Last year we worked with the DCSF and a group of schools to record their stories of parental engagement, and what they were doing to build a stronger relationship with parents in their school community.

As well as the written case studies on three secondary schools (Blatchington Mill School, Monkseaton High School and Twynham School) and two primary schools (Hawes Side Primary School and Clunbury C.E. Primary School), each school made two videos – in the first they talk about what they did, and in the second, how they did it.

You can find all of the case studies and videos on our Engaging With Parents webpage

And, of course, one of the discoveries is that behind every technology driven process, there’s an awful lot of manual processes that need to be cleaned up first! Gerald Haigh has been talking to schools about some of the very practical day-to-day issues of linking parents into your learning platform or Learning Gateway:

Organise your parent contacts before you try to engage them online.

How many contacts do you have on your phone? Do you look at any of them and think, ‘Did I ever know this person? Who is it?’ Are any of them on there two or three times, once with a first name, once with an initial, once under their business name? And if so are the phone numbers the same each time? Do you sometimes think, ‘Must tidy up these contacts when I have a bit of time.’

Well, maybe you’re much more organised than that, but my guess is you at least recognise the problem. If so, you’ll also see why, when it comes to connecting parents with your school online, you might just need to do a bit of housekeeping on the family contact data. My recent conversations with teachers and network managers about parental engagement have made me very aware of this.

Your school necessarily keeps a record of each child’s parents or carers, and often a list of other contacts for when the top ones aren’t answering. (Some of these are marginally useful, “If mum out, ring Tesco and ask for Margaret”) They are captured when a child enters the school and updated perhaps by an annual letter home. But is the list accurate and up to date? Especially in a big school where more than one person might enter contact details, and brothers and sisters join the school at different times, they can end up each with separate, slightly different contact details. Let that slide, and it becomes a problem when the time comes to identify who is to have password access to their children’s data.

Tidying up the data is relatively simple, but it needs to be done and it’s also an opportunity to ensure that everything’s up to date – phone numbers, addresses. One school I spoke to found during this process that a quarter of their parental contact phone numbers were out of date. That’s the kind of thing that goes unnoticed until a child’s waiting for an ambulance, and someone is trying to raise mum or dad on the phone.

Probably the most sensitive part of the shared data is that on behaviour. Here, too, it’s common to discover that schools have had to do some housekeeping before making the information parent-accessible. As a parent you’d be taken aback to log on and read about, for the first time, a serious issue that you’d expect to have been consulted about in person. Then there’s the contentious business of mentioning the names of other children. An entry on John Jones’s record like, “Had a fight with Chris Smith in Year 8” clearly can’t go out to Mr and Mrs Jones without the Smiths knowledge. So again, it’s either a cleaning up exercise, followed by staff CPD, or a fresh start with no access to historic data.

If you’re going to tackle this, or help your SIMS Administrator to do so, then there’s an Edugeek thread, “Siblings in SIMS”, from last year that describes the data cleanup problem exactly (It’s worth reading before you get started, so at least you know that it’s not just you…)