I’ve been reading Becta’s “Exploiting ICT to improve parental engagement, moving towards online reporting” document today. The first page filled me with enthusiasm:
” Parents we consulted over the last six months all said they wanted to be more involved in their children’s education. And schools see the benefits of greater engagement with parents. We know from schools around the country that if families are going to be involved really effectively, they need a good two-way flow of information – a channel which is more efficient and more frequent than a once a year written report, or a letter home when there is a problem or a cause for celebration. And today I can announce we are taking important steps to use technology to bring all parents even more into the picture.”
Jim Knight, Minister of State for Schools and Learners
BETT show, 9th January 2008
Cool, Jim gets it!
But the rest of the document is talking about “providing a convenient way for parents to access up-to-date information about their child’s learning.” This latter statement fits in closer with what I’m hearing from schools, who pretty much unanimously think that what they’re being told to buy is a “parent portal”, something that involves getting “behaviour, assessment and attendance” data out of their MIS system.
Where’s the two-way flow of information? I guess a few committed parents will pick up the ‘phone more, send a few e-mails, but it’s going to be the minority. To be honest, I’m sure a good number will play with the portal quite a bit for a short while, there’ll be some wonderful statistics coming out from schools almost instantly. But after a couple of months the novelty will wear off, and with the exception of a handful of those committed parents it will slide quietly away.
What makes me so sure?
Let’s look at the outstanding success of Facebook. How long would the novelty have lasted if all folks could do was add status information and pictures about themselves for others to see? A week? A month? It is the ability to comment on other people’s status’, to leave messages on their wall, to leave those always funny comments underneath the embarrassing photographs of your work colleagues. It’s the two-way flow of information that makes this work. There are plenty of other examples, too – where would Twitter be without the @reply?
So where does that leave us? Well online reporting is undeniably a positive step forward. The “behaviour, assessment and attendance” data is useful, although to be honest it won’t do anything to “engage” parents, all it really does is arm them with a stick if things aren’t going so well – shouldn’t parents be given the tools to encourage and support their child’s education? More useful, perhaps, would be access to the learning resources that your child has for the current week, although this doesn’t appear to be mentioned anywhere – at least you could help with your kids homework, and get a better understanding of what they’re working on. You’d be able to engineer more than a grunt when asking your kids what they did you do at school today! It might even be enough to get a conversation going at the dinner table. So, online reporting PLUS access to the learning resources, homework diaries, etc. is the information that’s needed to start a conversation off. It’s the Facebook equivalent of that picture of your boss on Facebook, drunk at a party – it gets the conversation started…
But there doesn’t appear to be any mention of the actual “engagement” part. Online Reporting is NOT the same as Parental Engagement. With the growing phenomenon of social networking sweeping the globe, you’d have thought that someone might have realised that “engagement” is going to need a lot more than a bit of one way reporting and the offer of a teacher’s e-mail address.
Now if there was such a thing as a Facebook for schools that wrapped all this stuff together, combining the addictive communication systems of Facebook with the attendance and behaviour stuff from the school’s MIS system, and the learning resources and plans from the Learning Platform, now that would be something pretty special…