There are few working environments more hectic than the typical British primary school. The primary population is expanding quickly, at a time when the number of schools available moves in the opposite direction. With class sizes getting bigger each and every term, it’s an environment which demands immaculate organisation.
Communication is a huge part of this, with information and developments needing to be exchanged on a minute-by-minute basis. Firstly you have the links between teacher and child, and then amongst staff at all levels. It’s important not to forget the importance of parents, though. These people, while absent for the most part, must be kept informed at all times – which is easier said than done.
The current challenges
It’s now normal for a primary school to have three or four hundred young students on its books. In extreme cases, some of the larger establishments are even approaching 1,000 mark. That’s a lot of parents for any head teacher to keep in the loop, especially when the usual situations that require mass communication also demand the full attention of senior staff members.
One issue is money and effective budgeting. Just like businesses, schools must be run with the goal of ultimate cost-efficiency – another obstacle to overcome when devising a suitable approach to external communication.
Perhaps the biggest issue, however, is time – something of which all involved parties tend to be short. Traditionally, parents would be informed of everything by post, with delays of one or two days at best; schools are then forced to wait for responses, or even just left to wonder whether their message was received in the first place. When the contents of these letters relate to a field trip months ahead this isn’t such an issue, but it’s not exactly ideal for handling a last-minute bad-weather closure, for example.
Finding a solution to the above issues has to be a priority for any head teacher who wants to keep parents, children and the all-important Ofsted happy. Telephone calls are used in emergencies, like when a child is ill, but the level of human attention required means that this is only time and cost-efficient for communicating with individual parents, not hundreds at a time.
Another possibility is email. This cheap communication method can be useful for mass announcements, but only when the subject matter isn’t urgent. Email open rates are falling as it is, so the issue of not knowing whether the recipient has read the message remains. It may be best to stick to email for monthly newsletters, but emergencies should be handled in another way.
This is where SMS comes in. According to a 2013 study from comparison site uSwitch, the average schoolchild has their first phone by the age of 11, while some are given devices before they turn six. It’s pretty safe to assume then, that their parents will also be reachable via text. But why is this better than the other options?
The benefits of texting for schools
SMS has proved massively popular among marketers, and for good reason. Many of the benefits that make it so perfect for reaching consumers also apply in a school environment.
First off, the humble text’s reach is pretty much unmatched – no other written communication form comes close in terms of popularity or accessibility. Open rates are also second to none, with 98 per cent of messages opened, compared to 22 per cent of marketing emails. Put another way; if you were to send 50 texts, only one would go unread. Do the same for emails and it’s 39 that can be deemed a failure.
In a school context, the speed at which messages are accessed is particularly important. Fortunately, 90 per cent of texts are read within three minutes, which isn’t really surprising given the fact that the vast majority of adults (91 per cent) keep their smartphones within arm’s reach at all times. This means emergency messages can be distributed en masse, with minimal delay. While it is possible to request a delivery notice, some schools may want to go as far as asking for a single-word response from parents to identify those who have read and understood the message. This way, those who don’t respond can be contacted by telephone if necessary.
While text messages are usually short and to the point, it’s actually possible to attach everything from Word documents to audio files and images – meaning there aren’t really any limitations in terms of content.
To top things off, SMS is as cost-efficient as it is convenient. Not only do bulk services tend to be affordable for schools, they also eliminate many of the costs associated with printing, photocopying and mailing, not to mention the time outlay of making phone calls.
SMS communication is already pretty efficient as it is, but with technology improving by the day, the potential will continue to grow. With the right automation solutions in place, human command doesn’t even have to be part of the message distribution process; if the school is locked up in the middle of the day, for example, parents could be contacted automatically. Messages could also be sent out on certain dates to warn of impending exam results or reports. The possibilities are near-endless.