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Communications best practice for schools, your help needed!

(67 Posts)
BeccaMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-Dec-15 15:59:42

Hi all,

As you're no doubt aware grin, the education boards on MN are full of discussions about schools and the different ways in which they operate, and the great (and - ahem! - less than great) ways in which they communicate with us as parents. Given there's all this fantastic feedback spread across the boards, we thought we'd have a go at corralling it all in one place and see if we could come up with tips for schools on communications best-practice, and how we'd like them to engage with us about all things, both good and bad.

We'd love to hear your views on the really brilliant things your schools have done when it comes to communication - and, obviously the not so brilliant things, too. Below are a few idea questions you might like to have a think about - but obviously feel free to tell us anything: we're all ears grin

If you have a complaint about your child's school, do you know what to do?

Have you ever posted online about your school, either positively or negatively?

How would you like schools to engage with you?

Do schools have a place on social media?

Would you find it useful to have a live Q&A session with your school's Headteacher?

Many thanks all.

Dungandbother Tue 01-Dec-15 17:30:48

It's annoying how different all schools are.
If one school can manage excellent communication via their website for example, why can't all schools?

It boils down to inefficient office personnel at my primary but with no strong leadership willing to make the change.

Lonecatwithkitten Tue 01-Dec-15 17:53:34

We have excellent communications each department has it's own Twitter feed posting things regularly, the school has a Facebook page that is updated daily.
We use parent portal to access all reports, attendance records and timetables etc. Notices are posted on the portal, but we get an email to say that a notice is there and what is about.
Finally all medical information is communicated by email, no waiting for child to give you a slip of paper. I got an email today to say DD had been administered a Strepsil at 12.45pm today for a sore throat,

Wigeon Tue 01-Dec-15 20:38:23

Top tips for schools er, gripes about my DD's school

Spell and punctuate correctly in every communication sent home to parents. You are a school. You should be spelling and punctuating correctly. Pretty much every letter sent home from my DD's school has a spelling, punctuation or grammatical error (or more than one!). If your office person can't spell, punctuate or use grammar properly, get someone to proof read their letters to parents.

Check the accuracy of what you are sending out. Routinely, letters to parents have incorrect dates. Or say 'Wedneday 1 Dec' when the 1st is a Tuesday. This term, they have sent out a letter with term dates where several dates were just wrong. And another letter about the Christmas play with the wrong dates which contradicted the term dates letter.

Don't be frightened by social media.

Keep your website up to date and fresh.

Use texts to remind parents about things, not stupid signs in the playground.

happygardening Wed 02-Dec-15 00:58:56

DS2 school (independent boys full boarding school) emails us with some info, they also send me a termly sort of diary thing (called the short roll) which I think I pay a very nominal amount for, it details up coming concerts, sporting fixtures, plays, trips, exam dates, term dates, pick up/drop off times etc. all the staffs email address etc are in and a list of the staff and the subjects they teach, plus a list of all the pupils in the school by house and year and essentiall addresses/phone numbers; bursar, houses, porters lodge, health centre etc it's an exceedingly useful thing. They also have a website amongst other things it also details up and coming events.
I don't know how to complain but I'm sure I could find out if I needed too.
I believe his house has a Twitter site but I don't do Twitter so don't have the faintest idea how to access it nor frankly feel any need to find out how to access it.
I personally don't want loads of info, write most stuff in the short roll and I'll look it up if I need or want to know something only if it's very important email me do not email me trivia.
I don't want a Q and A session with the head I've nothing to ask him.
School reports, effort marks, and public examination results are accessed via the schools sort of websites thing (I'm computer illiterate) frankly I find it a bit of a pain as I can never remember how to access it, I personally would prefer something written on paper but I suspect that just me being a Luddite.
We also get sent an annual or maybe it's biannual written report about the school including a detailed summery of the schools accounts which make very interesting reading.
I personally feel pretty well informed.

BertPuttocks Wed 02-Dec-15 09:54:22

Things that I've liked about my children's schools:

Primary school:

- A class blog where the teacher writes a short paragraph and adds a couple of photos to show what the children have been doing. It's updated a couple of times a month and is useful for those of us whose children insist that they have done "nothing" at school or "can't remember".

- A basic outline of the topic for that half-term, which includes dates of related trips or open mornings for parents and what the homework projects will be.

- An up-to-date website with diary dates, copies of letters, term dates, school policies, school clubs etc.

- Text reminders about events, deadlines, or cancelled clubs.

- Coffee mornings where a member of staff is invited as a special guest and sits and chats with parents as a group.

- Staff take turns to be available at the school gates in the morning (including the Head, Deputy Head, SENCO etc)

Secondary school:

- Online access to your child's attendance record and behaviour (good and bad).

- Teachers email or phone parents if there are any issues.

- Most letters are sent by email.

Each school has a Twitter account but I haven't personally found it all that useful. It tends to be used for reporting about visitors who have been to the school.

I have never needed to complain but the complaints procedure policy is on the school's website if needed.

Stirling84 Wed 02-Dec-15 10:07:27

Good idea MN.

School comms play a massive role in my relationship with a school. It sets the tone for whether they see parents as collaborators or disrupters.

Keeptrudging Wed 02-Dec-15 10:07:29

DD's Secondary school is great. Facebook page for events/achievements. Daily bulletin available online (the same as is read to the children in registration class). Texts to remind parents about important events, and something that would have been invaluable when my DS was at school, texts to say they have a form/important letter in their bag!

Stirling84 Wed 02-Dec-15 10:14:35

Social media - I think parents discussing schools on FB is very off. ( imagine how we'd feel if we came across the teachers discussing us on a forum).

However, I've seen Twitter used to great effect to keep parents updated.

Generally - automated mailers are a no brainer to update parents. In particular - I find it much less inflammatory if a computer sends me a timely reminder that e.g. Dinner credit is running low - rather than (as happened) getting a 10am personal email saying that Y2 MiniStirling dinner credit it below £2 - and he won't be fed unless I can top it up or deliver a lunchbox by noon. (!) firstly - automailers can have their wording more carefully honed - and are timed appropriately. Secondly, because it dented my trust in the school that someone was happy to actually write a threat to leave a 6 year old hungry to punish a rare oversight.

Sheri1978 Wed 02-Dec-15 10:23:18

Please help with the best primary schools in blackfen sidcup area.... Most schools don't have head teachers which is a worry I.e holy trinity, days lane, our lady very hard to get into??? They say Sherwood park is good at present is it really??? Please help

Thank you flowers

catfordbetty Wed 02-Dec-15 11:38:23

I hope MN will also start another thread: Communications best practice for parents to schools and teachers, your help needed!

lovelyupnorth Wed 02-Dec-15 12:02:09

My DD school state secondary uses the following

E-mail of every letter give to pupils
Facebook
Twitter
Text - of urgent messages

if I want to speak to the head I either abuse him personally or via e-mail
don't go on their website very often - as find the Facebook/e-mail most effective.

Complaint would go to head of year, then head, the governors if no result abuse via twitter and other social media - local lea fucking useless and should be abolished - save a shit load of money

i'm very happy with the way my kids school communicates with us and the access for us to raise concerns/abuse the teachers.

SleepIsForTheWeakAnyway Wed 02-Dec-15 12:07:33

I have 3 DC in 3 different schools. The variation between the quality of communications is vast. I have several emails a day for everything that school is doing, whether it is related to my DC or not. The second school I get one roundup news letter emailed a week. Everything else seems to come home on paper which, imo is wasteful and unnecessary. The last school I hear nothing. A couple of times a year they may send me something in the post. What they all have in common is their websites are basically pointless.

I would love to have a q&a with the eldest dc's head. As far as I can tell he is the educational equivalent of the yeti. There is no proof he exists apart from some grainy photos! And I have some questions about some of the school practices too

I haven't taken to social media to praise/bitch about schools but I wouldn't not do it. I think it can be useful to prospective parents to see the positives/negatives when considering a school for their DC. Informed choice and all that

Deliaskis Wed 02-Dec-15 12:21:37

We receive a lot of communication from school, but much of it is poorly thought out. Nobody seems to stop and think...'what do I want the reader to do as a result of this', which is what I have to do with every email or message I send in my job.

E.g. a text alert re stranger danger saying that a man of xyz vague description had been spotted outside school, but no info about what to do if he was seen, do we call the police, call the school, run the other way? Do we even know he is a threat? Is he likely to approach children, could he in fact be someone's Grandpa? The text left me with more questions than answers.

Another example is receiving 7 text messages in one day from school about different things, but 2 of them about the same thing. Poorly thought through. Again, if I communicated with my clients like this they would be moving their business.

Information in email not aligned with text and/or website and/or paper copies.

All the right mechanisms are in place (e.g. text, email, website, etc.) but they are not used thoughtfully.

And yes to proofreading.

catfordbetty Wed 02-Dec-15 12:36:54

if I want to speak to the head I either abuse him personally or via e-mail

Complaint would go to head of year, then head, the governors if no result abuse via twitter and other social media

Lovely.

Alfieisnoisy Wed 02-Dec-15 12:44:53

Various methods used in the three schools I have experience of.

My son attends a special school and they use personal emails due to the smaller number of pupils. They also stay in contact by phone.

His previous secondary school used ParentMail which I found helpful for general day to day stuff but which wasn't useful when I was trying desperately to have a dialogue with them about specific stuff.

The Junior school used school newsletters which were issued weekly and also had a good website. The staff were always very approachable and if they were not free at that moment of contact would make an appointment.

SevenSeconds Wed 02-Dec-15 12:46:15

My DC's primary school:

Website is good for things like term dates, policies, link to uniform site etc but is not regularly updated for the day-to-day items.

Day-to-day items are communicated via the weekly newsletter, which is distributed by parentmail, and ad hoc parentmail communications.

The head is almost always visible at drop off / pick up and easy to grab for a chat.

No social media presence - I think this is a deliberate decision, and I'm fine with that. The PTA has a FB page though.

cakesonatrain Wed 02-Dec-15 12:46:57

Ds's school communicates well. All letters are sent via Parentmail, some on paper too, in bookbag. Important "please remember" things get printed on sticky labels and stuck into homework books. Notes to teacher can be scrawled in homework book, and do get read.
I have not yet found one spelling/grammar error in a communication from school, which I'm impressed by (seems that the fees are being spent on literate staff).
They do sometimes tweet exciting/interesting things they've been doing, but I suspect that's more pr/advertising than parent communication. Don't mind it, not terribly bothered.
No need for live q&a with the head - he's outside the school morning and afternoon and I can email him.
They put the week's topics up on a noticeboard in the corridor, also available on the website.

Alfieisnoisy Wed 02-Dec-15 12:47:25

I would never EVER criticise a school on Favebook, I think that's awful.

I did have very serious concerns about the way my son's needs were not met in senior school but there was no way I would ever go onto social media and name them. Not least because I know they are struggling with ever increasing numbers of children and ever decreasing budgets.

Alfieisnoisy Wed 02-Dec-15 12:51:09

lovelyupnorth, your post about abusing the head is disgusting, I hope you were not being serious.

decidedlydizzy Wed 02-Dec-15 13:04:14

All 3 DC attend the same primary. Communication is ok but could be improved. Parents have an "unofficial" facebook page which is good for asking questions about "what time does the Christmas play start?" or "has anyone got my dc's jumper?" Parents are clear that it is not to be used for complaints or criticisms.
Texting is used a lot but sometimes if they send multiple messages you can easily lose messages higher up the thread as you just read the most recent and therefore miss something important.
What annoys me a bit is that I get 3 lots of letters, newsletter etc...which just end up in the recycling bin as I only need one copy! Even though parents were told letters would go home with youngest child (why not eldest?) this doesn't happen.
Prolific spelling errors, grammatical errors, errors regarding details etc.. resulting in additional communications to address the mistakes!
I would like communications to be in many forms, paper, email, text and social media would be good to suit all different tastes and to avoid information going through the net. I have missed little slips of paper in school bags so the same message communicated in different formats would be good.
I do feel that feedback should be sought more often and should always be anonymous and confidential which currently it isn't. I don't see evidence of feedback being acted on either or valued.

redskybynight Wed 02-Dec-15 13:05:05

My main gripes about communication are:

- if there is a forthcoming school trip/event then the communication about it should include details of date, times and anything out of the ordinary (e.g. costume) that will be needed.

- make sure the information is right in the first place (barring unexpected changes) rather than sending out a continuous stream of updates

- proof-read - both for correct and complete information and for spelling/punctuation

- Not using jargon

- communicating in a timely manner. 2 days notice of Christmas concerts and sports days (that have been in the calendar all term) is not good enough.

- if you say you will do something then please do it, or explain why not!! Parents are not mindreaders

- if there is an issue/something going on, that lots of parents are likely to ask about, then maybe a general communication is a good idea, rather than requiring each parent to ask separately!

And in the other direction

- explain to me how you would like me to communicate with the school. Should this be by

- home/school diary
- speaking to teacher
- speaking to school office
- arranging meeting
- sending email

It is not obvious to me (because no one has explained it) that if I have x issue I should use y communication method.

FlightofFancy Wed 02-Dec-15 13:26:24

Good things: letters home in book bags, half termly 'topic web' with roughly what they'll be covering, fortnightly newsletter by email from school office plus extras when needed, engaged class reps (2 per class so cover if someone is ill or super busy) who email reminders. We don't do parent mail or texts, which is a good thing as can be intrusive. Have a phone tree per class for emergencies. Each year there is a 'meet the teacher' informal session to see new classroom plus workshop sessions covering things like phonics for new year r parents and maths support for y1 etc.

Less good things: it can be harder if you work full time as often sessions are in work hours (but then I don't expect teachers to work evenings, so no solution), some things rely on being there at drop off or pick up.

Must also do a guide for how to communicate with schools - it's not acceptable to take to social media; you are 1 of potentially 400 families with children at that school, so please understand why everything is not tailored to you personally. The head teacher has hundreds of things to do, all of which are more important than explaining why your year R child can't wear an apron for lunch and why you don't get a record sent home of what they've eaten...

iWipemyass Wed 02-Dec-15 13:39:11

Dc's school are generally quite good at keeping in touch with you.

However one thing boils my pi$$ more than anything. They seem incapable of calling me anything but 'mum'. My first name, Mrs surname, even x's mum are all acceptable ways of addressing me but 'mum' isnt.

Anotherusername1 Wed 02-Dec-15 13:51:32

When you write letters to parents don't use capital letters or bold letters unless you want to make say a date stand out.

We are NOT children and do NOT need you to say NOT in capital letters. Do you get the picture?

Also don't use "kindly note". It's not kindly, it's rude. Just say please note, or just say what you've got to say. For example, instead of saying "kindly note the INSET day is on 14th January" just say "the next INSET day is on 14th January".

The key thing to remember is parents are adults.

Generally I'm happy about the way my school communicates, we have a portal, a Twitter feed, a Facebook feed, parentmail. The only thing is that the homework should be on the portal and it isn't. So if you promise something in the way of communication, please deliver. If you're not sure your teaching staff can deliver it, don't promise it.

As someone else said above, I'm happy to look up info, so make sure everything relevant is on the website, key dates and events, all the policies, subject outlines, how many GCSEs the kids can do, etc. Don't make parents ask for things. It saves teachers and staff time if you can "self-serve" off the website.

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