Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: I build school websites, so a blog on what school websites should be like could be interpreted by some as a blog about Why Schools Should Use Me To Build Their Websites.
But as well as being a school website builder, I am a parent of four school-age children who attend three different schools, and one of the reasons I build websites for schools is because of my frustration at nigh-on useless school websites providing little or no information about what my children are doing between the hours of 9am and 3.30pm every week day.
I am one of those people who likes lists and also likes things to be broken down into easily digestible chunks, so I am going to do this under five different headings.
1. They must be easily navigable
This is the golden rule for ALL websites, but if you are going to encourage parents to use the website to find information rather than ring the overworked school office then you must make it super-easy for them or they will just ring the office and never go on the site again.
That will often mean having a drop down “Parents” menu on the home page but it is ALWAYS a good idea to have lots of quick image-led links on the home page to different pages too.
Asking parents via email questionnaires what they want most from a site is one good way to do this and will mean mums and dads feel some ownership of the new site too – alternatively, you could just go live and then ask for feedback.
2. Picture galleries are great
Schools are getting better and better at using social media to share photos with parents but picture galleries are arguably even better. Regularly adding new galleries will encourage parents to visit the site to see pictures of their own children, and parents will find it easier to locate that one picture they want to show relatives if it’s on the website rather than on a solitary tweet from three weeks ago. Galleries also mean you can add unlimited pictures as full images rather than drop six or seven into a single ‘pic collage’ that is then sent out as a single tweet.
3. Get some original content on there!
As a journalist and parent, I look at the lack of original content on school websites with horror. So much goes on in schools – class trips, visits by authors and artists, theme days, parent lunches – that parents would dearly love to read about and see pictures of. Just writing two or three paragraphs about what happened would suffice alongside some photos which can be taken by the teacher or teaching assistant during the day.
4. Pictures of teachers are great
Most school websites have a staff list but not many have pictures to go with them. Knowing what everyone from the head down looks like is enormously helpful to parents who may not know who the deputy head is. The fact that he or she has been in the Juniors for 24 years is irrelevant to parent of a new Year Three. Pictures also mean that children who are about to start the school can familiarise themselves with the staff, who suddenly seem a lot less scary when there’s a smiling picture next to their name on the website.
5. Keep updating
Persuading parents to use the school website as the first port of call for any information is not easy if your old site wasn’t much cop. The best way to do this is by putting EVERYTHING they might need to know on there so that every time there is an enquiry parents can be directed to the site. That means any changes to clubs, any secondary school open evenings coming up, any new inset days. Anything and everything.