A school website is often the first thing that a new Headteacher will want to change when they come into post. A website should reflect the school’s personality and brand, be user-friendly and inviting to prospective parents, as well as existing ones. All too often, school websites are filled with out of date informaton because there is no one to collate the content and keep everything updated. The key to transforming your website is careful planning. Having worked with a variety of schools, I’ve come up with 7 tips to help you manage the process:
1. Select your Team Carefully
It’s likely that you’ll be considering employing an agency to build the website. Whilst many schools are tied in with educational companies (you might be committed to a website provider that offers a management integration system), it’s worth considering other, non-educational, website agencies too, which could be more cost-effective.
You’ll need a dedicated person to be the link between school and the agency, to plan the project and communicate with all stakeholders. Ideally for a school, this person would have additional skills, such as proof-reading, copywriting and WordPress CMS experience. Often, school website agencies only get involved in the build and design; leaving the school to upload and format all the content themselves.
The Headteacher usually has ultimate responsibility for the project, but it’s helpful to have a small group of two or three teachers (not necessarily from SLT) to be involved at key points of the website refresh process. Avoid having too many stakeholders, which will only slow the project down.
2. Know your Audience
It’s essential to understand who you are creating the website for. Listing the different target audiences (prospective parents, existing parents, teachers, students, governors) will ensure that tailored content is ordered in the best way to ensure a user-friendly experience.
Most state schools’ funding is highly dependent on the number of students recruited in each cohort. A website is one of the first places that prospective parents will look before deciding on a school for their child, so this is likely to be your primary audience.
Existing parents do still refer to the school website for term dates, uniform policy, lunch arrangements and calendar dates, so it’s a good idea to make this information readily available and easily discoverable, perhaps under a dedicated dropdown tab.
3. Set a Realistic Timescale
Websites do not come to fruition overnight. Proper planning at the outset may take a few extra days, but ensures that the project has the best chance of progressing smoothly. Setting realistic milestones and building in some contingency time enables project members to work with a degree of pace, whilst ensuring their work is of a high calibre.
Schedule time for teaching staff to collate their departmental content, policies to be agreed and stakeholders, such as governors, to read and approve their pages. You will also need to include time for proof-reading and mobile testing.
4. Ensure Consistent Messaging
Whilst refreshing the look and feel of your website, it’s a good idea to revisit your key messages. Most schools have well-defined ‘Vision’, ‘Ethos’ and ‘Values’ statements. Does the content of the website reflect these? It’s important that the tone of voice is consistent throughout the site. For example, do you want to come across as formal and authoritative, or more informal and welcoming? Is the school more focused on more traditionally academic subjects, or vocational ones? Is it innovative? Are Sport and Performing Arts important? Finally, your Sixth Form pages need to draw in older students, who will conduct their own research.
5. Invest in High Quality Photography
Images are the cornerstone of an effective website. The best school photographs are often the ones captured throughout the year, when a ‘buzzy’ project is underway and students are genuinely enjoying themselves. Unfortunately, some amazing shots taken by in-house staff may not be of high enough resolution or the right orientation for the website. If budgets allow, it’s a good idea to employ a handpicked photographer for project-work throughout the year. Alternatively, book a photoshoot for spring or summer, when the facilities are at their best, and involve all staff so that their lessons showcase their most interactive work. Remember to check students’ photography permissions too.
6. Curate Useful Content
Your content needs to be genuinely useful and/or entertaining. Prospective parents want to know about the school day, the ‘House’ systems, rewards, homework etc. Prospective students will also be keen to find out about break times, school trips and clubs.
Remember to include all statutory content. A list of what needs to be included on schools’ websites can be found via the GOV.UK website. You may wish to group all of this information in one place.
When collating interesting news stories, image galleries and examples of students’ work, staff need to feel involved in the process. It’s worth setting aside a few minutes of a staff meeting to present the website and explaining how they can contribute. Give them a format, word count and dates when the content will be uploaded so that work can be consistently planned.
7. Keep it Alive!
Once the website is live, it needs to be kept current. The teacher ‘vacancies’ page needs to be kept updated; news stories and calendars should be refreshed weekly and policies need to be amended. Decide who is going to do this. Ideally this would be someone with a marketing background who knows their way around WordPress. Tables and written copy can rarely be ‘cut and pasted’ directly onto the webpage. The language also needs to match that of the entire site and be error-free.
Schools need to be pragmatic about refreshing their websites. Budgets and time are so often stretched, making the process a burden. By allocating project roles and planning meticulously at the outset, SLT members can save precious time revisiting decisions and dealing with unexpected queries and issues.
Ultimately, a great website can be a highly creative tool to showcase the real personality and spirit of the school community. It’s also an effective way of bringing together parents, teachers, other staff and the local community.