As parents of new year 7s start thinking about uniforms and school bags and the new route to school, the senior leadership team is often more concerned about how best to build those important bridges between home and school.
Making the transition from primary school to secondary school can be a heady mix of excitement combined with trepidation. And not just for the pupils.
So, in September as the new cohort enters the school gates in oversized blazers and school bags almost as big as many of them – what can schools do to engage with their parents from the very beginning?
The three Rs
We all lead busy lives and parents are no exception. While technology has undoubtedly made life simpler to receive and send information to parents, it can also lead to information overload.
Flood year 7 parents with too much information and you risk turning them off from your updates too soon. Provide them with too little, and you risk them feeling unsure and out of the loop. The solution is to find a balance by sending regular content that is clearly applicable to them.
If you want to get communication right from the start, think three Rs. Target the right parents, with the right information, at the right time.
Parents new to the school want information to guide them through the maze of procedures and systems, from cashless payment systems to parents’ evening booking systems. They want to know who to go to if they are worried their child might not be settling well in or want more information about homework. They do not need to know about year 10 field trips or GCSE revision courses just yet.
Establishing the right communication processes from day one can make all the difference as parents will feel reassured knowing there are clear and informed lines of communication in place. Let them know the channel or channels you will be using and the frequency you will be contacting them throughout the year from the word go.
The right channel for the right information
Thanks to technology, “parent post” is (almost) a relic of the past. Parents no longer need to dive hands-first into the murky depths of a school bag, to find ink strewn letters, torn and stuck to a sandwich lying at the bottom.
Consequently, schools now have a diverse choice of communication channels, but it is important to consider each on their merits.
Using social media and WhatsApp, for example, is not without its pitfalls – safeguarding privacy and limited space for content being the two main ones.
My advice is to keep social media for interesting snippets, highlighting school and pupil achievements – from trophies won to school production triumphs. Then send the more important messages via your other communication systems.
Operating too many systems can also give rise to parental confusion and information overload. In fact, multiple school communication systems could reduce engagement, rather than encourage it. Technology should be improving communication and reducing workload, not the opposite, so consider sticking to one main form of communication so parents always know where to go to get what they need.
Have you heard the news?
Newsletters are the backbone of many schools’ engagement arsenal, but for parents they can sometimes be the equivalent of “background noise” if not done right.
Parents do not always have the time to read them, especially if they have invested time reading one or two only to find out they are a collection of stories that mostly do not impact or involve their child.
But newsletters can be a powerful engagement tool if they are done well. And the clue to getting them right is in their title. You need to focus on “news”. Oh, and make sure your content is for the right parents, with the right information, at the right time (the three Rs again!).
Why not consider sending out concise targeted newsletter updates to specific year groups rather than one larger monthly one to the whole school?
Short snappy bulletins might be more appealing, especially to year 7 parents trying to navigate their way around school processes and wanting to sift out key points and information. It could help make sure they are more immediately involved in their child’s year group and give the comfort and reassurance many will seek.
A true test of communication
The only way to assess whether you are sending out the right information to your new parent intake is to evaluate it –, so ask parents for feedback. Why not send a short survey to parents to find out their preferences for things like timing of newsletters and if they are feeling in the loop or not?
Also, ask parents which features of your communications system they would like to use or would be most relevant to them. Good communication after all, is a two-way process.
Do parents want to update their contact details or give authorisation for a school trip online? If the answer is yes, then this will give you the green light to prioritise certain features or approaches.
Good effective communication builds the bridge between school and home. It avoids the “them and us” situation and brings parents on board from the outset. Overwhelming them with too much information will make them feel less connected, so avoid this by tightly targeting your messages to ensure parents know that when they receive an email from the school, it will be relevant and needs opening.
- Sue Atkins is the author of Parenting Made Easy: How to raise happy children, a former deputy headteacher, a television presenter (she is ITV This Morning’s parenting expert) and a brand ambassador for ParentMail.