The start of the school year means a return to those well-worn term-time routines: the drop-offs, the pick-ups, the homework supervision - and, for many, the constant stream of messages, letters, requests and entreaties from their children’s school (or schools). Thanks in large part to modern technology, we are now in touch more than ever with what’s going on in the classroom. Quite often this is a positive thing, helping us feel connected to their children’s school life, even when they’re sitting in their office several miles away.
But anecdotal evidence suggests that just sometimes - whisper it - that many parents are already starting to feel overwhelmed by the ceaseless communication. It's hard to focus at work while your phone is pinging throughout the day with various alerts from the school. There’s an expectation, some feel, that they should be spending a significant part of their day - and evening - responding to the various information and appeals being issued from within the school gates. Keeping on top of it all can be tough, not to mention inordinately time-consuming.
So is your child’s school guilty of subjecting parents to communication overload, however well intentioned? Here are five ways it may be “spamming” you:
ParentMail is an app on your phone via which messages can be transmitted between school and parent. As one mother points out, you can’t really opt out in case you miss something important. But the rest of the time, she says, she is bombarded with messages about everything from the date of the Christmas fair to an outbreak of headlice. The messages, in some cases, will come thick and fast, depending on the zeal with which the school uses the app. Reading through each one, and responding where relevant, requires several extra hours in the day.
2. Classroom apps
By last November, some 70 per cent of UK schools had apparently signed up to one app in particular, ClassDojo, which updates parents throughout the day, not only about how their children are behaving but also by sharing photos and videos of “wonderful classroom moments.” Go 4 Schools meanwhile serves to “capture, analyse and share classroom data in real time,” and boasts a pupil-tracking function, too.
Through classroom apps, parents can track what homework their child has been set and whether it’s been done yet or not. “Sometimes it’s hard to know the context for some of the information being shared,” says one London mother, who would be sent cryptic messages about “points” her son had received for one thing or another in in the classroom. “Plus,” she adds, “the alerts are coming through all the time, and I don’t know when I’m supposed to read through it all.”
3. ‘Begging letters’
“The stream of letters that come through wanting money or donations for one thing or another is really bugging me,” writes one harassed parent on Mumsnet. “Even the nativity play demands a 50p entrance fee...I'd almost prefer an option at the start of the year to hand over a lump sum of cash rather than the constant stream of begging letters.”
Indeed, in March, a survey by the National Union of Teachers suggested that as many as a fifth of cash-strapped schools are now asking parents for money, with almost half of teachers saying their school had asked parents to pay for particular items such as materials for art of design and technology classes.
For some parents, the demands are growing irksome. "My son's school have been asking for £10 ‘activity money’ since the start of term," wrote another Mumsnet user last year. "At first it started with letters, then texts, and now today a letter that has a big spiel frankly shaming the people who haven’t paid and saying they will be speaking to individual parents if the money isn’t paid in the next couple of weeks...The letter sounds more like a bailiff letter than a school that should be supporting vulnerable families."
4. Pressure from disapproving head teachers
One mother of a Year 5 pupil from the Home Counties recalls her nine-year-old’s headteacher pointedly telling a parents’ meeting she did not like to see pupils spending too much time in breakfast clubs and after-school clubs. With SATs fast approaching (in Year 6 - so not that fast), the parents should be creating space for homework in their own schedules, she added. Cue a post-meeting huddle of working mothers, muttering crossly about the implication they should be giving up their jobs or scaling back their hours.
Elsewhere, it is normal practice to call parents in for start-of-year meetings with their child’s teacher right in the middle of the working day. “I had to go to work,” protests one mother, about a missed 2pm parent-teacher meeting (and its accompanying digital reminders). “I couldn’t just go and meet the teacher and cancel everything else.”
5. Junk mail
Instead of it landing on your doormat, at some schools it ends up in your child’s school bag. If their rucksack comes home at the start of term stuffed with fliers and advertisements for various extracurricular pursuits that are nothing to do with the school, you’re effectively being junk-mailed by the back door. Do you sit and read through them all, in case there’s something useful in there? Or shove them all straight in the recycling? Better sift through them (sigh) because, well, you just never know.