Let's face it: most school websites are pretty boring. True, some have improved a lot in the last few years, but they're mainly the exception that proves the rule.
Looking at most school websites is like taking a trip back in time. No interactivity, no sense of community, no updates for weeks, if not months.
In short, no life.
There are ways in which you can ensure that your school's website is not only vibrant, but stays that way.
Regard the website as a publishing medium, not a technical one
This may seem a bit of a no-brainer, but in too many schools the 'powers-that-be' delegate the task of website maintenance to the Head of ICT. That's like delegating the job of producing the school prospectus to the Head of English, on the grounds that it uses words.
Regard the maintenance of the website as a collaborative process
Why should only one person be responsible for generating the content, keeping it updated and publishing it? If several people were involved, and if all staff were expected to contribute to the site in some way on a regular basis (once every half-term, say), the website would almost look after itself.
Regard the school website as the website of the school
The 'school' includes pupils, parents, support staff and even the local community, as well as teachers and the Principal. It includes more than the curriculum and sports activities. See the next point too.
Show what the school is really like
School websites often talk about what a great job the school does, usually through a combination of lists of examination results and photos of people on a sports field or at a computer. Yawn. Why not have pupil bloggers on the website, discussing what they do and why, and what they like and don't like?
Why not a blog?
With that in mind, consider having a school blog rather than a website, or have a website which incorporates a blog.
A blog can be updated quickly and easily, and lends itself to participation by allowing comments to be made on the articles posted.
You can go further than articles
How about a school Ning in which parents can get into blogging and discussions? Obviously, it would have to be moderated, but think of the dividends in terms of goodwill and excitement.
Or how about a weekly, or monthly, opinion poll to engage parents?
It doesn't even have to be about the school itself. A question like "What do you think of the new Vetting and Barring Scheme? would generate some interest, and may even provide some good ideas for the school. It should certainly give the school management a good idea of where parents stand on the issues involved.
Nice target, shame about the approach
The main aim of most school websites is to attract new pupils. They have a corporate kind of aim, but not a corporate kind of approach. Most commercial websites give stuff away. It doesn't cost them much, but gives people the impression they are not just after your money.
How come I have never seen a school website that gives stuff away? For example, how about a downloadable sheet about keeping your child safe online? How about one explaining what the National Curriculum levels mean?
Don't have a 'latest news' page...
... Unless you really are pretty sure that you can keep it going. There is little worse than seeing that the 'latest news' is three months out of date -- which it may be, given end of term exams followed by a long summer break.
Have a publishing schedule
It makes life a lot easier if you have a good idea of what you're going to write about and when. There are key times of the year, of course: reminders of holiday dates, and parents' evenings, for example. There are also key times of the week, such as setting the tone on a Monday morning.
Blog ahead, if possible
One of the features of a blog I now regard as a must-have is the ability to write a post and have it appear at some time in the future. It means that you can bash out a few articles all in one go when you have the time and energy, and set them to publish at the rate of one a day automatically.
Another handy feature, if you can get it, is one which 'unpublishes' articles.
Write draft posts
A blog post is referred to as a 'draft' if it has not been published yet. It's incredibly useful to be able to have articles written and ready to go live, but not necessarily automatically. Why? See the following point.
Be forever timely
Taking the above three features together, it is possible to write an article called, say, 'Big basketball match tomorrow: don't forget!', have it appear the day before the match, and then disappear on the day of the match.
As well as keeping the articles timely, and therefore relevant, it also paves the way for putting up two further articles: 'Basketball match: the big day arrives!', and 'Basketball match results'. This is where the draft articles come in. True, you can't write much detail about something that hasn't happened yet, unless your name happens to be Nostradamus, but you can write something which is almost certain to be true, such as:
'The basketball team looked resplendent in their kit as they marched out onto the pitch. Nerves? Maybe, but only their coach would know, and he wasn't telling!'
All you have to do on the day is take a quick snapshot, upload it along with a caption and a bit of text about the weather or something somebody said, and hit the Publish button.
Regard the school website as important
That means, giving whoever is responsible for putting it together and maintaining it or co-ordinating everyone involved some proper time to do it in. Or exemption from doing (some) cover/substitution.
Or even a bit of extra salary perhaps?
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