School communication apps: Too much communication?

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Over the past few weeks a major change has happened in our household. We’ve become a two-school family. Helen, our eldest child has started at secondary school while Izzy has continued at her primary. This has had one predictable yet odd result: Notification after notification arrives on my phone because of all the school communication apps loaded on to it.

Image showing updates from school communication apps
Do you find the constant updates from school a bit much, or is the balance about right?

That’s two different schools relying on two different sets of school communication apps. My phone has never been so busy. A tsunami of messages pings, buzzes, or beeps their way into my life every school day.

Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. Whether it be a beep from Satchel One to inform me Helen has been set homework, a buzz from Izzy’s school to inform me there’s been a nit outbreak, a notification telling me one of the kids has received a ‘merit’ for doing good work or a reminder on Class Dojo about parents parking their cars badly, there’s a constant stream of notifications.

This would be challenging enough at the best of times, but this is the COVID-19 era. Every time I get a notification, my anxiety levels go through the roof. I leap for the phone, terrified this could be a message informing us that our children must self-isolate for a fortnight because a pupil or teacher has tested positive for the dreaded ‘Rona.

This, I should add, has already happened to us. A year group at the eldest’s school had to self-isolate after one of the kids fell ill with Coronavirus. If it can happen once, it can happen again and Mrs Adams and I will probably find out via a notification on our phones.

On top of that, there seem to be regular notifications from Public Health England. Oh, yeah, and updates from the schools as they tweak their COVID-19 policies.

COVID-19 updates aside, I should have been prepared for the surge of messages I’d be receiving via the various school communication apps. Over the past couple of years I’ve spoken to lots of parents who already have kids in secondary school.

They’d told me all about this aspect of modern high school life, in particular the wonders of Satchel One. For those unaware, this genius app tells parents exactly what homework their kids have been set (It’s possibly better known by its old name, Show My Homework). On top of this, both schools had advised parents to download various messaging apps as the they would be used for updating parents and carers about different aspects of school life.

While the number of messages has come as a surprise, I love getting notifications from school. It’s much better than giving the kids a letter to bring home, a letter that will be discovered, badly crumpled and smeared in some kind of food stain, at the bottom of a school bag several weeks after it had to be read.  

When I was at school, it was easy for me to tell my mum and stepdad I had no homework or keep them in the dark about what had happened at school on a particular day. The notifications and updates we receive give us a much better idea what is happening with our offspring’s schooling.

Quote about school communicatopn apps

I also find the notifications can be a great conversation starter. We all know that kids can be very reticent to discuss their school day. If you have messages informing you your child has been given a ‘merit’ for a good piece of work or that they’re undertaking a special activity, it provides you with an insight into their world and it gives you a way to start conversations.

Don’t misunderstand me, digital communications cannot replace and should never replace face to face communication. At a school parents need a personal relationship with their childrens’ form tutor.

Going back a few years, we had a major issue with Izzy’s old nursery when it digitised all communications with parents. Every day I’d go and pick her up and the childcare practitioners would hand her over and tell me to log on to her account for an update of her day. It totally destroyed the personal relationship between pracitioner and parent and we eventually moved her to a different childcare setting.

In the COVID-19 era, however, digital communications have proven their worth. If this had been a ‘normal’ school year, both Mrs Adams and I would have met Izzy’s class teacher by now. We’d also have visited Helen’s new school and met her tutor face to face. We’d have been to various parent-teacher meetings that were in the diary and possibly a PTA social event or two.

Not one of these events has taken place. All of them were cancelled because of the threat posed by COVID-19. In fact, parents have been banned from entering both school sites.

While it’s not perfect, the constant stream of updates has helped keep us involved and updated with what is going on at both the kids’ schools. Without them, we’d be totally in the dark.

I confess the number of messages can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you add in all those that come courtesy of various parent WhatsApp groups. Nonetheless, I’d rather have too many than too few.

What do you think? Do you feel inundated by the number of messages and notifications you receive via school communication apps? Do they give you a valuable insight into your child’s world during the COVID-19 era or would you prefer a return to letters sent home in school bags? Do leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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