I was at Capita’s SIMS Annual Conference in Nottingham in June, talking about the future of technology, and how it will impact the workplace over the next decade. I’ve been invited to give this presentation at a wide range of conferences this summer, partly because it is one way of thinking about the world that we’re preparing students for (especially as the majority of students starting a new secondary school this September will be joining the workforce in a decade). Of course, talking to a conference full of people who deal with masses of real student data every day is a little intimidating, as many of the concepts for the future are based on emerging trends, rather than empirical data, but I think I got away with it…

Unfortunately I could only make it to the second day of the event, and Gerald Haigh (who was there the whole time) told me I’d missed a great story from a primary school, where they’d spoken about how they were using the SIMS Learning Gateway (which is based on SharePoint) to enhance parental engagement.

Here’s Gerald’s summary of what I missed:

Ray missed Harry Weightman’s Conference presentation. Harry’s head of Easington Colliery Primary in County Durham, and he’s top value at any conference. I feel great affinity with him. He’s a Northerner, a primary head, as I once was, and very much in tune with his children and his community as I tried to be. And like me, he’s a person of a certain age trying hard to keep up with technology. So when he speaks, I sit up, ready to learn.

The point about Harry, though, is that he talks not about technology or statutory obligations, but about people – children, teachers, TAs, parents. And he speaks of them with real familiarity and affection. He illustrated his talk at the SIMS Conference with some video clips that make the complete case for online parental engagement. All of the talk to camera, by teachers and parents, is about real children in the classroom, and I’m pretty sure that I only once caught the word ‘data’. You can view the clips here.

Take parents Barbara Archer and Kristian Burnett for example, in clips 3 and 4.

imageYou’ll notice there are slightly different takes on engagement on show here, reminding us that there’s really no such thing as a homogeneous group called “parents”. Barbara Archer is your typical juggling working mum, diverting into the Learning Gateway on her laptop at work when a gap opens up in a meeting.

“I can suddenly tap in if we’ve got five minutes free and I can have a little look and see what mischief or what good points are coming up….It means I feel a lot closer to what’s going on in their daily life. It really works for me.”

Then there’s Kristian Burnett, the archetypal proud dad, whose bursting enthusiasm and love for his six year old daughter shines from the screen. “She’s reading, she feels proud, and I can give her a little treat.”

By choosing Barbara and Kristian to showcase his Learning Gateway – cheerily informal, and focused on their children’s overall well being in school rather than solely on the minutiae of their performance -- Harry demonstrates his own values and priorities. For their part, though, Barbara and Kristian, are clear that they don’t just want a one-way relationship with the school. Both say they want to be able to feed comments back, perhaps in quite simple terms to start with.

“Then at least the school could feel that we are using it and not just reading it,” says Barbara Archer.

Harry Weightman strongly agrees, but believes that the feedback issue isn’t straightforward.

“The picture that’s emerging is that various feedback channels are needed. For example there’s the obvious one where the parent wants to respond back to a particular person. Then there’s the more general type about a broader issue in school, and we need to signpost to parents who are the key people to approach about particular areas of school life and work.”

What particularly interests him, though, is the growing call for a feedback route that, as he puts it, “bypasses the school and is parent to parent.”

What he means, of course, is the parent forum, where, says Harry, “They can contact each other and say, ‘I haven’t a clue how we can make this Roman fort, can anybody help.”

And the great advantage of using SharePoint, of course, is that all these features are well within technical reach, and will emerge as parental engagement evolves.

Finally in his conference presentation, Harry reminded the audience of not just his priorities, but of the reason why we’re all doing the jobs that we do, by showing us a clip in which young Jordan explains how the SIMS Learning Gateway works. (Clip 5)

Jordan’s sign-off, I fancy, raised more than just a laugh. Did I detect a sense of guilt among the educators in the room when he said?

“It’s a good invention. They should do it more often for more schools. They should have thought of it earlier.”


You can find out more about the SIMS Learning Gateway on the Capita Children’s Services website.

imageQuickly find all the other Learning Gateway posts on this blog