Developing ICT projects for and with parents is a considerable task. If partnership is to be taken seriously, you really need to be clear about who you are trying to support and how their needs and interests can best be served. A lesson learnt in retrospect by many projects is to get to know your audience. What do parents want? What type of support will appeal to them? The best way to achieve this is to involve them from the outset. Without this, you will be in danger of isolating, rather than working with, the very people you are trying to draw in.
Forming a partnership
After all, what is the fundamental basis of a home-school relationship? In the main, schools are developing projects because they are looking to establish closer partnerships with parents. It is becoming clear that, where such projects are most successful, the concept of partnership has been taken on and interpreted in its truest sense.
A good starting point is to find those who share your vision. By doing this you can support each other and share some of the burden. Within your community there will be those who are willing to support your ambitions, however simple or grand.
Over the years, as part of my work with Parents Information Network, we have had contact with many schools looking to work with parents and ICT and are starting to see patterns emerge. With this in mind, here are a few examples of the ways some schools are trying to establish sustainable relationships with parents by taking advantage of all those who have an interest and by bringing them together.
Key successful projects
Opening the discussion to others and getting people on your side enables much more to be achieved. At Haslemere primary school, Mitcham, a parent governor wrote an application for funding for the parents' project with help from the headteacher. The site manager agreed to be course tutor and received some training from an external ICT trainer to prepare him for hisrole. The planning for the course was done jointly with representatives from the teaching staff, senior management, the governing body and parents. By taking advantage of the skills available in their wider school community, Haslemere has managed to get its project up and running in a cost-effective and manageable way.
There are a growing number of examples where the ICT support for parents does not fall on the shoulders of the ICT co-ordinator. We have found projects where classroom assistants or parents are running the sessions for parents.
A key factor in many successful project developments is the establishment of a core team of people with vision and a strategic plan to put the project in place. To get its project off the ground, St Ivo School, Cambridgeshire, involved the headteacher, resource centre manager, deputy head, director of ICT, ICT technician, schools library service, public library service, Year 7 tutors and teachers, parent volunteers and the school association. A considerable feat in itself, but one which clearly definesthe school's commitment to the project!
Seeking outside support
Some schools look to outside agencies for support, for example to the local further education college. Spennymoor School, County Durham, now runs a CyberDads club (mums are also welcome) on Saturday mornings for parents and their children. The local FE college has provided the tutor for the courses while the school provides the venue, equipment, publicity and support staff.
Finally, you don't have to learn all of it the hard way! The very nature of partnership should reduce the need to replicate. There is obviously little point in reinventing something that has been developed or learning lessons which have already been learnt.
Jacquie Disney worked as a teacher and ICT advisory teacher. She is the director of PIN (Parents Information Network). Case studies on the schools mentioned in this article, and others, are published in the teachers' section of the PIN website. The site contains a range of information about schools working with parents and ICT.www.pin.org.ukschoolindex.htm