Is it time to ditch the parent texts?

Parental engagement is massive when it comes to things outside of the school gates that positively influence a child’s outcome.  School leaders know this, Ofsted know this, in fact anyone who works with children knows this.

The problem is, how do schools engage parents more whilst having less money?

The Department for Education ‘review of best practice in parental engagement’ suggests using ICT technology such as text messaging alongside traditional newsletters – the only problem being this was written back in 2011 when school budgets were healthy and smartphone ownership was around 35%.

Sending more text messages and printing more newsletters is not the answer to effectively increasing parental engagement in 2017, put simply schools do not have the money and parents expect more than 140 characters.  

Technology has evolved since 2011, text messages have been replaced by push notifications or app alerts and for good reason.  A school app such as SchoolCal allows schools to send unlimited messages, pictures and documents.

The right school app is a hub for parents, a place they can find information that relates to their child alongside whole school news.  SchoolCal is proven to help schools who were previously;

  • spending too much on communicating with parents (either by text message or printed letters home),
  • having problems getting parents to visit their website for information,
  • limited by their budget on what information they could send out to parents.

Our SchoolCal App is proven to engage parents, save money and reduce calls into the office.  Schools and parents love how easy our app is to use and we are proud of our testimonials.    

To discuss how we are enabling schools to communicate more whilst spending less, please get in touch or schedule a call at a time to suit you. 

20 things to do before you’re 12, in search of a balanced education


Schools can try these activities with their pupils to bring about a broader education that raises the aspirations of disadvantaged children

Not all hobbies are accessible to pupils – the pursuit of many activities are limited to those who can afford the admission fees and transport costs of getting to a particular location.

Schools legitimately use the pupil premium to pay for disadvantaged children to do things that they would not otherwise afford, recognising that their range of experiences is much narrower than their more fortunate peers.

The pupil premium should be used in pursuit of excellence and equity – and equity can mean levelling the playing field, improving the life chances of disadvantaged young people.

The narrowness of the lives of some children in this advanced country is astonishing. I once taught in a secondary school on a white working-class housing estate, where many of the children had not even been into their local city and had no idea how far it was to the next nearest city. Education is the only hope for broadening the experiences of these children and raising their aspirations beyond their immediate locality.

The same idea is behind the National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11 and three-quarters, the aim of which is to get young people engaging more in outdoor pursuits. The list includes climbing a tree, camping in the wild, damming a stream, tracking wild animals and canoeing down a river.

Unsurprisingly, schools that have carried out surveys of their 11-year-olds have found that, on average, disadvantaged children have done fewer of these activities than others.

Increasingly, however, as part of their pupil-premium work, schools have used the principle behind the National Trust list to produce lists of their own 30 or 40 or 50 things to do before 11¾ or 13¾, and have then used the pupil premium to enable all pupils to have this range of experiences.

This is not about taking the whole school to Alton Towers for a day out – it is much more important than that.

In pursuit of both excellence and equity, this is about schools giving children experiences that will underpin and expand their in-class education, increasing their range of skills and knowledge and giving children a richer tapestry on which to build.

Starting with some of the rural activities on the National Trust list, it is good for schools to draw up their own list – and then resource access to these things for children whose families cannot afford them.

With thanks to David Crossley of Whole Education, here’s a start for those drawing up a list for their school:

  1. See a play in a theatre
  2. Attend a professional concert
  3. Visit an art gallery
  4. Visit a museum
  5. Attend a sporting event in a big venue
  6. Do a 'backstage' tour at a sporting venue or theatre
  7. Paddle in the sea
  8. Visit London
  9. Visit the nearest big city
  10. Visit a factory
  11. Travel on a train
  12. Visit a national park
  13. Visit a farm and learn where our food comes from
  14. Go on an outdoor residential
  15. Climb a hill
  16. Make a speech
  17. Design a web page
  18. Do something that benefits others
  19. Learn from failure
  20. Go bird watching

Does your school have a list – and does it resource access to the activities?

Using the above list as a starting point, I encourage schools to make their own – one that’s age-appropriate and right for children and young people in their local community.

You can also reference this list of 100 things you should have done at school before the age of 11 – chosen by primary pupils.

John Dunford is chair of Whole Education, a former secondary head, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, and national pupil-premium champion. His book, The School Leadership Journey, was published in November 2016. He tweets as @johndunford

For more TES columns by John, visit his back catalogue

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook


Pastoral care and pupil matters


"It's perfect for Schools" User Interview

We caught up with Head of School at St Mary's Catholic Primary Academy, Vicky Minihane to discuss the impact SchoolCal has made with parents and governors.


Q. What did you do before using SchoolCal?

Communication was a bit of an issue, we have the school website, printed newsletters and also a text messaging service.  We found some parents wouldn’t visit the website regularly or see the letters and often forget about certain text messages.  

Thinking about it, we now save so much time and effort by using SchoolCal with everything in one place and have really reduced the amount we print.


Q. Did you have any concerns  before starting?

I’m not a massive IT person and as the main user of SchoolCal I wondered how I would cope however, it’s so easy to use, it’s perfect for schools.  I can even use SchoolCal on my mobile when i’m out on school trips.


Q. What would you say to another school about SchoolCal?

To be honest I think schoolcal is great, there’s no negatives really.  When another school recommends SchoolCal, you know it's good!


Q. Did you include Mum’s and Dad’s in the role out of SchoolCal?

We’ve included everyone, Mums, Dads and even some Grandparents on the odd occasion. One nice aspect is that we can engage separated families and keep Dads that might not be able to visit school during the week completely up to date.

We’ve also rolled out SchoolCal to include Governors.  One member of our Governing body is 82 years old and absolutely loves using SchoolCal.

Q. Have you recommended SchoolCal  to other schools?

I’m liaising with the Head of School at another primary, I think she is already sold on SchoolCal.

Parents want more voice in school policy

Parents' views are not considered enough over their children's education, according to a survey of parents.

More than eight out of 10 parents want to be consulted more, according to an annual survey from PTA UK, representing parents groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The biggest concern for parents was about bullying in school.

PTA UK head Emma Williams said: "Parents want to have a say in education."

"Many of the decisions made by government and schools affect parents one way or another, so it's only right that they should be able to contribute their views," said Ms Williams.

She said without proper engagement, parents would remain an "untapped resource" for schools.

Rising costs

According to the survey, almost half of parents did not expect the government to listen to them on school policy.

Bullying and cyber-bullying were the top issues where parents wanted schools to take action.

There were also concerns about the costs associated with school - with almost three-quarters saying parental payments were increasing for costs such as school trips and uniforms.

More than a third had been asked to make donations to school funds.

The parent-teacher organisations said the education system needed to pay closer attention to the views of parents on such issues of costs and funding.

"PTA UK calls on the government, education authorities and schools to redouble their efforts to involve and engage all parents," said Ms Williams.

Read on BBC website

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Bullying and cyberbullying Signs, symptoms and effects: NSPCC Guidance

It can be hard for adults, including parents, to know whether or not a child is being bullied. A child might not tell anyone because they're scared the bullying will get worse. They might think that they deserve to be bullied, or that it's their fault.

You can’t always see the signs of bullying. And no one sign indicates for certain that a child’s being bullied. But you should look out for:

  • belongings getting “lost” or damaged
  • physical injuries such as unexplained bruises
  • being afraid to go to school, being mysteriously 'ill' each morning, or skipping school
  • not doing as well at school
  • asking for, or stealing, money (to give to a bully)
  • being nervous, losing confidence, or becoming distressed and withdrawn
  • problems with eating or sleeping
  • bullying others.

Read more from the NSPCC website 

Parental engagement - the importance of keeping governors in the loop

From the quality of teaching and learning through to dealing with bullying the Ofsted parent feedback tool ParentView is a great way for governors to get a snapshot of what parents are thinking about the leadership of the school. 

The recent TES blog covers how the Chair of Governors for Burdette-Coutts and Townshend Foundation CE Primary School use their ParentView results to gage parent opinion. 

But how does your school keep governors informed of thecommunication you have with parents throughout the year?

With SchoolCal is it as simple as ticking a button to share newsletters, good news stories and results with directly governors.  This is a great way to keep governors informed of the regular parental engagement strategies you have in place while also engaging governors with school activities. 

find out with our FREE parental engagement calendar just how easy is it to keep parents and governors in the loop. 

Governring bodies can also use SchoolCal to ask parents questions, raise the profile of how they support the schools and share whole school and individual staff achievements.

FREE School Parental Engagement Calendar


Access our FREE School Parental Engagement Calendar.

Jam packed with key dates, ideas and tips to support parental engagement across your school. 

Looking for inspiration on what to include in your school newsletter?  We add new events to the calendar every month and deliver these straight to your inbox for you to share with parents and governors or even to add directly to your own School calendar.

Example calendar entry

More than a calendar 

SchoolCal is proven to reduce the number of calls in the office and cut the cost of communicating with parents  

SchoolCal customers can quickly share key dates, articles and tips with parents, governors and colleagues directly via SchoolCal Messenger

Read what SchoolCal means to the 100's of schools we support