When thinking about how best to communicate with parents, many schools look at using a school smartphone app. But how does a smartphone app compare to using your school website to communicate with parents?
This article will look at the pros and cons of each and how to use both your school website and / or a school smartphone app to their full potential.
School smartphone apps
Let’s start by looking at the new kid on the block for parent communications – the school smartphone app. The idea of these apps is simple, parents already use their smartphones to organise their lives so why not give them an app for their phone which contains everything they need to keep up to date with their child’s school.
How does this work for parents?
These apps work really well for parents because they’re easy to check and they don’t require parents to log in to a new platform or website. Once they’ve set up an account, they can simply open the app on their existing phone to stay up to date with their child’s school.
What kinds of things can parents do?
Depending on which app your school uses, parents can access information about news and events, receive messages, report school absences, give consent, pay for school dinners & school trips, track their child’s attendance record and much more!
School apps are growing in popularity and getting cleverer all the time so it won’t be long before every aspect of your child’s school admin can be managed by an app.
This helps parents as it means they can manage the day to day of their child’s school at a time and place that’s convenient to them. This is likely to mean more reliability and increased engagement from parents – it’s easier to remember an event or piece of homework if parents get a message and a follow up reminder through their school app!
How do schools manage the app?
Most school apps have a web interface where schools can log in and send messages to parents, add events and documents, set up payments, ask for consent etc.
This is easy to do but it will take some time to set everything up. The app company will usually help you with this initial set up, but it’s worth bearing in mind that after your app is all set up it will take time every week to manage the information which is sent out on the app, make any updates, send messages etc.
Don’t worry though, you’ll save more time than it takes to manage the app as your school office and admin staff won’t need to constantly answer the same questions over and over again from parents!
It’s a good idea to make at least two people jointly responsible for updating the app every week – this ensures that if one person is on holiday or off sick that the app updates still get done and parents aren’t suddenly left with an information gap.
What are the benefits to the school of using an app?
The benefits of using a smartphone app for schools are massive!
- Ease of use. For a start all of your parent communications are in one place rather than the mixed channels which most schools end up using. This means it’s easier for you to keep track of what’s going on because all of your school communications with parents are in one convenient app.
- Cost savings. Some school apps offer free push messaging through the app which means that you can send a message directly to a parent’s phone for free. Because of this, schools can save a lot of money on the text messages they currently use to send important messages to parents.
- Streamlines communication & saves admin time. No need to answer as many questions, keep up with different systems for payments or send different information to parents via the newsletter, website and twitter. Now all of your parent communications are in one place! Depending on which app you use you can also receive payments through the app meaning less time spent chasing parents for that outstanding school dinner money.
- Happier parents! Giving parents the opportunity to manage and keep up to date with their child’s school whenever and wherever suits them will empower parents! Maybe they like to catch up on the train to work, or organise their diary while on a break at work… well with a school app they can. And they’ll love you for it!
What kinds of communication does a school app work best for?
School apps can work well for a range of different types of parent communications, from the latest news and events to specific information about homework or what pupils will need to bring for their special lesson on volcanoes next week.
Parents appreciate that they don’t have to go searching across multiple channels to find what they need, and staff will appreciate the time & cost savings that using a school app can bring.
Now let’s look at school websites and see how they compare for parent communications. School websites have been around for a lot longer that school apps, but are they still necessary for parent communications?
Your school website should provide a good overview of your school with as much information as possible about who you are and what you do. Most school websites are now mobile friendly which makes it easy for parents to check the website whenever they’re looking for information.
What do parents use your school website for?
The vast majority of parents will check out your school’s website when looking at potential schools for their child. They will usually be looking for your OFSTED results, and then trying to build up a picture of what your school is like more generally so that they can make a judgement on whether they think their child would do well there.
Depending on how effective your parent communication is and how often the school website is updated, once their child is attending your school parents tend to check the website less often and usually only when they’re looking for specific information.
What kinds of things can parents do on the website?
Most school websites are based around parents accessing information on a range of different areas – from pupils’ current curriculum, to uniform and school dinners.
On a well managed, well thought out school website there is no limit to what functionality can be added though and this makes your school website incredibly flexible. For example, if you have a school payments system already set up, it can often be embedded or linked to from the school website.
Your school website can also be a great first port of call for parents who need information which may not be contained in your school app – for example if a parent can’t remember who your school uniform supplier is or if they want to know more about what their child will be learning next term, then the website would be the natural place to look first.
Even if you use another method for sending out information to parents ie email, paper letters or text messages, you can still use your website as a resource by linking back to specific pages on the site which always feature the most up to date information.
How do schools manage the website?
Management of the school website is usually via a content management system (CMS) which allows registered users of the site to log in and update content whenever necessary.
All of our school websites are built on a free, open source CMS called WordPress. There are many benefits of using WordPress over other proprietary CMS systems including cost savings, powerful features, easy editing and a vast support community.
Whatever CMS your school website is built on, someone at your school should have a login and be familiar with how to access the admin area of the site and update the content.
As with a school app, it will take time to make sure the website is always up to date but this pays dividends when it reduces calls to the school office and makes a great first impression with OFSTED.
What are the benefits to the school?
All schools in England are required to have a school website, and OFSTED also requires that key information is present on the website.
Having a school website that’s easy to update is a really important part of any school’s communications strategy and allows you to not only comply with OFSTED’s requirements but
also to go further and make the school website a valuable resource for parents.
What kinds of communication does a school website work best for?
School websites are really important for communicating your school’s overall vision and values to parents of prospective students, allowing them to get a really good overview of who you are and what you do.
If there are key subjects or areas your school specialises in then your school website is a great place to highlight these and show off your results and expertise.
Functionality which works great on a school website such as a virtual tour of the school can also make a huge difference in parent’s initial impression of your school. In this case a school virtual tour can show parents around your school and let them explore the school building before they even step foot inside!
Other information on all aspects of the school experience from the curriculum to after school clubs, and an FAQs page can make a huge difference in giving prospective parents what they need to build up a full picture of your school.
So what works best for parent communication school app or a school website?
As you’ve hopefully seen by now, both your school website and your school app are incredibly important elements in your overall school communication strategy and we think they work best when used together.
Your school website is the place to show off your school to prospective parents and the wider world, but a school app can provide most of the day to day information that parents of current students need in a way that’s convenient for them.
We find that a school website and a school app work really well together as part of a well thought out school communication strategy.
If you’d like some advice on how this could work for your school, just get in contact.