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It takes a village to raise a child: how can schools achieve engagement beyond the school gates?

The right technology can bring together not just schools, pupils and parents, but go further afield to other organisations and resources in the families and education space.

When we talk about engagement in a school setting, what do we actually mean?

Normally, the term is used in connection with parental engagement in relation to how your school reaches out to families or manages interactions from parents.

However, engagement can be viewed as a much wider subject, something far more fundamental, in the context of operating a successful school and providing pupils with the best opportunities to reach their potential and achieve their best.

During my time at Capita, I’ve been very fortunate to meet and listen to many of our customers at UK schools and overseas, learning more about their challenges and successes. As I’ve reflected on their desire to inspire and build a truly engaging learning experience, where individuals or groups are involved, benefitting and fully in the moment, it sounds more relatable to spectating at a football match. Everyone is really absorbed in the action, emotionally involved in every pass and shot with abounding passion about the event and the outcome. In this scenario, every participant is more than just a spectator – they’re a part of the environment and the action, playing an important role in shaping the outcome of the event.

Unfortunately, the metaphor which often epitomises the opposite – disengagement and sheer boredom – is often education, with some students taking a passive role as uninterested participants.  So how do we turn the tables on this perception?

“It takes an entire village…”

Within the education sector there are many factors that have an influence on motivation, aspiration, commitment, involvement and engagement, so sometimes it can be really important to take a step back and think about education in the wider context. How do we make sure that everyone is playing their part in supporting learners and providing the best possible environment for their development?

While living in Africa, I was introduced to the saying: “It takes an entire village to raise a single child.” Research shows that learning outcomes are significantly influenced by the experience and journey facilitated by teachers, parents and ourselves as facilitators. Students too often ask how relevant their learning is to their future.

Taking a wider, holistic approach is key to engagement solutions – engagement should not just be limited to parents, but rather considers the students’ destination, their aspirations and the different pathways available to them. I believe that the quality of learner experience and outcomes are directly related to your activity, the relationships you build and the quality of the engagements you enable.

Three strategic pillars to engagement

By utilising existing assets and capabilities, you can help bridge the gaps between these wider groups

1. Data – thinking about what information we’re collecting and how it is recorded

2. Automation – how can we address the growing workload in school and make everyday life easier for teachers

3. Collaboration – how do we create a cohesive and valuable network between schools and external partners, both inside and outside

Data is useless… without intelligence

We all sit on mountains of data, but to make the most of it you need to derive genuinely intelligent insights to inform decision making.

In practice, this comes down to a number of key factors:

  • Clear goals

Before collecting any data, it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of what you’re looking to achieve and how data can help that. Start any project with a clear question in mind and then make the data work for you to answering that question or disprove your hypothesis.

  • Data quality

Keeping data accurate and up-to-date might seem like an obvious requirement, but in order to keep your data useful, this is essential. One incorrect digit in a phone number or an old email address can scupper your plans to optimise or use your data.

  • Actionability

The data you collect needs to provide senior leaders with clear insight to inform their decision-making. This also requires that you have the right tools in place to turn raw, numerical data into easy-to-understand information.

  • Context

Just as every learner is unique, so too is every school. As well as understanding the socio-economic influences, cohort attitude and learner aptitude, it’s important to ensure the business operations are considered including resourcing, financial impact, business decisions, safeguarding, scaling, change management and academisation.

  • Appropriate sharing

It’s vital that data is shared confidentially and in compliance with data protection and privacy regulation like GDPR. While setting up data permissions for partners and stakeholders, it’s important to consider privileges and controls as part of your systems design and architecture.

Reducing teacher workload

In line with the Department for Education’s efforts in this area, technology can significantly help reduce time taken on repetitive processes and lengthy manual tasks with measurable impact. Technology in education has the potential to address some of the obstacles that currently exist, creating smarter work systems and streamlined processes. Some of the biggest opportunities in this area are:

  • developing communication channels
  • reducing unnecessary administration
  • eliminating the entering and reentering of data
  • ongoing change and variance through flexible systems
  • cutting down on printing and wastage

Some of these challenges might prove to be bigger than others, but they certainly provide us with some tangible benefits of harnessing the power of technology in education.

Collaboration: the key to quality

There’s a quote I love from the legendary American basketball player, Michael Jordan, who despite being perhaps the greatest player of all time, still understood the importance of working together. He said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”.

If we rely purely on individual talent then we may win some of the time, but to achieve consistent and regular excellence, we need to work together with a common goal in mind.

So how do we ensure that we create long-lasting, successful partnerships with organisations in the education space? Technology gives us the perfect platform for achieving this, whether that be sharing learning resources and homework tasks with pupils or communicating behaviour notices to parents. 

By bringing our services together, enriching our data tapestry and working with strategic partners to support classroom activity, management oversight and school improvement, we want to make sure that everyone involved in a child’s development can play an active and vibrant role to help us all reach our full potential.

First published by Capita SIMS.

Photo of Abdul Ghafoor

Abdul Ghafoor

Head of Product Development, Capita

Abdul is a seasoned digital leader and strategist with over 20 years’ experience devising and managing product portfolio strategy and developing competitive, scalable products in global markets. Abdul has worked extensively across the private and public sector playing a key role in launching 4G telecommunications into the UK market and developing pioneering health-tech apps for Public Health England. Currently, he leads the Engagement and Finance product teams in the Capita Education Software business.

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