Every school needs a website. Whether yours is a secondary or primary school, voluntary aided, church or academy, one thing it will certainly need (apart from the obvious assets like staff and buildings!) is a website. Ofsted has made it clear that schools are expected to publish statutory information online, and every school, head teacher or Oftsed inspector I’ve spoken to about this subject has reinforced the fact that Ofsted will check your website prior to an inspection.
But how do you get the most from your school website? Most head teachers I’ve spoken to want a website that does three key things:
- Meets Ofsted requirements
- Helps you to communicate with key stakeholders and showcase what’s happening in your school
- Do all of this without eating up too much staff time or budget.
So how do you get the most from your school website while not breaking the bank or using up too much time? Here are four tips to help you do just that.
1. Plan your site according to the needs of your school
Every school is different but most schools will have some common aims for the website. Before creating your site, identify a few things:
- Who will be visiting the site?
- What do they expect to see? What do you want them to see?
- Who should add content to the site?
Identifying your potential visitors will help you tailor your content to their needs and provide links and navigation that will make it easy for them to find what they need. For example, parents may be looking for newsletters or homework, applicants for school places will be looking for your adminssions policy and prospectus, while job seekers will be looking for vacancies and application forms.
Try talking to your stakeholders to find out what they need from the site. When we created a new website for Wylde Green Primary we talked to staff, governors and parents to identify what they needed from the site – and this informed the home page design, which consists mainly of links to the most frequently accessed content.
Similarly, understanding who will be managing and updating the site is important. More than one person will probably be responsible for producing content, so you need to decide if all of those people will add content to the site or if they will forward it to one site co-ordinator to add. Choose a website tool that lets you create multiple users or editors so that you’re not reliant on one staff member.
2. Use Your Website to Support In-School Activity
A school website isn’t just an added extra – it’s a tool you can use to support and complement activities taking place in school. This might include:
- Adding a section to your site to support a specific project or event, with materials for students to use beforehand, updates as the project progresses and/or photos of what’s been happening in school. This will especially help parents feel involved in school projects and celebrations.
- Creating a page or section in your site for learning resources and links, which may or may not be password-protected. Try to keep this updated regularly so it’s fresh and stays relevant to learning that’s taking place in school.
- Creating pages for your PTA and Governing Body so they can add information on their activities, either directly or by forwarding this to a staff member responsible for adding content.
- Keep your Curriculum pages updated with targets and documents so that parents know what’s expected of their children and students have access to key documents.
- Consider creating a blog which children can add posts to themselves, to help reinforce learning and support Literacy and ICT.
Schools have always used letters, newsletters and displays to support and showcase in-school activity – your website can be a very effective extension of this.
3. Keep your Site Regularly Updated
A site which is allowed to stagnate will quickly lose relevance and visitors. Schools are continually producing documents, letters, curriculum information, displays, photos and much more, and it makes sense to add some of these to your website.
But if your site isn’t easy to maintain, it will soon go out of date. Make sure you choose a website management system that’s user-friendly and lets you add new pages in a matter of minutes. I would always advise against using a system that requires you to write code, as that will put staff off and increase the risk of something ‘breaking’ the site.
School staff I’ve worked with tend to have a defined day of the week when they upload content to their site, which is more efficient and means you can pull everything together in advance. Of course there will be times when you need to add something urgently, which is where a system of home page banners or blog posts might come in handy.
4. Shout About It!
Once you have a high quality, regularly updated website, make sure people know about it! Tell all of your schools’ stakeholders, and include links in letters and newsletters. Some schools use a newsletter for brief notes with a link to more detailed information on the website.
And it isn’t just through the traditional channels that you can publicise your fabulous website either – consider using Facebook or twitter to post links to new content on your site and add a twitter feed to your site so visitors can see what you’ve been tweeting.
As I hope I’ve demonstrated, making sure your school website works hard for you isn’t rocket science, but it does take some thought and effort. If you’d like to get more advice or ideas on how you can make your school website as effective as possible, please give me a call!