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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 16:05 GMT
Parents' online access to school
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Busy parents should have online access to school information
After online banking, online news and online shopping, families are being promised online access to their children's education.

Busy parents are to get computer access to track their children's progress in school, as part of the government's education technology strategy.

Information available could include test results, timetables and homework.

Schools Minister Derek Twigg said parents would become "more engaged and more knowledgeable".

He launched the "e-learning" strategy, called Harnessing Technology: Transforming Learning and Children's Services, on Tuesday.

'School-gate culture'

This aims to open up the classroom door, so that parents can get a much clearer idea about what children are learning each day - and provide secure online access to achievement records, the curriculum and an online "portfolio" of children's work.

Derek Twigg
Derek Twigg wants schools to be accessible from the desktop

"I think you'll see parents wanting to be more engaged and more knowledgeable about what's going on in school. And getting parents engaged in education is a real driver for getting children to want to learn," said Mr Twigg.

In particular, he says it might help parents of secondary school children to feel more connected to what's going on in school - and to get beyond children's notorious reluctance to give any information about their school day.

"Primary schools often have good parental involvement, there's a school-gate culture, but at secondary school that dissipates and starts to drift off. So it will give an opportunity for people in a busy world to be able to engage with what's going on in the school," said Mr Twigg.

This raises questions about how much schools should divulge - and how much will stay within the area of professional confidentiality. Will currently unpublished performance data become available?

E-mailing the head teacher

"As far as I can see, there's no reason why most information shouldn't be made available. We're already talking about giving more information to parents, so there's no reason why it shouldn't be accessed online," he said.

I would like parents to know what children are doing every day, the timetable, the homework.
Anna Hassan, head teacher Millfields Community School

There is no target date for schools to offer parents online information, but the strategy also promises that next year there will be broadband connections for all schools.

The strategy was launched at Millfields Community School in Hackney, east London, where parents are already able to contact the school by e-mail.

Head teacher Anna Hassan said that she had about 12 e-mails from parents waiting to be answered in the morning - and that staff and pupils used e-mail within the school.

Ms Hassan welcomed the greater involvement of parents in the life of the school - and said that providing access to information already held by schools would not mean generating an excessive amount of extra work.

"I would like parents to know what children are doing every day, the timetable, the homework. I would like to know if there were any issues that parents want to bring in, positive or negative," she said.

But there have been concerns about a "digital divide", in which the benefits of information technology are reaped by children from better off families who have the equipment at home.

And putting the e-learning goals into perspective, among the parents at Millfields Community School, the head says only about one in four has an e-mail account at home.

The Learning Trust, which is responsible for education in Hackney, says that this is high for the area - where it believes only about one in fifty households has an e-mail account.

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