More than a third (36 percent) of parents with children of school age in the UK would be happier and engage more with their child's school if the school improved its online approach.
New research suggests that this is a red flag and that UK schools need to invest in their online strategy.
Web Foundry conducted research of 1,000 parents with children at school age to discover parent's thoughts on the quality of school websites in the UK.
One-fifth said that the layout/design of school websites need work and another fifth (20 percent) said the information isn't updated regularly enough.
Gerard Flowers, head of school at St Francis Xavier's College weighed in on the issues to maintaining a school website: “here lies the main problem for a school; the amount of information which needs to be conveyed – often in a rapidly changing form – makes the smooth appearance of the website hard to maintain. It seems there is a compromise to be made between ease of access to lists of information and a clear, corporate image.”
Out of the 93 percent of parents that use their child's school website, only 36 percent find these websites easy to use, which could explain why only 17 percent access them on a weekly basis.
“It's obvious that ecommerce businesses need to have a user-friendly website. If they deliver a good user experience, it's easier for customers to spend. However, schools are notoriously behind when it comes to their online strategy when we compare them to other sectors,” said Phil Holt, managing director at Web Foundry in his blog.
The research found that 37 percent of parents access their child's school website via a desktop, 59 percent do so on a laptop and one in four (24 percent) access it on a mobile device. Fourteen percent of respondents said they use an iPad and seven percent don't access the website at all. These results suggest a growing expectation from parents to be able to access information and services whilst they are on the move.
The research also suggests that a school website optimised only for desktop and laptop devices is no longer good enough and that schools must make their websites user-friendly across these different mobile technologies.
Most parents (79 percent) also said they would use a mobile app, which gave them instant notifications such as alerts about the school calendar, reminders about parent evenings, school trips and other upcoming events.
Specific information that parents would want to access easily on their child's school website include:
Information about school holidays – 70 percent
School events – 67 percent
Urgent notifications, such as school closings – 66 percent
Child's school report – 56 percent
School trips – 55 percent
Homework – 51 percent
Attendance record – 47 percent
Syllabus – 46 percent
Ofsted inspections – 45 percent
Exam results – 41 percent
Virtual tour of the school – 19 percent
Holt additionally discussed the security of these school websites. In commentary to SCMagazineUK.com, Holt said, “security is always front-of-mind for any school, particularly as the care of personal data and reputation are key concerns of these establishments. Over the past few years, school websites have become much more than an online digital brochure, and are now allowing pupils and parents to interact at ever increasing levels. This means that data is typically captured and stored on a daily basis, so how data is transmitted between the site and the server is vitally important – this sensitive data should always be encrypted.
“Further, server side is crucial, with locked-down databases and strong admin passwords a must. For example, we implement additional security measures for schools using WordPress, as the popularity of this content management system has led to a large attack vector, and any lapses in security will be easily exploited unless additional measure are introduced,” Holt concluded.