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Parents don’t have time to read endless PDFs; our simple lockdown communication strategy has paid dividends, says Kerry Stamp...
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Ahead of the first lockdown we were already ‘mobile first’ when it came to communicating with parents, and had been for four years.
Our Southampton-based school is located in an area of high deprivation where 57% of our 420 children are eligible for pupil premium. Many parents speak English as a second language or lack confidence in reading.
Detailed printed letters weren’t the right approach, but in lockdown our parent communications had to shift up a gear – and we’re still reaping the benefits.
Texting was absolutely central to staying in touch with parents during lockdown. We used them to alert families to new information on our website and about our plans for reopening.
As parents had a lot to contend with, whenever possible we texted just once a day and sent a direct link to the newest update, letter or information sheet. We strove to keep things simple with clear messages such as “Click link for update on change to start and finish times.”
Lots of information was available on our website, but the texts helped parents to quickly find what they needed. Clicking through to a link from their mobile phone was much easier than navigating our whole website or reading endless letters or PDFs.
A new development for lockdown was creating an email address for each of our classes. These had class names such as ‘owls@’ or ‘hedgehogs@’, rather than teacher names, so a number of staff could answer on behalf of the teacher without causing confusion.
Parents had lots of questions about their children’s learning and also wanted to share pictures of completed work and updates. We committed to checking and responding daily and it became a lifeline for many of our parents who were feeling stressed and anxious.
The class email addresses also helped us to identify parents who were not engaging – those that we were worried about and or not heard from in a week. We would text and call to get an update.
If this wasn’t successful, our home liaison officer and leadership team would set up video calls and home doorstep visits to check that children were safe.
We changed our newsletter from half-termly to a weekly rapid-fire update. We shared the latest news and featured examples of children’s work and other successes to help nurture a sense of community and make parents feel they weren’t alone.
The link to the newsletter was texted to parents, making it easy to access from their mobiles.
Ahead of lockdown, phone calls to parents were rare and were usually prompted by a particular issue. However, to keep in touch with all our children, teachers called everyone in their class weekly.
This was probably the area where we had most to learn. We found that parents liked the informality of phone calls and were comfortable to share their anxieties and ask for help. Previously, they might have felt we were ‘probing’, rather than offering assistance.
Following the first lockdown, there’s now a stronger bond between staff and parents. Families have reported that school staff are now more approachable. Some of our parents were themselves school refusers, so to recognise a more human side to school staff is potentially life-changing.
We’ve noticed that parents who might have avoided speaking to us are now more confident about getting in touch.
Regular short texts, newsletters and phone calls have helped them to feel much more closely linked with us. This has made socially-distanced communications at the school gate or via the phone or Zoom easier.
Equally, my teachers now feel more confident around talking to parents, even though it’s rarely face-to-face at the moment.
Recent research from Tapestry, the online learning journal, found that more than 80% of primary teachers and Early Years practitioners were now more confident approaching parents about their child’s learning or wellbeing.
Ahead of the first lockdown I felt our communications with parents and carers were strong.
However, we’ve learnt a lot and this has continued to have a positive impact in school, despite all the challenges. We’ve not printed any wordy letters and we’re not planning to either. Our mantra is simple: little, often and clear.
Kerry Stamp is headteacher at Thornhill Primary in Southampton.
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