Engaging Parents through SMS Messages

Just over a year ago, I packaged several boxes of exam papers and sent them off to Belfast to end Pleckgate High school’s contribution to the Education Endowment Foundation backed research project that was being conducted by Harvard University and the University of Bristol.  The results were released on Friday and have shown promising impacts for a low cost, especially in English and Maths.  As an unintended consequence, the messages also seemed to have increased attendance.  On the down side, the interventions showed no gains in attainment in Science, which was perhaps a little surprising.  The summary of results are in the table below:

EEF summary table


We were selected to participate in this research project as I had used SMS messages in a similar way in my school in London, primarily in relation to missing homework.  This, plus a willingness to participate in research backed by the EEF meant that this was a very interesting and exciting project for us.  Put another way, given that our results had dropped in previous years and this intervention was paid for by the EEF with a researcher taking care of all the SMS messages, this seemed very low risk, especially as I had seen such positive results using SMS messages in a school in London.

The Process

Once we were selected, we were allocated year 11 to receive the SMS interventions, which was our preferred year group as we were needing to rapidly raise results. I then had to work with the Heads of English, Maths and Science to get them to engage in the process.  Thankfully, there was little for them to do, as most systems were automated.  The three types of intervention were SMS reminders of upcoming tests (5days and 1 day before) as well as the results, missing homework and conversational prompts.  These prompts were an interesting idea, as it encouraged parents to have conversations with their children about recent learning.  The prompts took the form: “This week we have been learning about Space.  Ask your son/daughter why no-one can hear you scream in Space”  with the italics part filled in by subject teachers in a google form.  From a personal perspective, this was the hardest part to get staff to do as they wanted to know if it was having an impact.  Thankfully, we had a lot of interesting feedback on Parents’ Evenings that told us parents were engaging with the process.

The Results

The headline results show that Maths and English results are boosted by a month, but interestingly the data also shows that this was not significantly greater in families with English as an Additional Language (See table below) or those on Pupil premium, both of which were large groups within our year 11 cohort.  This would suggest that, whilst this is a worthwhile intervention, it needs to be for the whole cohort, not just any groups that as school may be targeting.   This would not for example, be a good use of Pupil premium money if it was only to be spent on those students.

EEF 2.1


The study was an enjoyable experience, and one that contributed to Pleckgate’s success in 2015.  In 2015, 5+A*-C results increased to the highest level ever, as did levels of progress in Maths and English.  When taking starting points, Pleckgate was the 5th best school in the country and was awarded a Beacon of Success by the DFE.  Of course, this was down to the hard work of our teaching staff, and this was just one small part of an intervention strategy that begun years beforehand.  However, the study shows promise, and only £6.55 per student per year, it is an inexpensive intervention for Maths and English.

This was also my first EEF backed RCT research project, and now I am keen to develop more, although EEF funding is probably unlikely.  Watch this space…


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