Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

To infinity and beyond...

astronaught using a laptop

Schools and colleges could not function without technology for adminis trative activities and data management, but what about for learning and parental engagement? Online reporting to parents is a start, but it should go even further, argues Mike Briscoe.

So, we hear that technology is all pervasive; we can't function on a daily basis without ICT being there - working - explicitly and discreetly.

We could not drive to and from our workplace without technology controlling traffic flows. We cannot imagine our shops working without the use of stock control, cash registers and even computerised reward schemes. Our health service would not function without patient records, monitoring devices and e-communications between experts for diagnosis and intervention.

Does the same argument apply for education - is ICT so 'mission critical' to our schools and colleges of today?

It would seem that access to and use of ICT is more important in the day-to-day lives of learners than it is to the way we lead and manage. Learners demonstrate a well skilled, intuitive and discerning use of technology for entertainment, communication, planning, organising and learning.

Their experience beyond school/ college is increasingly different to the experience they have in it.

Parents too are increasingly engaging with technology in their own way; often prompted, challenged and encouraged by their child. Their expectations are growing, there are assumptions that ICT is a priority in schools yet too few schools exploit technology to engage parents more.

We know of the role for parents in learning; we know that more informed parents and a more welcoming interface between school and home make a difference. We know that the more parents know about the life, language and styles of their child's school, the better placed they are to support learning.

The initiative to move to online reporting is now in place. For all parents to be able to access the right information about their children in a timely way; for it to be manageable in school and meaningful for parents is welcome yet challenging - but are we going far enough?

Stunning examples

Throughout the country there are stunning examples of schools using ICT to transform engagement with parents - from texting about attendance issues, to online access to lesson plans, to co-learning through blogs, to email contact, to being able to see and share resources, to showcasing the work of their own child, to early alerts about positive behaviour, to sharing information prior to face-to-face discussions - the list goes on.

Yet this is sporadic, with pockets of excellent fertile practice yet sadly too many pockets of barren activity.

The impact of good parental engagement on learning is unequivocal; likewise the ability of ICT to improve learning is evident. It is telling that 95 per cent of teachers believe that the use of technology is having a positive impact on standards in schools and colleges.

We have a unique opportunity now to bridge the gap, to bring parents closer to learning and to celebrate the excellent practice in our schools. Why is it that this is not happening across the board?

A phrase often used about technology is that it must be 'mission critical'. Okay, we can argue that if we removed ICT from the school office, the finance office and the management of student records, attendance and exams we would see major problems in our education system. However we need to move beyond this view of technology being mission critical.

Maybe now is the time to change. As a profession, as national leaders for learning, we should all take a more challenging stance about our own practice. We must be making more discerning decisions about exploiting ICT to support learning and a greater commitment to engage parents and learners together.

Those schools already making a difference are doing so with the tools already to hand, through innovative and changed practice - with a clear purpose. We should now argue that not only should we see ICT being mission critical but also purpose critical; the use of ICT for parental engagement is one of those key purposes that all schools can and should exploit - for secondary schools by 2010.

Mike Briscoe is director for institutions, leadership and safeguarding at the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta).

Further reading...

Find out more about online reporting at www.becta.org.uk

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