School Communications – do they work?

 We are almost at the end of Term 2 (the autumn term in old money!). This is usually the most hectic term as it has lots of learning in it and Christmas!  That means plays, shows, concerts. It is the term with colds, flu and snow. Looking at those lists, it is the term that really needs good communication between the school and parents.
I’m sure many schools consider their communication systems perfectly adequate because they usually work well. However, it the times when they don’t work that can cause a major problem. Perhaps it is at these times that schools should review their contact procedures. The reason for this thought is an interesting discussion over at ‘The Sardine Tin‘. Do pop over and read it together with the comments.
The points made by many seem to be that schools forget many parents are working, may not pick children up and are able to speak to the teacher and many of the systems are haphazard. The increasing use of technology has meant that many schools now use ‘parentmail’ or send out texts. All well and good but they do need to be used in an appropriate way. The old favourite of newsletters has had a bad press not only because of its ability to get lost at the bottom of bags but also the accuracy of what is written.

School communications - Google

So what is the answer? For me it is forward planning by schools and sharing those plans once they are made. If parents know that an accurate newsletter comes out every week they can look for it. If texts and emails are only sent in emergencies, then parents will look at them.
By planning the events, school will also be able to plan the preparation times. Parents can know in advance what children need to take in. The important word here is ‘advanced’. There needs to be a balance between too much notice so that things are forgotten and last minute messages which cause annoyance. The point about last minute ad hoc requests for money is often a bone of contention for parents. Again, it is forward planning that can help. If school is able to decide the events and trips that will need financial support at say the beginning of the year, parents can be told in good time.
Whether parents remember of course is another point altogether! This is where responsibility comes in. Each side has pressures and stresses that can result in cracks in the system. When this happens, there needs to be understanding that these things happen. The key is to make sure it only happens rarely. Of course in the middle of this communication exchange are the children. They can be given the responsibility to be part of the message system. If they are trained early and well, they can really help in these last minute changes.
Above all, when things do go wrong, it is important that they are identified and changes made. Hopefully, things will go relatively smoothly most of the time so that when clichés occur they do not become major issues that affect the relationship of this vital partnership.

What are the communications systems like in your school? Are messages sent in a timely and appropriate way or is too much left to chance?

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  • Once again, absolutely spot on Julia. We use a combination of home/school diaries, Parentmail and newsletters but still don’t always get it right – and the times where it goes wrong are where there hasn’t been advanced notice. Also I’ve recently been sending home hard copies of everything ‘parentmailed’ to one parent because they have 3 children at 3 different schools and are bombarded with emails so it’s difficult for them to spot the important messages.
    One question – do you think schools should go for the focused approach with parents, ie all school communications should be sent by 1 method, or the blanket approach – send information by as many means as possible and hope parents pick up 1 method or another?

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think there is one method that fits all really. If a school is going to adopt just the one they have to do lots of PR work & follow everything up until it is well established. Then they have to work on new parents as they arrive. The risk with just one is what happens if that fails- eg photocopier is broken, internet is down etc. Nightmare! Many thanks for popping in to comment Alex. Really appreciate it!

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  • Alison

    problem as I see it – and it comes through in this article too- is that schools see communication as something which is “done to” parents. Communication is a two way street and I never see anyone addressing the issue of how schools find out what parents think or how to act on those views. One questionnaire a year ain’t where it’s at!

    • Anonymous

      You are so right. I was referring to information FROM school but of course there is the exchangeof views that is so needed. Any ideas how that could be developed?

  • Thanks for this response Julia – I do think you are right in that a bit of planning is what it boils down to. I also agree with Alison’s comment about communication being 2-way. In some ways I imagine this part of it is easier at primary school, where most parents appear at the school gate at one point or another. I wonder how this will change at secondary school, when children start to make their own way there and back, and parents or carers have less physical presence at the school.
    I don’t think any solution is ever going to be perfect – there just has to be willingness from both sides. As I said in my post, overall I think my daughter’s school does a good job, and we live in a community where parents are very keen to get involved. This, sadly, is not the case everywhere, and I wonder how much can really done with practicalities, before it comes down to willingness and attitude.

    • jfb57

      Thanks for coming back Julie. Let’s hope things can improve. We need to be able to support each other (sch /parents)even more with the tough times ahead!

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