Top tips to help build online communication portals for schools

Research detailing parents’ views of schools’ communications and the development of an online portal has been published.

The research was carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Improvement Service and SEEMiS Group to gauge demand for, and acceptance of, an online service to co-ordinate communications between schools and parents.

Overall, parents are positive about the idea of online portals, with focus groups suggesting more consistent online availability of information and services is desirable.


Portal priorities

During survey discussion groups, parents were split into two groups and asked to select the services/functions that they felt would be most useful as part of the online portal. Those commonly cited as being most useful to parents across the various groups were mostly administrative tasks/functions:

  • Booking parents’ evening
  • Applying for grants
  • Parental permission slips
  • Paying for trips, school meals etc.
  • Information on school trips and events
  • Secondary school parents also specified that being able to report their child’s absence from school online would be useful, as well as viewing their child’s attendance record.
  • Priorities went beyond administrative services and functions, although to a greater extent among secondary parents, and included accessing curriculum related information (i.e. viewing class timetables, homework and lesson plans), as they felt this would provide them with a greater understanding of what their child is learning at school


Ten ways to get a portal right

The report also contains a number of recommendations for the development and functionality of a parents’ portal.

During the research parents were asked to provide any recommendations or advice that they would have for those developing the system. The most common suggestions were:

  • Security: ensure that appropriate security measures and restrictions are in place, including a secure log-in system.
  • Consider the end user: make the system user-friendly and easy for parents to navigate otherwise it will simply not be used.
  • Pilot with parents: conduct a pilot to ensure that parents do in fact find the software easy to use. It would also help to identify any ‘bugs’/technical problems with the software before it is rolled out on a mass scale.
  • Have separate pupil access/log in: give pupils access but in a limited way with a separate log-in. N.B. This was in direct contrast to the feedback from the pupils who recommended the reverse (complete access to pupils and limited access to parents).
  • Use notifications: send a text notification system to inform/remind them that there is something parents should view (e.g. new class timetable or upcoming school event or trip).
  • Opt-in system: make the system voluntary, and give every parent the choice of whether to use it or not. This was frequently mentioned with reference to those who do not have access to the internet.
  • Sync to calendar system: create a function where key dates from the portal can be synced to the calendar on their mobile phone.
  • Revision: add information about exam revision – e.g. how much their child should be revising during study leave/what they should be revising.
  • Include a parent council section: include a link or a section of the portal where parents can get information about their school’s Parent Council.

You can download the full report or the summary findings by clicking the links.

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