Gerald Haigh, independent writer to Microsoft took a visit to Blatchington Mill School, down in Hove to see their work on SharePoint and parental engagement. Here in his own words details his trip.

I took the opportunity recently to visit Blatchington Mill School and Sixth Form College, a very large (1800 students 11 – 18) comprehensive in Hove, to renew contact with Assistant Head Mark Leighton. I wanted to talk to him about the school’s longstanding work with Microsoft SharePoint and particularly his plans for migrating to SharePoint 2010.

Mark Leighton Blatchington Mill School (3)

 

Mark’s done excellent work at Blatchington Mill over several years, using SharePoint as the preferred basis upon which to build and develop Blatchington Mill School (BMS) Portal – an integrated platform for handling communication, information and resources. Though clearly a whole school environment for learning, the portal is also very much a response to requests from parents for good online access to information. Now, as well as the government defined basic data on attendance, attainment and reporting (through embedding Capita' SIMS Learning Gateway inside the BMS Portal) parents can find, in their own section of the portal, information on supporting their child, for example, teaching materials, lesson topics and schedules, assignments and test dates, revision materials and a personal online homework diary maintained by their child’s teachers. They can also view colour coded progress charts for each child in each subject they study, tracking their journey through a key stage towards their ultimate target grades.

The BMS Portal began life in SharePoint 2003, then moved to SharePoint 2007 and when I visited the school, at the start of the 2011 summer holidays, the latest version, “BMS 360” was nearing completion in SharePoint 2010.

All the proven key features, as you’d expect, are maintained in the new version, but now there’s an even more attractive home page with log in access for the community, students, parents, staff and governors.

Parents, in particular, will be pleased by what they find. Up to now it’s been up to teachers to make curriculum information available on the parent portal. Now, though, from, September, parents will find that they can click straight through to the school’s curriculum subject sites on the same terms as the students.

“For example if a parent wants to see what their Year Eight child is doing in maths, there’s a link in the parent portal taking them straight to the maths curriculum site. They can see current topics, revision materials, what kind of testing is planned. And that’s the result of a direct request by parents.” – Mark Leighton

There’s always been a real effort at Blatchington Mill to keep parents coming back to the portal, and there’s no doubt that providing easy access into the heart of the curriculum is going to be a real driver for increased engagement.

As the latest version of Capita’s Sims Learning Gateway is also being installed into the new BMS 360 over the summer, the total effect should be a considerably enhanced service to parents.

Development won’t stop there, though and a further step for Mark and his colleagues during the coming year is to make the already accessible basic MIS data more useful. “We want to rework it and analyse it for parents. What they tell us they want is more detail on progress and targets.”

As well as this there are plans to include parents in pastoral work individually with their children and tutors through the online system.

Paying attention to parents has been a priority at Blatchington Mill for some years. In 2009 the school was one of five featured in Microsoft parental engagement case studies, and Mark Leighton’s work with Sims Learning Gateway is also frequently referenced by Capita.

In that 2009 Microsoft case study, Blatchington Mill’s head, Janet Felkin said  “An effective home-school partnership is essential to a child’s achievement in the classroom.”

(At the last Ofsted inspection, in Spring 2010, the school was judged “outstanding” on engagement with parents and carers.)

There’s no doubt that the school is still driven by that principle, which is why Mark Leighton will be working during the summer to ensure that SharePoint 2010 can provide an even better than usual “back to school” experience for parents and students.

A schools blog post  in August 2010 discusses parental engagement issues and provides links to the five MS parental engagement case studies, both video and pdf.

You can see Mark Leighton in this Capita parental engagement video