Literacy and communication with parents: Making meaning from the MySchool website

Year: 2012

Author: Windle, Joel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


The promise of system-wide improvement through online public access to school-level performance data has been tested in Australia by the introduction of the MySchool website in 2010. The online provision of this data raises questions about literacy which have received little attention from either policy makers or researchers. The website includes both complex statistical data, narratives about schools, and a colour-coded guide to interpreting school performance. This paper examines some of the assumptions about literacy implicit in the decision to place the website at the centre of the school improvement agenda, and considers different conceptions of literacy which might usefully be brought to bear on the issue.

Data collected for an ARC project, including a survey of parents (n=666) selecting a secondary school for their children, and interviews with parents, guides the analysis. Analysis indicates barriers to access in terms of traditional notions of print literacy; language proficiency; digital literacy; and access to ICT. More importantly, ideas of literacy as a social practice can help to explain the ways in which parents engage with, and disengage from, the website through interactions with social networks and the media. Interactions with MySchool, and the meanings parents make from it, are shaped both by these mediations and interactions, and by the material and geographical constraints upon their lives. For socially disadvantaged parents, the website often serves as a beacon of hopelessness, sending messages that the schools in their local community are bad, and that other schools are inaccessible and reserved for those with means. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of parents' understandings of the website for the promise of system-wide improvement on the on relationship between literacy and public policy based on digital access to institutional performance data.