The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Jenn Alexander

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest app of them all?

Apps can be the perfect platform to keep parents in the fold. Jenn Alexander explains how schools can embrace this technology and streamline their communication.

Studies have shown that the more engaged the parent, the better the student performs. From a safeguarding perspective, reaching parents can be costly if you're dependent on text messages and unreliable if you're using social media. When someone says, ‘there's an app for that,’ it sounds like the perfect solution for the smartphone generation.

However, there are now so many apps to choose from that navigating them has become a minefield. School budgets are already constrictive, so making an informed decision is key to ensure you're getting the best value for your money and not making a costly mistake.

Streamlining the back office

Using technology to communicate with parents is not a new thing. As technology has evolved schools have embraced the benefits it can bring, but equally the speed of this technology growth has resulted in schools contracting with many different providers. The lack of integration between the different systems a school may be using, forces parents to numerous websites to receive and respond to information about their child.

Don't be tempted to settle for an app that looks outdated or doesn't properly represent your school

The more complicated it is for parents, the less they'll engage. Fortunately, there are now some very good, reliable systems – fully integrated with SIMS that bring all parent interactions into one place.

It's wise to review the systems your school is already using to communicate with parents. The technology progression has seen providers like Schoolcomms really come into their own, leaving the specialist one­type providers trailing behind, particularly in terms of functionality.

Why streamline?

The thought of moving text, email, online payments, absence chasing. reporting etc. from your current system to another probably fills you with dread. Well – it shouldn't. A good one-system provider can make the transition and implementation easy for you. Having a single contract, invoice and renewal date, alongside one place for staff and parents screams efficiency and cost saving at the top of its voice.

Consolidating your back-office systems is a giant step towards placing yourself in a strong position to have an app that actually works for you – keeping those efficiencies going beyond the school boundaries.

Beware design over functionality

The way a school is presented to its students and parents is extremely important and so branding within the app is a must. Don't be tempted to settle for an app that looks outdated or doesn't properly represent your school.

A good parent app should be able to offer you a variety of colours to choose from and a logo as well as a banner. Remember: parents will regularly view your app, so being able to change your banner to reflect upcoming events will massively improve your communication.

Scratch beneath the surface and ensure there is substance and functionality behind the app. Any app, no matter how aesthetically appealing, will soon lose its appeal if it can't meet the needs of your school.

Go for an industry recognised app (would you trust a banking app if it wasn't?) and when it comes to information about their children, parents are looking for the same level of integrity. School Gateway by Schoolcomms is a great example of a nationally recognisable and most importantly, trustworthy app.

Value beyond the hype

What gives an app value? The link between Schoolcomms and School Gateway is the best example of integrated functionality, making it the UK’s best parent app.

  • It integrates seamlessly with SIMS, meaning you only record your data once and it does the rest for you.
  • It identifies parents who have the app and automatically converts a text message to a free app message to keep those texts costs down.
  • It cuts time, every day, chasing unauthorised absences. Not only does it read attendance information from SIMS, but allows parents to respond via School Gateway and these responses can be written back into SIMS.
  • Achievement and behaviour can be set to automatically alert parents with a notification to let them know there is new information to view.
  • Parents only see what is relevant to their child.
  • You can control what you want to share, so you can customise it in line with your own policies. Sharing reports and timetables direct from SIMS and being able to instantly publish to the app is another nice feature, completely eradicating printing costs.

No two apps are the same, so outlining how hard you want your app to work for you is a good place to start. Some blue sky thinking to cover the ‘must have’s’ and the ‘nice to have’s’ will give you a good framework to be able to compare app against app.

To get you started, we’ve created a downloadable checklist of the key functions an app should have.

All suppliers of these systems should be able to offer you a live demonstration using your own school data before you commit. Don’t be afraid to ask them and do probe into the detail.

Find out more about Schoolcomms by contacting Jenn Alexander at or calling 01288 271 223, or via the Schoolcomms website.

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