Rant: UK gov blind to digitised schools


Geoff Jones, marketing director of ParentMail, the communications provider for schools, gives his view on the governments’ consideration of a ‘new’ concept for online school management and parent communication system. Oh, wait…


At the end of last month, the government announced that education secretary Nicky Morgan will be looking at new proposals to allow parents to use mobiles to do things like submit permission slips for school trips, or pay for school meals. Yet while it is great that the government now recognises the importance of services like these, they have in fact already been in place for years and are not a ‘new’ idea.

ParentMail has been providing its communication services since 2001 to over 6,000 schools and four million parents. We’ve seen mobile technology play an increasingly important role in home-school communication. This is why ParentMail provides a mobile app to allow parents to pay for things like school dinners and send permission forms back to school.

Out of touch government

It seems incredible that the government would not already be aware of the fact that this scheme is already in place in schools across the country. School leaders have known for years that there is a shift in the way that parents communicate and digest relevant information. For decades, parents have been battling against permission slips being sandwiched between textbooks at the bottom of bags, only to be excavated three months too late. It’s time to move on from relying on children and paper messages to get things done.

People today are used to accessing key information on the go. The majority of people own a mobile, and the percentage of those who own smartphones is only on the rise. Accessing email or online data on the go is rapidly becoming the norm. For example, all mainstream banks offer access to online banking, and the majority have apps which allow its users to manage their finances on the go. If something as important as banking can be done at the touch of the button, surely having the same system for managing school/parent communication online is only the natural step forward?

Surprise surprise…

The announcement of proposals for such a system to be considered came as a surprise to me for two reasons. Firstly, that the government has not thought about using digital communication to make the lives of parents and teachers easier sooner, and secondly, that they seemingly didn’t realise that there were companies already doing this successfully across the country!

I have always liked to believe that those in the education secretary’s office would have been in touch with what was already happening in schools, or would have at least done a little research about what was already on the market fulfilling this need. To pay for a designer to create an app like this would be an unnecessary use of taxpayers money, when there is already a successful resource available designed to help bridge the gap between home and school, making the lives of parents easier.

However, I am glad to see that the government is showing an interest in utilising this side of technological progress for the benefit of parents. Having involvement from the government will certainly make it easier for schools to stay in touch with parents, and consequently allow them to build a better parent-teacher relationship.

Beating bullies

One of the idea’s being considered, however, is of an app to let children report bullying. This is interesting, and as far as I know, unique. It would allow them to get the help they need without having to speak face to face with teachers, something which is nerve-wracking for children in that situation. These are the sorts of ideas which show how a collaboration between the government and companies such as ParentMail could have a positive impact on schools, learning, teaching and pupil wellbeing. By working together to share ideas, while using a pre-existing platform, we would be better positioned to provide the best possible service for parents and get this service out there quickly.

Using technology to allow communication between home and school to become simple, open and, most importantly, a natural part of a pupil’s education, all involved parties are becoming proactively engaged in that child’s learning experience. This is key to making sure that children flourish at school, and are given the best possible opportunities to succeed. Over 70% of ParentMail’s users now access their account though their mobile phone. That is why ParentMail has recently invested in creating and launching the new mobile user friendly interface, allowing parents to access their information quickly and easily on the go.

If we want to be able to keep up with the busy lives of parents, then we have to be proactive in making sure they are doing their utmost to make things simple: at least it’s good to know Nicky Morgan and I are on the same page!


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