How we did it

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Martin Wise, deputy head at Ysgol Friars school in Bangor, North Wales, reveals how text messaging can catch truants - and improve communications We have a pretty good reputation for discipline and results throughout north-west Wales, but we are always striving to improve. And although we don't have a major truancy problem, we do recognise that some of our pupils are staying away and, like all schools, we are trying to get them back.

We introduced a system which automatically sends out text messages. A teacher can scroll down a list on the computer, click on those who are absent and it dials up and sends a text message to the parents' mobile phone. It's ironic, because for the past couple of years the pupils have been banned from using their mobiles in school.

We brought in this system for two reasons. One was to increase the efficiency of the office staff; previously we were wasting a lot of time on the phone chasing up absentees. With this system in place, although not all parents have mobile phones, we can text those who do and it's much quicker.

The other reason was to improve communication. We had it on trial for a month with Year 10 and we were able to make contact with the parents of a couple of children who were truanting. But that wasn't the main thrust - it was about improving communication between school and home.

We were so pleased with the results that we decided to implement it for the whole school. We have been operating the system since September and it's been hugely successful.

The spin-off has been a general improvement in communication with parents and groups within the school. For example, we text message to remind parent-teacher association members about meetings. Or to text parents to remind them there is a parents' evening the following day.

I needed to make sure one of my sixth-formers would be in school for a particular lesson, so I sent her a text message. It's adaptable in that respect. And with rugby and netball teams you could, for example, send text messages to the players' mobile phones to say a game has been cancelled.

It's made a significant difference to the everyday work of our office staff because they're busy enough as it is, so anything that helps is a bonus. It's an extra means of communication and it's also very cost-effective. Text messages go out in batches of five and they work out at 10p a batch - it works out much cheaper than making phone calls.

Also, it shows the parents that we are trying to use technology in a constructive fashion. We're very pleased with it. It's a good system - it's efficient, effective and it's user-friendly.

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