parenting that unpicks social networking, security settings etc….
  • Set up a wiki within the portal that can act as an FAQ section for parents
  • Signposting of other relevant services
  • Parents involved in afl activities – reviewing work of students. Adding value to learning through forums etc…
  • Tapping into expertise – registering skills with school through the use of online forms. This is an effective way of furthering business links and WRL visits into school to help raise aspirations and provide curriculum enrichment
  • Online training – why not put a short video together that takes parents on a virtual tour of your portal. This can help with familiarisation and help set expectations. There are many other opportunities too
  • Give them access to other services you may have, such as IAMLearning. The IAMLearning widget in FROG allows parents to see and engage in all learning content but to run reports on their children so they can see how they are progressing.
  • Give the PTA their own space that they can manage independently of school staff
  • Have an ongoing parent focus group that you use to keep parental engagement on the whole school agenda

More from me on this topic soon.

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