Focus groups reveal that people want more consistent online availability of information and services around their children’s education
Parents in Scotland have generally positive attitudes to the prospect of an online portal for the country’s schools, according to a new focus group study.
Improvement Service, the national improvement agency for Scottish local government, has published a report on how people feel about the current methods of communications between schools, parents and pupils and the proposal for an online portal.
While the report is based on low numbers – taking in conversations between pollster Ipsos MORI and 61 parents from five local authority areas – it does throw up some interesting indicators of attitudes towards a central online source of information.
One is that parents have differing attitudes to how schools are currently communicating with them. There were complaints from some in the focus groups about the performance of school websites, and that they are often told about upcoming events at short notice and have to get information from other parents.
There were also complaints about too many emails from schools, and a lack of information on what their child is learning and homework.
But there was a preference for accessing various types of information and services online, such as term dates, details of school inspections, booking parents’ evenings, paying for school meals and trips and looking up their child’s attendance record.
These are already available in some schools, but a national portal would ensure it applies throughout the country. The focus groups saw a lot of value in an online ‘one stop shop’, believing it would give them more control and information, especially in knowing more about what their child was learning.
But a session with 16-18 year-olds revealed that they did not feel it was necessary to give their parents more control, and should be trusted to organise their own decisions about their school lives. Some were also worried that parents without regular internet access would be at a disadvantage.
The parents also raised concerns about the issue, along with worries that a portal could be used to limit face-to-face communication and harm their relationship with a school.
Need for consistency
In addition, some made a point that different schools and classes would have to be consistent and updating their sections of the website, and that this could impose an unreasonable extra burden on teachers.
A few also expressed concerns about the security risk from identity fraud, but most were not overly concerned.
Whether the proposal gathers steam remains to be seen: the study says this was an exercise to gauge demand. But it suggests there would be a significant level of support for a service, especially if it contributes to a consistent approach by schools.
Image by Antonio Chaves, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons