By Bob Harrison
Research shows that children achieve more highly when their parents talk to them about their experience of school and learning. However, a recent Becta report showed that 82 per cent of parents felt left in the dark when it comes to their child's schooling.

Scholabra is an easy to use web-based system for enabling parents and schools to communicate and it's proving a hit with teachers and parents at Lostock College, an 11-16 secondary school in Trafford, Manchester.

Head of ICT at Lostock, Vicky Nuttall, has been using Scholabra since February to gauge demand from parents wanting to have more and better information about their child’s progress at school.

“As a parent myself I know how difficult it is to get information from your children with the traditional 'What have you been doing at school today?' question and the inevitable response of 'Nowt!'” said Vicki. “With Scholabra parents have access to real-time information on their children's progress.

“Initial feedback from parents is very positive and the Scholabra log-on and environment is parent friendly and not intimidating.”

Government ICT Agency Becta, has this to say on the issue of reporting to parents: “Online reporting means parents are able to have secure online access to information on their child’s progress, achievement, attendance and behaviour. It enables parents to get closer to and support their child’s learning, enabling them to work with you as equal partners in improving learning outcomes for their child. This can be achieved through the effective use of established management information systems, without increasing the workload of teaching staff.”

As well as parental engagement other features of scholabra include events, homework, appointments, and planners.

“Because of  open source and software like scholabra I am beginning to ask why we would need an expensive VLE [virtual learning environment],“ said Vickie. "From my experience of learning platforms it is trying to fit a size 10 child into a size 6 jumper, and rather than a 'platform' they can be more of a 'straightjacket'."

Expectations for online reporting were communicated to schools in June 2008 through a letter from Jim Knight, (former) Minister of State for Schools and Learners (they are linked to plans outlined in the Children’s Plan). The letter points out that ‘the focus should be on arrangements that are manageable in school, effective for staff and meaningful for parents focusing on the quality of information rather than the quantity’.

Lostock College has made real progress in the last few years and, according to a recent OFSTED report, is now a good school and is “particularly effective at monitoring its performance and the progress made by the pupils”.

Now the parents at Lostock College are finding out how their children are progressing  and can actively support their children’s progress thanks to Vicky Nuttall and the Scholabra software.


More information

Government ICT Agency Becta is planning a series of  free conferences on the issue of online parental engagement to support schools in meeting their statutory duties which come into force later this year and you can book a place here.
Becta has also produced a helpful toolkit on using ICT to improve parental engagement, and recently published an online reporting pack.
There are strong links between the online parental engagement initiative and the Home Access programme which is ensuring no family is left behind in the digital developments in education.

Bob HarrisonBob Harrison is an education consultant who works with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services (and a contributor to its Future website), the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) and Toshiba UK. You can read his blog on the Futurelab Flux website. He runs Support for Education and Training.

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