The real report on online reporting

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Paul Harrington of educational solutions provider Serco Learning, talks about the introduction of online reporting, and teachers from two schools give their differing views on this new initiative.

“Ever since Jim Knight’s online reporting (or ‘real-time reporting’, as it was called then) was announced at BETT last year, it has been one of the most hotly contested topics in education. Online reporting is a very exciting initiative for many within the education sector, however, it has certainly created some interesting debate amongst educationalists. The Government has set targets for both primary and secondary schools (September 2012/2010 respectively), and by this date they are expected to be using ICT to  provide parents with access to information about their child from anywhere, at anytime using secure online access.

Online reporting is not just about report cards being made available through the internet, the Government envisions that schools should provide both positive and challenging feedback about a child’s attendance and behaviour, progress and attainment, and any special educational needs.

While the prospect of implementing a new reporting system may seem daunting for many schools, most Management Information Systems (MIS), including Serco Learning’s Facility, should be able to offer this service easily to schools using data that is being collated through current reporting methods. 

Ultimately, online reporting offers another way for schools to actively engage parents in their child’s learning, and simply provides them with a time efficient way of communicating with parents. It does not aim to replace face to face or telephone conversations, but when used correctly, it can be used as an easy tool to create more dialogue between the school, the child and the parent.

Research issued by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) in May this year has found that despite the Government targets, a significant number of both primary and secondary schools are likely to miss the deadlines.  While 17 per cent of primary schools stated that they expect to have little in place by September 2012, another 22 per cent are unsure of what they are going to do regarding online reporting to parents. Secondary schools did fare a little better, but still 14 per cent of respondents stated they will not have anything in place by their deadline of September 2010.

It is important for suppliers to work closely with schools to ensure that they are able to support them appropriately. This could be via using systems that are already in place, or creating new tools for online reporting, so that the transition from traditional to online reporting is as smooth as possible. Educational suppliers have a responsibility to develop technology that is easy to use for teachers and parents, which will hopefully help encourage more widespread use from all sides and foster closer relationships and more open communication.

Case study: Different perspectives from both a primary and a secondary

“We aren’t using online reporting at present, but we are already very proactively engaging our parents.”

Michael Shepherd, headteacher at Hawes Side Primary School, Blackpool talks about why they do not use online reporting and how they presently communicate with their parents.

“We are a large three form primary school with 530 pupils that serves a wider community consisting of diverse backgrounds.  We enjoy good links with our local community and with our feeder high schools.  ICT plays an important role within our school environment, and our children are very comfortable using technology as part of their learning.

Every classroom has an interactive whiteboard which is used as a main teaching tool. In addition the school uses visualisers, which are an important aid to the whiteboard, as they enable this technology to become more interactive and in tune with children’s work.  We use ‘life channels’ through a series of TV screens set up through the school which demonstrate learners’ work, such as a photo story or film. While we view technology as important, we ensure that the right technology is in place so that it is effectively used by teachers and pupils, and not left to gather dust.

At present, we do not use online reporting in our school. We send home written reports twice a year to parents, however, we also support this through various other activities.  We feel that in terms of our communication and parental engagement, our lines are very open and we use our website, texting, our blog, regular face to face or telephone conversations and the ‘home school group’ to ensure we are proactively engaging with our parents.

Website as a communication tool: The Hawes Side website is the official portal through which we do a lot of our parental communication. Each week, we post the latest school newsletter, which also gets sent home to parents.  Beyond this the site contains plenty of information to keep parents up to date.  The school prospectus, curriculum information every term, the school report, home/school agreement, along with plenty of links to informative websites for every subject for every year group are available. This helps parents to support their child’s learning at home, as well as giving pupils easy access to any extra learning tools online, safely through our website.

A learner’s view of the world through blogs: With the support of the SSAT, staff and pupils started the blog, linked to our website, to post news and information to both other learners, parents, staff and the community, plus share tips, sporting results and feedback.  Pupils from Year Four through Year Six are part of our blog ‘news team’, and there are subfolders in the blog for different class work.  To try and increase the engagement of parents, we have run treasure hunts in the blog to encourage them to read it regularly. 

The blog has become this fantastic discussion board, and has a parents’ forum. Recently, the parent of a Year One pupil thanked a child on the blog from Year Four, who had found and posted websites on the blog that the parent could use to assist them with reading to their Year One child.  The Year Four pupil was really excited to be thanked publicly on the blog by this parent, and asked if they could try and help the Year Ones even more. This is just one example of the level of interaction we are able to produce using our blog between the entire school community.

The future of reporting:

In terms of online reporting, we are interested in it, especially as the whole notion is about engaging parents. As far as that goes, we have already opened that doorway widely. The only difficulty that I see with the introduction of online reporting will be putting the system into place from an administrative point of view, but I do not see it creating more work for teachers. 

What concerns me is that the term itself ‘online reporting’ makes it sound very narrow-minded and that it is just about grades, which of course is not the case. I believe parental engagement is about so much more than reports online; it is getting parents involved in every level of their child’s learning.  In terms of behaviour and attendance, we tend to talk to parents directly if there is a problem. We do have a text messaging system, but are aware of the pitfalls of this, such as a parent changing their number, and us not being made aware of this change.

We run a ‘home school group’, consisting of parents, staff, students and governors which meet every term to discuss various topics. Reporting has come into this, and the general impression is that they enjoy receiving written reports. If we do introduce online reporting, we feel that we will still maintain this element, as many parents enjoy saving them and collecting them over time.

Case Study:

 “We could see the immediate advantage.”

Paul Allen, Vice Principal of Kemnal Technology College, Kent discusses how his school has been leading the way with the use of online reporting, both within the College and also within the schools in their education Trust.

“Our College began using online reporting in 2004 – four years before the online reporting initiative was announced at BETT by Jim Knight. When we changed from our present MIS provider to Serco, the online reporting component came as part of our new management information system, Facility and ePortal. By moving online, we could see the immediate advantage to save a lot of teacher time spent on administration duties, and increase the capacity of teachers to spend time teaching instead. In 2007, Kemnal Technology College formed an educational Trust to work with failing schools. Our senior management team works with schools in Special Measures and we then help by sharing resources and best practice, and online reporting is one of the key elements that is implemented in these schools to help engage parents more actively.

The move online

Prior to our current system, reporting was a labour intensive task where each teacher had to write reports, then save them onto data storage such as a floppy disk, then the data would need to be uploaded into software. Once compiled, the reports needed to be printed, collated, sorted into envelopes and posted. 

Now, as part of our normal admission procedure parents are given a username, password and instructions so that once the school year starts they can begin accessing all the information we hold about their son directly through the secure ePortal access on our website. When we initially launched online reporting, we ran training sessions for all parents.   We still hold these once annually in September for parents of Year 7 students. Previously we have run a help desk, but as the programme tends to be very intuitive, we found most of the questions related to their own computer problems not about the online reporting programme!

It’s not just report cards

Online reporting provides information about a learner’s daily attendance in every class, along with behaviour, performance and other information which is available quickly and easily for parents to access from anywhere. As we are now able to take registration easily in every lesson and provide this in real time to parents, we have seen our attendance levels raised by a whole one per cent.

Another benefit is that it supports exclusions and behaviour reports, as teachers do not have to go looking for data, it is already accessible easily through this system and available to parents.

Data is put into our MIS programme by teachers and administration staff and the system automatically makes this information available to parents (with confidentiality options), which negates the need constantly to re-enter data. This system has significantly reduced repeated data entry which so many schools end up having to do in order to feed information back to parents.

Moving to online reporting has seen the College save significant funds on paper and postage costs. Welcome though this may be, the greatest commodity to any school is teacher time to prepare lessons, and online reporting has reduced the amount of administration that a classroom teacher would normally need to do. 

But what do the parents think?

For the best part of five years we have had 2,000 sets of parents use online reporting, and the feedback has been very positive. In all this time, only once has a parent said they were concerned about data security and asked that online access to their son’s record be removed from the system.

We know that some concerns about providing online reporting to parents relate to parents and carers access to the internet, as not everyone has a PC and the internet at home.  There are alternatives; if a parent does not have access at home or at work, we also run a cybercafé at the school for parents and children after hours once a week and have been doing so since 2004.  As online reporting is run through a secure log in access through our school website, parents can also use computers in any location, such as public libraries and friends’ houses. We can always provide a printed reports if requested, but we very rarely get asked for these.

The College and staff still maintain personal relationships with parents, who tend to build up relationships with their relevant Key Stage Managers.  Online reporting is another tool for communication, but should not replace personal contact between a school and parents. 

The deadline

I think it unlikely that all schools are going to have online reporting in place by the deadline.  There are still concerns in some schools, particularly relating to opening access to their database, and some MIS systems used in schools cannot provide effective online access.  In our experience, parents are perfectly satisfied that their child’s data is secure and we have not faced any issues relating to security despite having online reporting for nearly five years.

Moving to online reporting has provided us with so much in the way of resources, and this is without doubt one of the best bits of software that I have used.

Paul Harrington, Serco Learning


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