James Whitaker

The relationship between school and home has a BIG impact on a young person.

Students thrive when their parents are engaged in their education, and schools play a huge part in supporting them to engage in learning at home.

So, when it comes to your school’s communication strategy, you need to have the right system for the job – one that gives both you and your parent community the tools you need to communicate effectively with one another.

You need a system that DELIVERS.

DELIVERS is a framework we’ve developed at Parent Hub to help you assess the effectiveness of your current communication system across 8 key areas: Data Protection, Ease of Use, Longevity, Integration, Value for Money, Engagement, Reliability and Support.

You can think of it as an MOT for your current system.

Here’s an overview of each bit of the framework, along with some questions for you to think about when evaluating your current system.

DATA PROTECTION

As a school needing to communicate with parents, you’re responsible for deciding which organisations to share their personal data with.

In the world of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), this typically makes you the Data Controller, and your communication provider the Data Processor.

It’s also part of your school’s responsibilities to ensure that the providers (or Processors) you work with comply with GDPR. It may sound daunting, but it needn’t be.

When evaluating your provider, the best place to start is with their Privacy Policy.

The best Processors adopt what’s called ‘data protection by design’. It puts the privacy and protection of users at the heart of decisions around how a system will work, and this should be reflected clearly in their policies.

Specifically, decisions around what personal data will be stored, how and where it will be stored, and how it will be used.

Questions to consider 

  • How up to date, transparent, and understandable is your provider’s Privacy Policy?
  • When you and your parents sign up to your current system, are marketing emails turned off by default, with the option to turn on if you want?
  • What happens to old messages in your system? How regularly can they be deleted to help you comply with GDPR?

EASE OF USE

Little and often’ is the mantra for effective parent communication, which means you need the process to be easy.

You’re sending messages multiple times a day, so speed and simplicity are essential to avoid wasting time. Everyday things should be done in seconds, not minutes.

When assessing ease of use, a good starting point is to ask yourself would I ask for the system to be built this way if I was given the choice?

Does everything just flow, or are there workarounds you’ve devised to accommodate things your platform won’t let you do? Things like uploading your newsletter to your school website, then messaging parents asking them to go and view it. Or shortening messages because of character limits (if you’ve had to shrtn msgs cos of this u knw wht i mn).

Or perhaps there are bigger inefficiencies, like creating payment requests in one system, but messaging parents about it in another because your app doesn’t let you do it all in one place.

Great platforms do the hard work for you, not the other way round.

Questions to consider

  • Could a new member of staff do 90% of daily tasks with absolutely no training or support at all?
  • How often do you delay sending something because you know it will take time?
  • How easy do parents find the sign-up process?

LONGEVITY

Longevity is all about whether your platform is capable of supporting you and your parent community over the long term.

For this, you should look at 2 key things:

  1. How is the platform is evolving over time?
  2. Is engagement from parents being sustained over many years?

If the system hasn’t really changed for a long time, this is a potential red flag.

In a post-COVID world, you need a lot more from your communication platform, so it’s important to see your provider understands that and is investing in making it better.

When it comes to engagement, you want to avoid the scenario where it seems high to begin with but then dips as the weeks and months go by. This can happen when a parent gets a new phone and forgets to log back into your school’s app, but it needn’t (and shouldn’t) be the end of things.

The best platforms out there will help you and your parents with this. They’ll help you track Engagement (more on that later), shine a light on parents that have stopped using your platform, and provide you with options to ensure they keep receiving messages.

Questions to consider

  • How easy is it to see which parents have become inactive, or stopped accessing your current platform?
  • How does your current platform ensure that messages are still received by inactive parents, so that engagement isn’t affected?
  • Is the platform getting better and better over time, or is it starting to stagnate a bit?

INTEGRATION

You should feel confident that you can reach every parent when you need to, and that you’re avoiding spending time and money on messages that don’t get delivered.

For the most part, your ability to manage this comes down to how well your system integrates with your MIS.

A basic requirement is for it to automatically update with new data at least once a day, but the best systems out there allow you to sync with your MIS on-demand, whenever you need to.

The real power, though, lies in how well your system highlights common issues that will stop your communication dead in its tracks – like when a student doesn’t have any contactable parents, or when a mobile number is invalid.

Better platforms proactively help you with this – removing barriers to keep communication flowing.

Questions to consider

  • How much effort does it take to get contact info into our current system?
  • How easy is it for me to spot the following critical issues?
    • Parents with missing mobile numbers
    • Students with no emergency contacts
    • Students with no priority 1 contact
  • If I fix an issue for a parent, can I message them that same day, or do I need to wait 24hrs?

VALUE FOR MONEY

There are 3 elements to consider when assessing value for money: impact, time spent and cost.

Imagine a service that’s free to use but has no impact on parent engagement with school or their child’s learning. This isn’t good value, sadly, because it’s wasting your time.

Or maybe you have a system that’s time-saving and effective but uses lots of costly text messages each time you send something out.

It’s not wasting your money, but when budgets are tight it might discourage you from using it very often, which isn’t what your parents want (see the ‘Ease of Use’ section and the mantra of ‘little and often’).

Valuable systems save you time and increase the impact of your communication. And crucially their pricing doesn’t discourage high usage.

Questions to consider

  • Is there a link between how often you use your system and how much it costs you?
  • To what extent do you limit your communication with parents because of cost?
  • How much office time is spent answering questions about things you have already messaged parents about?

ENGAGEMENT

The ultimate aim of your communication with parents is to promote better engagement – both with school life and learning at home.

How well your platform performs across the other elements of the DELIVERS framework goes a long way to determining whether your communication promotes or discourages that engagement.

At its most basic, it starts with parent uptake and read rates. Essentially has a parent signed up, and are they reading what you’re sending them?

A good system will enable you to easily track those things and intervene where necessary (see the earlier section on ‘Longevity’ for more on that).

The real value, though, lies in how well your messages impact on the behaviour of your parent community.

Does your communication result in higher attendance at events (online or in-person), and quicker slip responses? Or more conversations about learning at home?

The latter can be harder to track, but it’s at the heart of why you’re communicating with parents in the first place.

Questions to consider

  • What proportion of messages sent to parents are focused on what their child is learning, and how they can support this at home?
  • If your parents weren’t engaging with your messages, how would you know?
  • What identifiable impact, positive or negative, does your communication have on parents and their engagement?

RELIABILITY

Every other aspect of your communication strategy depends on the reliability of your messaging system.

It may be easy to use and offer great integration, but if it’s unreliable then your Longevity, Engagement and Value for Money will sadly suffer.

Parents want to be reassured they’ll always receive important messages from you. Reliable systems will do that and increase parents’ trust in you as part of the process.

Unreliable systems do the opposite and erode that trust. There’s nothing more frustrating for a parent than feeling out of the loop because a message wasn’t delivered to them, so it’s important area to get right.

Questions to consider

  • How reliable was your current system at key points during lockdown?
  • In a typical week, how often do you encounter technical issues such as problems signing in, or sending a message?
  • How often do parents report technical issues, such as missed messages, or problems signing in?

SUPPORT

When thinking about needing support, most people imagine that something has gone wrong. And whilst that can be true, it’s not the only reason you want good support from your communication provider.

When you encounter an issue, you might prefer to solve it yourself using friendly help guides, or perhaps you like to quickly get someone on the phone to talk it through with you.

Whichever it is, the best platforms offer this kind of support in a range of ways, so that you can opt for the approach that’s best for you.

But support is about much more than solving problems. The best platforms also offer advice on what to tell parents about, how often to send messages, and at what times of day.

Done right, it can inform your communication strategy and shine a light on best practice, so that you’re getting the most out of your system.

Questions to consider

  • If you encounter an issue, how easy is it to get it resolved using the options provider by your current system?
  • To what extent does your current provider inform how you use the system, and give you insight into best practice?
  • Does your provider offer help and support directly to your parent community?
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