Communication Let Me Down

The older of my blog readers will recognise this as a song title from Spandau Ballet. During the course of the summer I have the chance to catch up on all those domestic tasks which I should have done earlier in the year but never quite got round to. This often involves me having to ring places like the bank, the garage, the dentist, a shop or two etc. I often find this a frustrating task with it being so difficult at times to talk to someone. My bank is the worst at this, in one recent call I spent nearly twenty minutes being passed from one automatic option to another and at no stage was it possible to speak to another human being.
This got me thinking about communications with schools. I feel that my own school is pretty good at communicating and in our last parental survey we got a very positive rating in this respect. However, I do feel that schools should make this area a priority. Unlike many other organisations we are only open Monday to Friday during office hours so the majority of people trying to contact us are doing so in their work time and thus inevitably they can find it so frustrating if they are unable to get the answer they want.
A couple of years ago I went to a seminar by a marketing expert who was explaining to schools’ marketing people his own experience of independent schools. He gave a powerful exposition of the frustrations he faced in getting in touch with his child’s school. He said that this was the biggest weakness he had found in education. He explained that all schools talk of the importance of the triangle between parents, child and school yet it was almost impossible in his case to contact the School.
I do believe that our school is better than most in this respect. On looking at a number of school websites I could find very few that do as we do and publish all the email addresses of every member of staff so that people can contact us. Many schools just have the one incoming email address and it can take ages to reach the person they want to contact, some make it impossible to contact individual staff altogether. Of course, there need to be protocols. Teachers are often teaching every period during the course of the day and so staff cannot respond to an email by return. I do sometimes have to remind parents of this and suggest to them that they would prefer the teachers to be concentrating on the class in front of them rather than responding to the email sent twenty minutes earlier.
I am sure that social media can play an important part in our communicating as a school. We now have an ever-increasing number of staff using Twitter to communicate. Thus, if a fixture is cancelled now we will be able to tweet news of this out quickly rather than asking every parent to ring the one answerphone message. I hope that in the future we can explore text-messaging as well via our new database. Similarly we have used a Posterious blog to relate what is happening on a school trip. Our Junior School provided video reports on each days’ activities on a residential trip. Photos of activities can be easily sent ‘as live’ by Twitter. The possibilities are endless. Another part of our strategy in this area is to use blogs to communicate more informally and to try to give the thinking behind what we are doing in some areas or to stimulate discussion and debate.
Clearly there are times when we get it wrong. As headmaster I am the natural point of call for anyone wanting to complain when things have gone wrong. At times we just have to apologise and learn the lesson but I try to set an example myself and respond to all my incoming mail within the same working day whenever possible. I am sure that we can improve even further in these respects and will be looking at our customer service in this respect during the course of this year.
In conclusion, I believe that effective communication should lie at the heart of our relationships with parents and welcome any comments on this post particularly if they contain good ideas for the future!