Communicating with parents

According to a survey that we carried out amongst 1,000 parents with children aged 5-16, two-fifths of schools (41%) don’t communicate well with parents.  

School PR

Parents are pretty universal in their gripes when it comes to school communication and it usually all boils down to two complaints - “I never saw the note asking for this”, or “I wasn’t given enough notice for that”.

Of course how frequently you send out messages to parents is a balancing act. But on the whole my advice to all schools is simple.  When it comes to communicating with parents make sure that you send out your important messages and requests early and often.  Follow this mantra and every school ought to be able to cut down significantly on the number of parent complaints it gets about the message never getting through in a timely manner, or at all.

Let’s take an example.  Say you always have a school music recital on the last Thursday of each half term. Never ever assume that all parents will remember this. Like you, parents have busy lives and the school diary is likely to be just one small part of a calendar that they are trying to maintain.  My advice? Firstly, be sure you are only telling relevant parents about the recital, then tell those parents about said recital at the start of each half term, remind them a fortnight later, remind them a fortnight after that and then tell them once more a few days before the event too. One of those reminders will hit home and get noted into the parent’s planner if they intend on coming. 

And it’s not just crucial to provide multiple opportunities for your message to get through, you also need to think carefully about the medium you are using.  Consider for a moment the way you best respond to requests from school colleagues and friends.  Is it email, or a text message or a DM through your preferred social network?  Should you be investing in a bespoke school comms app? Don’t assume that all parents respond in the same way, or that they read the weekly newsletter you stick in a schoolbag or publish online.

Ask parents what communication method works best for them and don’t be afraid to use multiple communication tools to get your message heard.  Take advantage of the many online systems now available that allow you to send out, and monitor, the open rates and clicks of the same announcements in different formats. And use delayed delivery options to test and learn the best time for your parents to receive messages.  You might find, for example, that the most effective time to send out a message is not at 14:30 but at 22:00 – late enough to avoid getting lost in a deluge of messages from work colleagues or friends, but at a time when Mum and Dad will still be awake and the house is likely to be calmer.

A few final suggestions.  Keep your messages brief (research shows that an adult’s attention span is around 8 seconds), use clear headings and always, always keep your call to action front and centre rather than burying it in a long message.

By following these tips you should be able to cut right down on the grumbles over parent communications.  Sure, a minority of parents will still say that the message never reached them, and a few will grumble that they are being ‘bombarded’ with reminders but, for the majority, they will simply be grateful for the prompting, especially if it means they can be sure they are there on the big day to nod appreciatively at the school recital

Mark Cooper is a partner at GKP, a specialist consultancy that offers education PR, marketing and communications management to UK schools, universities and business focused on the education space.