Back in 1997 the government's white paper 'Excellence in Schools' suggested (among other things) that providing parents with information is a key element in building successful home-school partnerships.
When you're not clear about how your child is progressing, or you feel out of touch with the school community it can be worrying. Find out early on from the school what methods they use to keep parents updated with important information. The good news is school's are increasingly using technology to improve the quality of contact they have with parents, so ask if there's an email system or an app that's used to send messages and make appointments and sign up for it.
If you're not sure how the school will communicate with you, or you think there's room for improvement, don't be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions - you'll usually find the school are happy to listen.
What to expect at primary school
Book bags. A letter in your child's bag is still a really common way of sending information and messages home at primary school. When your child reaches the older year groups you might find teachers expect them to take responsibility for relaying home - so check if there's a back up plan!
Website. Class pages on the school website are a really good way for parents to see what children are learning and find a copy of homework, suggested reading, upcoming trips and school events.
Social media. Facebook groups and Whatsapp groups are popular at primary school, but they're generally set up and run by parents rather than the school. A closed group is a great way for parents to ask each other questions about homework, lost property etc, but check that school policy and your home-school agreement allow this first.
Email/Text. Often used to remind parents about own clothes days, class assemblies or PTA events. They often use systems like Parentmail.
Other online systems and apps. You may be able to pay for school meals, trips and clubs or book your spot at parents' evenings online.
Face to face. There's often a chance to talk to teachers at the start or finish of the school day on certain days. Check which days this happens and make an appointment for anything more than just a quick catch up or you want to discuss something that needs more privacy. If you're not in school regularly, speak to the office and arrange a meeting for a time that suits you, or ask if the teacher can call you. Most schools take a flexible approach.
Noticeboards. Check noticeboards in the playground or reception area for upcoming performances, clubs, meetings and events.
What to expect at secondary school
When your kids move up to secondary school the paper trail stops and so does the nightly search for crumpled letters buried underneath lunch boxes and contraband! Responsibility shifts to students to check noticeboards for clubs and social events and to manage their homework, but parents should still be kept informed and involved.
Newsletters and eBulletins. Weekly updates sent by email are used by lots of schools and are a great way to provide regular information about all the things parents will need to be aware of: what's going on at school, important dates, clubs, career events etc.
Teacher emails. Some teachers email parents directly to let them know what's happening in their subject class e.g. when tests are coming up, revision sessions etc. Don't expect this from every teacher though.
Texts. Schools often send text alerts for 'ad hoc' updates that can't wait until the weekly newsletter, such as a cancelled club, or school closure.
Face to face. The only time you're likely to have face to face discussions with teachers will be at parents' evenings. If there's an issue you need to raise with a teacher, there will be a procedure for this so check your home-school agreement, the school website or speak to the office.
Online systems and apps School dinners may be paid for using a card that parents can mange online. Some schools operate online booking systems for parents' evenings, others make it the students responsibility to book meetings directly with their form and subject teachers.
There are lots of new apps on the market that some teachers use to provide feedback on students work and some offer two way communication between teachers and parents. The use of technology varies from school to school, so if you hear about something from a friend, why not suggest it at your child's school?
At secondary school, it's more likely that kids (rather than parents) will connect with their class on social media or messaging groups like Whatsapp. Make sure you're all aware of any rules set out in the home-school agreement and talk about online safety. Internet matters have brilliant age specific advice
Whatever systems are in place at your child's school, if they don't work for you, it's important you let the school know so that alternative arrangements can be made.