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06 December 2021

The Monday Briefing: Breaking News

The Monday Briefing: Breaking News

An interesting recent article in Independent Education Today, entitled ‘Parents want more personalised information from schools’ shed a great deal of light on standards of parental communication. The article was based on data collated by Firefly Learning, an online platform for school engagement.

It is always good to review processes following new findings in surveys: it provokes an audit of College policies and procedures; it prompts comparison between that which is in place, and the best practice in other institutions; it compels us to undergo a gap analysis in response - questioning whether new ideas could work for us, and what we would need to introduce to bring those to fruition.

The article suggested three parental wishes: more personalised information; more regular communication; more advice on how to support their children.

Parental communication at Ealing Independent College is set up to satisfy such inclinations.

Firstly, the language in which we speak is clear and forthright. Parents are all familiar with the College’s grading system used to measure student effort. Easily comprehensible guidelines on expected levels of attendance and punctuality, organisation, engagement, conduct, independence, class and homework are in place, and student performance is monitored against these continually.

This is communicated to parents monthly, following the Months Marks assessments in each subject. Average attainment grades are also delivered to parents in a concise summary email from form tutors. This ‘little and often’ approach is geared towards continuous, formative improvement. It opens a dialogue where parents can pursue clarification, pinpoint strategies where they can seek targeted improvements in particular areas and receive advice as to how they can support their sons or daughters.

The research found that ‘Although many parents receive updates on their child’s learning at least monthly, a third are only getting updates half-termly or termly.’ 

Month-by-month seems the correct frequency of conversation about progress for us. Weekly or fortnightly does not allow sufficient time for responses from students, and becomes a chore for parents to read, getting bogged down with detail and missing the wider patterns of progress we seek to encourage. We are, of course, obliging, should parents seek more proactivity than merely following the Months Marks, and we intervene when students need it - through daily monitoring reports which are shared with parents.

This academic year, parents have benefitted from a flexible approach to Parents’ Evenings, which happen in October and February. They were given the opportunity to attend online or in person depending on their schedules or preference, and, with a growing propensity for the successful use of online meetings as a communication tool, we will introduce a third meeting point for exam classes following our Easter Mock series, mindful of the likely stress caused by the reintroduction of exams in May 2022, and the need for careful support of students to maximise their performance.

The College also provides comprehensive summative end of term reports following each mock exam series. Within these personalised documents are detailed reviews of the term by form tutors and subject teachers, along with direct instructions for improvement of performance. Specific comments are linked to mock exam performance, and each and every result from an assessed piece of work is included (both homework tasks and assessments), with the aim that, when armed with all of the data, one can make informed judgements on when and why student performance may have dipped or peaked. This links back to the College’s aim - to empower students to maximise their potential in a supporting environment - and is intended to allow similar empowerment for parents.

Having seen many reports from other schools, given it is a requirement of an enrolling student to provide it, I am confident that those provided by Ealing Independent College at the end of each term is truly a ‘best practice’ example, which builds on the dialogue which has been so meticulously put in place from the very first introductory emails sent by form tutors at the start of the academic year.

The one absolute - the fundamental aspect which underpins all communication which we commit to - is that parents must have no surprises when we reach the end point. Our ambition is that an abundantly clear picture of student progress has been delivered through several checkpoints between September and May. 

Parents should be armed with the necessary information: what is their child aiming to achieve? Are they on target to reach it? Are there any areas for development in their approach? How resilient are they in approaching this challenge?

Frequent feedback at regular points within the year builds that picture, and builds it comprehensively.

When the final judgement of the examination result comes, though the news will always be ‘breaking’, it should never be unexpected for students, teachers, or, indeed, for parents. They share the journey with their sons or daughters, and should have a very good idea of what the final destination will be. Concise and regular communication is key to achieving that goal.

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