Improving the Claires Court newsfeed for 2014 – paper v web!

ImageRegular and established readers of our Bulletins and weekly Newsletters will know that we have been metronomic for at least 2 decades in the writing and publication of weekly bulletins to nurture our various parent and pupil groups in the school. Last year, when we trialled our eBulletin only approach, we found our pretty quickly that our readers did not like the lack of a paper aide-mémoire for forthcoming events and happenings across our school. In addition, the variety of messages, from Heads, PTAs, other client groups and so forth often meant you did not know what you were missing.

So we reverted to paper whilst we did some ‘thinking’ and ‘consulting’ and ‘testing’ and you can now see what this looks like.  We know many of our parents need a paper copy to pin on the fridge to keep up to date with what needs to happen and where. In paper, at the end of each week (copy deadline is Thursday 12 noon), each school secretary creates (using a digital tool called SMORE) and prints one A4 paper sheet, covering what’s coming up and things on the to-do list. During the rest of the day, they add digital content and then email that bigger digital newsletter to the email ring and post to the school website. We now have an eBulletin that should fit the screen of any device, whatever its size, and we get some reliable broad scale data from Smore about whose seeing what.  For example in less than 2 weeks almost 6000 views of the bulletins have taken place, from more than 10 different countries. That’s good because we know we have a very active readership of the new eBulletins.

Reader feedback has also come in to Marketing, much very positive, highlighting that we have indeed made progress.

“Love the new bulletin! No doubt loads of work to get it up and ready in the new format – congratulations to all. Particularly love the ability to update my calendar with the relevant sports fixtures – a massive improvement and much appreciated (and it works, I’ve done it).” 

What is also interesting is the parental feedback that they do need a paper version with forthcoming events as an easy to use ready reckoner. Which of course is odd, because we are providing that very artifact, which indicates the perennial problem of child post has not been solved. Inevitably in a technological world there will be some glitches between content and user experience; ‘do read this in your browser’ for example, as that will bring hyperlinks alive. The service works in any browser and on any device; it may indeed trigger a ‘download Chrome‘ instruction if user technology does not identify there is a browser present on the device. Some of our parents only have work-provided technology to use, and work may have ‘locked the device down’ to keep ‘fluff’ out.  That should not prevent seeing our message or making use of its contents, but it does raise a fear factor that our news wont get through.

Sport news and updating has massively improved, in so far as we have outsourced all this information to the site, which permits parents to access the calender for future fixtures for their children’s teams and no others.  This is pretty neat as a concept, and as parents of Year 6 and below children know, we to provide paper information specific to such events as we know you need that detail that way too. Again, early days for this change in approach, but it certainly assists the office, as they don’t need to retype and reinvent the fixture list! The weather recently seems to do enough of that anyway!

ImageAnd finally, there are some who believe that a change for the better is a contradiction in terms, so to those, I can only apologise for what we have done. The aim is to reduce work, increase access/readability and grow engagement. To the school secretaries, I believe we have found a template approach to the week’s work that will reduce the time they have had to spend creating the bulletin (at least a day’s work a week), and give them some further pleasure knowing that we can now measure the effectiveness of the eBulletin and give them feedback on their work. To our wider community, I can say that  we have kept what is urgent as paper, but tagged to that a digital version that works whatever piece of kit is being used, and readily becomes part of our website as well. Well that’s the plan anyway, and here’s hoping the promising start makes even more sense in a few week’s time!

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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