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  • Al Kingsley explains the role of EdTech in fostering parental engagement during remote education and beyond…

Every primary school aspires to good parental engagement.

It’s a well-evidenced fact that the more involved parents and carers are in their children’s learning, the more effective that learning will be. It goes even further, with positive benefits on pupils’ behaviour, motivation, attendance and achievement – and a parent’s engagement with their first child’s learning extends to benefits for siblings, too.

Digital unlocks the door

EdTech has a really important role to play in parental engagement and, in many senses, the ability to create a digital connection with all parents and carers – the hard-to-reach group included – can be easier than trying to encourage face-to-face interaction at the school gate or within the classroom.

As we know, with the complete change to the education landscape over the last year, parents of primary age children have had to take on a much more active role in educating them and supporting their learning at home. It hasn’t been easy. Nor has it been for staff, who have had to adapt with lightning speed to delivering lessons, activities and resources online, as well as remaining in the classroom to teach vulnerable and key workers’ children. However, a valuable lesson they have learned in terms of technology is that ‘less is more’. They have found that becoming familiar with just a couple of EdTech tools for teaching and learning and then using them to their full capability is much more productive than using multiple solutions for different activities.

Keeping learning support simple

This idea of keeping it simple extends to parents supporting learning at home, too. If parents and carers are juggling all the balls of trying to work remotely, supervise more than one child’s schoolwork, cook, clean, look after relatives and so on, making access to online resources for learning needs to be easy as possible or it simply will not happen. Primary teachers have understood this well and have therefore used EdTech in its simplest forms during periods of home schooling, for example, by sharing resources directly from their school website or uploading videos of stories and activities to YouTube for parents and children to watch together.

For families struggling to get themselves and/or each child online during normal school hours, technology means that the learning resources supplied by the class teacher can be used and accessed at different times. Providing this flexibility lifts the burden of having to be online for school at a set time (impossible for those sharing a device anyway) and allows the parents and children to better engage with the activities perhaps later in the day, the evening or at the weekend, when there is less pressure and more time to explore the resources and exemplars teachers have sent out together. Having these as prompts to talk about what is being learned is really valuable for parents. It allows them to engage with and support their child as they learn – involving them to a greater degree than if their child were in school.

As education professionals, teachers know the best ways to ensure pupils are gaining skills and achieving, using their expertise to cater for learners across the entire spectrum of ability. For example, SEND children in the classroom are often supported by a teaching assistant and they will most likely not have the attention span to sit for three or four hours in front of a computer at home (as per the Government’s remote learning guidance) to follow activities and tasks. Therefore, teachers sending out learning content that is broken into smaller units and can be consumed over a period of time will often be much more accessible for these learners and their parents.

Go to where parents are already

Social media is a valuable tool for schools, not just because of its widespread use but also because it can help to give its users a voice that they may not feel they have the right to use in person – and this could easily apply to some parents. With millions of people using it each and every day, it is technology that parents are both familiar and comfortable with.

Schools can capitalise on this by choosing dedicated EdTech apps with a communication element that prompt and support conversations between parents and teachers; ones that parents will find intuitive to use because they are modelled on familiar technology. So, for example, if a school uses a dedicated app to record pupils’ achievements in the classroom that then allows them to share that success with parents, even if the parent simply replies, ‘That’s great!’, then the door to greater engagement has been opened. Even short exchanges can help create a sense of pride in a child’s achievement, a positive experience for everyone that forms the basis for further communication.

Parents’ evenings

The time teachers most want to talk with parents and carers is at parents’ evenings and, of course, during the duration of Covid-19 face-to-face meetings have not been possible. However, there are digital tools that schools are now using to allow meetings to be delivered virtually.

This offers a number of benefits. From the school’s perspective, it allows the evening to be measured with fixed times for each parent, prevents appointments from running over and ensures concise and clear sessions with each one. And for parents, using technology solutions means they can still talk to their child’s teacher, wherever they are, and they will know exactly how long it will take.

Much of the feedback from schools is that these virtual sessions are actually reaching more parents and are preferred by some, as they feel they’re having a more private conversation than they typically would if they were sitting at a group of tables in the school sports hall, for example.

Beyond lockdown

What can we learn about fostering parental engagement during this time of remote education that we can take forward into more normal times?

Having found success with easy-to-access resources for parents and pupils from school websites and YouTube, schools will hopefully bring these into play for snow days and holiday revision sessions and the like, so that teaching and learning can continue uninterrupted and any potential loss of learning is minimised.

When schools are choosing new EdTech to implement, such as social-media-style apps for observing skills in the classroom, I think they will be more mindful of considering the parental part of the equation and how easy they will be for parents to use to support and contribute to their child’s learning journey.

And let’s not forget social media itself as a tool to support connection and conversation. Until now, some schools have hesitated to embrace it fully, perhaps put off by its immediacy. But WhatsApp and Facebook are heavily accessed by parents, so, with careful use and good digital safety policies in place, this is a logical way to reach out.

At the heart of encouraging digital parental engagement is enabling them to do so easily. However, after supporting their own children’s education themselves, many parents now have a new-found respect for the job that teachers do and it is likely that this in itself will prompt a higher level of communication, at least for a while, giving schools the chance to develop those valuable connections and build on them for the future.

Useful advice

Tips for successful use of technology to engage parents in their child’s learning:

  • Make it easy for parents to become involved and invested in their child’s education by choosing simple, intuitive technology solutions to communicate and share achievements.
  • Minimise digital barriers by requiring parents to only use one or two carefully chosen edtech apps for communication, alongside regular social media.
  • Maximise your school’s social media use and go to where the parents are. Parents use it all the time and understand it well. Even if you don’t hear back from everyone in a Facebook class group, it’s likely that they will read messages and at least remain informed.
  • Use a variety of messaging media. It’s easy to upload text notices to your website, however, video messages can speak directly to every parent and may also be easier for those with English as an additional language to understand

Al Kingsley is Chair of two MATs (as both a Trustee and Member), Chair of his local Governors’ Leadership Group, and is a member of the Regional Schools Commissioners’ Head Teacher Board for North London and the South East. You can connect with him on Twitter at @AlKingsley_Edu.

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