Communicating during COVID-19: the transformation of parent comms

Rich Harley, CEO of ScholarPack, examines emerging trends in parental communications

Parental communications have reached new levels of importance over the last few months. We’ve seen schools embracing innovative ways of keeping parents in the loop and engaged, all of which wouldn’t have been possible without the effective use of technology.

Unable to rely on chats at the school gate or letters sent home in rucksacks, schools found themselves having to switch to entirely virtual communications, almost overnight. At a time when getting the right information out to the right people was crucial, schools who already had a dedicated communications software package set-up and integrated with their school’s management information system (MIS) were at an advantage. Together, these two systems allowed schools to communicate with very specific groups of parents (eg key workers, pupils eligible for free school meals, or vulnerable groups) by quickly pulling them into separate lists, and allowing the school to send out tailored text messages or emails to each group, saving headteachers a big job.

Similarly, parents needed to be able to respond to communications. Having a system that allows messages to be collated in one place, alongside contextual information like key worker status, means faster and clearer communications for everyone.

The social network

But it’s not just the communication tools themselves that are evolving; it’s also parental preferences. With schools needing to keep the lines of communication open during COVID-19, they often had to deviate from formal protocols or letter writing for ease and speed, opting for methods that facilitate more instant, regular updates. Consequently, schools are discovering that for some updates, many parents actually respond better to more informal, relaxed methods of communication, such as via social media or messaging apps. After all, this is what they’re used to using in their personal lives. Sending a quick reply in an app or posting a comment in a Facebook group could become the norm going forward.

“While in-person interaction with parents will always be extremely valuable, this year has highlighted that sometimes, it just isn’t possible”

The video conference revolution

Similarly, video conferencing software, such as Zoom or Google Meet, has also proved to be a highly effective way of maintaining communication throughout lockdown. While in-person interaction with parents will always be extremely valuable, this year has highlighted that sometimes, it just isn’t possible. Regardless of whether school buildings are physically open or not, there will always be parents who struggle to make it into school – whether it’s due to work commitments, health issues or distance to travel. Now that schools have discovered how effective video communication with parents can be, we’ll likely see many schools continuing to use it as a way of boosting engagement and reaching those who are often harder to meet with in person.

‘Paperless schools’

This year’s pandemic, and schools’ subsequent experiment with digital transformation, will also be a big catalyst in the move towards ‘paperless schools’. Relying on paper forms and letters for parent comms and admin are now not only bad for the environment, but also a potential health hazard. What’s more, manually processing paper administration is a time-consuming job for already stretched school staff. In the past, some schools may have been reluctant to switch over to online tools and systems that support paperless processes, or more likely, they simply didn’t have time to do it. Whether it’s setting up cashless payment systems, online consent forms or communication apps, investing time in setting up automated systems that don’t rely on manual processes can have a big impact on staff workload.

This period of disruption has been extremely difficult for schools, but it has shone a light on the opportunity for schools to evaluate how they communicate and engage with their communities, and perhaps discover new solutions to old problems. As schools look ahead to the new academic year and beyond, it’s clear that embracing a flexible blend of virtual and onsite communications will be the key to maintaining successful engagement with their communities.

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