With social distancing and other Covid measures dominating, it has never been more important for schools to present a stunning, accurate and up-to-date online impression of what they have to offer, Linda Tanner writes

When shops had to close in the spring, some independent traders adapted quickly and successfully by setting up websites to sell their wares. Many did not.

It was much the same with schools. They all have websites already but few made them a main communication channel during the crisis. Nor did they take the opportunity of the months of lockdown to review and update their online content.

In many cases, this meant that parents seeking information in late August about the return to class found on the homepage only an ancient school dinner menu, a file of newsletters that stopped in March, a wordy risk assessment from July, or an emergency closure notice.

Even now, at the end of September, a lot of schools have out-of-date information on their landing page. Explore further, and almost all have old and irrelevant lists, details and photos.

Of course, throughout the pandemic a lot of schools have been communicating well with their parents via phone calls, apps and social media, while relying on a website Twitter feed as a current showcase.

Local Voice created a beautiful virtual tour for Bradley Stoke Community School in South Gloucestershire.

But the families already in your school are not your only audience. Your website has to speak to prospective students and their parents and carers, prospective staff, governors, and people in your neighbourhood and the wider community.

It is not enough just to ensure you are DfE and Ofsted compliant. Your online presence is your virtual shop window and needs to look good all year round. A Parent Ping survey today shows that 62 per cent of parents choosing a school for their child would look at the website before making a decision.

Surveys show websites are important for parents choosing a school.

Usually at this time, secondaries would be holding open events and primaries would be preparing to run tours and visits later in the autumn. Because of Covid-19, everyone is now scrambling to organise virtual tours, webinars, meetings and more, and rapidly realising that recording bits of video on a smartphone is not going to cut it!

While we’ll all do the best we can for this recruitment season, it looks likely that some of the moves to online communication will be permanent so this might be the time to consider getting professional support with photography, video, graphic design and website creation.

Equally important, though, is to identify whose role it is to maintain the website and ensure they have the training and are allowed the time to do it regularly. Harness talent within your school and rethink job descriptions if necessary. Remember that no one person can do it all.

A final point, often overlooked – appoint a proof-reader and sense-checker. There’s no point spending thousands on a fancy new online look if your home page contains misplaced apostrophes, spelling mistakes and – especially – wrong dates.

It’s not just window-dressing …

Local Voice worked with Cotham Gardens Primary School in Bristol over lockdown to create a new website, which has now launched. Have a look here.

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