Do schools really need to promote themselves to parents?
For public and private schools the answer is an obvious yes. But I would argue the same also applies to state schools: parents do have a choice about which school they select for their children, and surely a school wants to attract those parents who want to make an active decision about where to educate their offspring?
These parents are more likely to be engaged with the school and their child’s education and welfare, which could in turn result in better Ofsted reports, league tables, and a continuing virtuous circle…
I’m isolating schools’ websites in particular, as this is possibly the first point of contact parents will have with a school – although clearly it is not the only form of promotion undertaken, especially in the private sector.
Design-wise, many school’s websites are fairly poor. In this context, I mean two things:
a) They often use child-like fonts
b) The colour scheme generally looks like the palette used by children in foundation. Rather than use the entire rainbow, I’d like to see schools employing more of a corporate identity (for want of a better phrase) in their website design, perhaps based on the school logo or school uniform.
On a more technical design note, the navigation generally needs better consideration. Most schools will have three main user groups: existing parents, pupils, and prospective parents.
Content on the site should be structured so that these three primary groups can efficiently find the content that they need. Having unclear menu options or too many options that go below the fold, do not help site visitors to navigate.
I came across one school that had a homepage menu option labelled ‘Headlice’. Perhaps this sort of topic might be best covered off in a FAQs section rather than having it quite so prominently on the homepage?
I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the entrance foyer in most schools will be an Aladdin’s cave designed to welcome visitors and showcase some of the pupils’ best work, as well as pointing people in the direction of the school office.
The same approach should be taken with the homepage of a website – welcoming and informative. Factual information about the school should be interspersed with enticing highlights about the school’s approach and ethos, with clear navigational cues to help people find what they need.
The content on many sites is thin to non-existent. No one would expect the main body of the website to be updated very often – but term dates, newsletters etc should all be readily available. Many schools now use ParentMail or similar to communicate, but if a parent accidentally deletes an email, they should be able to access the information digitally elsewhere.
It’s not new and it’s not hard but few schools blog. It would be great to see more pupils blogging on their school’s website. Let’s face it – most of today’s children are going to need to be super IT literate, so this is a great way to bring learning to life.
Many visits to a schools’ website will simply be to find the contact details and in my (admittedly fairly unscientific) review of various sites, it was surprisingly difficult to find telephone numbers, addresses and emails.
It would also be worth many schools doing a quick typo and apostrophe check: given that the use of correct grammar is included in Year 6 tests, I wasn’t sure if the apostrophe-d spelling of ‘SAT’s’ that I spotted on one school website was put there to be intentionally ironic?
SEO best practice
General technical SEO practices seem to be missing from many schools’ sites. Ensuring that a (meta) content plan has been undertaken and implemented (as well as having engaging content across the site) can mean the difference between appearing in Google’s search results and not.
Similarly, many sites are not responsive to screen size, making them very difficult to use on a mobile device. This is not only an inconvenience for the user, but will also have a direct impact on the website’s Google rankings, as mobile-first and user experience (UX) are both key indexing factors.
Many schools and local education authorities (LEAs) subscribe to a secure learning platform which offers games and programmes to support the curriculum. There’s nothing wrong with this, except that a link off to one of these platforms won’t mean anything to a prospective parent unless properly explained. Highlight the benefits, give some examples – anything to show how the school is embracing technology.
It’s not something that’s specifically on the agenda for many schools, but with many businesses and individuals using one or more social channels, wouldn’t it make sense to share updates with parents on Twitter and Facebook too? Just like commercial organisations, schools need to open up communication with their target audiences and interact with them across a number of platforms to benefit from maximum engagement. Personally, I’d welcome a Facebook update reminding me about non-pupil day or dress down Friday.
So, overall most schools must try harder when it comes to their website if they truly want to attract parents, pupils, and even the best staff. I’m not suggesting that a website becomes the school’s primary focus but a significant number do need to pull their digital socks up.
Useful resources: For the statutory requirements of information to be published on a school’s website see