Around 18 months ago I published an article entitled 14 Ways to make your school website better. I took another look at the article over the weekend, and I think there is little I would change. Ning is no longer free, so perhaps were I to write the post today I’d suggest looking at this guide to the best social networking services for free alternatives. Other than that, I think it has stood the test of time pretty well, especially judging from a few people’s responses via Twitter.
Nevertheless, there is always more we can do, and so here are 14 more suggestions for improving your school website. I do not for one minute suggest that anyone try to implement all of them! Regard these 28 points as suggestions from which you might select two or three to try out. If you can think of any more, please let me know, or leave a comment.
Set up a wiki for parents
It’s good to get parents engaged. In Building Parent Engagement in Schools, by Larry Ferlazzo and Lorie Hammond, the authors draw an important distinction between parental involvement and parental engagement. (Incidentally, I’ll be reviewing that book in the next edition of Computers in Classrooms, the free newsletter for educational ICT professionals.) Why not set up a wiki in order to learn more about parents’ suggestions for access to social networks in schools? Perhaps the wiki could be used for drawing up a code of conduct about cyberbullying.
Set up a support forum for parents
There’s still a lot of mileage in “old-fashioned” technology like forums. Why not experiment with a forum in which parents could ask questions of other parents? It would be interesting to see what sort of issues parents are concerned about, which they may not wish to voice to a teacher directly. It would need moderating of course – a job for one of the governors, maybe?
Create a FAQ page
Still on the subject of parents, not everyone wants to trawl through the school prospectus to try to find out who to phone when their child is ill. These days, many people are used to looking through a Frequently Asked Questions page to find the answer they need, so that’s another way to get them coming, and returning, to the school website.
Provide a link to the school’s virtual learning environment
If that’s not possible or feasible, provide a parental login page, at least, from which they can access the forum, the FAQ page and the latest bulletin like “Sports lessons cancelled tomorrow” – the kind of thing you don’t necessarily want to share with the world at large.
Set up a community news section
Many schools are hubs of the local community, so why not have a community news page? The local doctor’s surgery could put up notices, or supply them to the school’s web editor, about flu jabs, healthy eating tips and so on. Ditto safety tips from the police. An advantage of this is that the school can keep its website vibrant without having to provide all the copy (written material) itself.
Set up a photo gallery
This is another way of avoiding having to write stuff all the time. If your website platform allows it (most do), you can set up a page which links to a Flickr page. A snippet of code means that you can have a changing photo display without having to do anything manually once you’ve set it up – apart from uploading more photos every so often of course. You can seen an example of this sort of thing at the Writer’s Know-how website.
Celebrate achievement in three different ways
- A page for examination and sports results.
- A page for pupils’ work.
- A page for pupil achievement, eg “Merit Award of the week”.
With any suggestions involving pupils, make sure the child protection guidelines are followed. And even then, I’d get the final seal of approval from a senior teacher if I were you.
Use media in three different to engage with pupils, parents and the wider community
- Set up a school YouTube channel.
- Set up a school podcast.
- Set up a school radio station.
These can involve the pupils – they should – involve the pupils, so there are other benefits from getting them to work together for a real audience and a real purpose. But do make sure these things are sustainable before you start, rather than announcing a weekly video bulletin, say, to great fanfare, and then allowing it to die after three episodes.
Use older pupils
Kids don’t like listening to adults, but they often listen to other, especially older, kids. Advice on behaviour, studying, dealing with bullying are just some of the topics that could be addressed.
Where are they now?
How about a page which features ex-pupils? How are they getting on at their new secondary school, or university, or job? If you aim to update the page once every couple of weeks, ie twice per half term, you’d only need to line up about a dozen a year. And such a page might tell prospective parents more about the school than test results alone.
Hopefully this list has given you some food for thought. Not all of them will be possible, I realise, whether because of “political” issues, technical ones, or others, but perhaps they contain kernels of one or two useful ideas.