Open communications with parents helps to improve school’s fortunes – a head teacher’s story

Michael McCarthy
10 April, 2018 : 12:02
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Identifying a need

Ridgeway Primary Academy is a school which has been on a journey - to say the least. A once-failing school and forced sponsored academy is now flourishing and achieving notable success. We wanted a way in which to show our families and community how proud they should be of the school, now back in the centre of the local community. 

Parents and carers could feel the sense of change and the improvements in school, but the real work was happening in the classrooms, a difficult thing for parents to see and feel. We wanted to find a way to keep them in the loop so they could be part of the successes. 

Finding a solution

The school had a new website, and we tried to use Twitter to engage with our families, but neither worked in the way we wanted, which was for every parent to be able to see what every class and year group was up to and get a feel for what we were doing as a school. This was important to us, because the reputation of the school was not good, so once things were improving, we wanted the world to see our rapid transformation, which we were very proud of. To achieve that, we had to share the excitement and creativity in our classrooms. Facebook, for us, was the best way.

Using Facebook to reach parents

The introduction of the school Facebook page was not a huge fanfare or celebration. We put links to it on the school website and told parents about it through our newsletter. We knew the best way to get our parents on board was to post about the most exciting events and celebrations, which they would want to tag and share. We were right; ‘follower’ numbers soared!

Thumbs up from parents

We have had little to no resistance from anyone about using and promoting our page. Our parents tell us they love it and it’s updated almost every day. Staff were briefed in what kind of posts we would like to add, and we created a clear system for staff posting updates. It is part of the fabric of the school to have ‘wow moments’, so all staff know this is then something that must go on the page. It is now a way of life in school.

There has been no conflict on the page and I cannot foresee any. The page itself has had excellent feedback (as the reviews show!) and parents tell us they love the supportive sharing of posts and pictures and the events feature is now supporting parental engagement in the school (like booking slots for an upcoming car wash fundraiser!) Parents feel they really get a sense of what is happening in the classrooms and as one parent commented on a post recently, “Ridgeway really is an amazing school,” after seeing what her child had been up to. It has also encouraged parents to ‘buy into’ what we are doing.

Farm School

Being able to see weekly updates from Farm School is much better for parents than being told about it or reading about it in a newsletter. Farm School is a project we are running at school. By collaborating with a local museum / site called 'Jarrow Hall', who have a full working Saxon farm, we created a vision to allow children to learn through being on the Farm. A curriculum was designed for this and every class from Y1 to Y6 complete a range of tasks based on the 'normal' curriculum and some based on improving resilience or teamwork. We're building a farm in school with an enclosed quad for chickens and rabbits, but we'll also have raised beds, growing areas, a fire circle, shed buildings and a sensory garden, growing year on year. Parents enjoy following our Farm School project on Facebook.

Using Messenger

The messenger feature is also used effectively to increase dialogue with parents. There are times when something is happening or has happened that a family would like the school to know about – no matter the time. This has supported home school communication and sometimes a quick message back puts a whole family’s mind at rest.

The results have been huge. The three main things we have gained from it have been:

  • the increased parental engagement – for example showing who the Super Spellers or Top Readers are, which supports work between home and school
  • the increased number of parents who attend events, because they know in advance when and where they are, so they can plan
  • the increase in parents messaging the page requesting a place at school for their child.

The ethos of Ridgeway’s teaching is so evident through the page that parents make these requests – our numbers on roll have doubled in 4 years.

Sharing success

The main reason we love having a Ridgeway Facebook page is the sense of pride and achievement it brings to everyone. Ridgeway was a school in a really difficult place, a school the community had fallen out of love with. The Ridgeway Facebook page has supported us in turning that around. When we achieved the best progress in the whole of the country in 2016 we, for a sensible cost, advertised this across the whole of the local area, getting thousands of views. People now know that Ridgeway is transformed, that the school is a completely different place, and they now bypass four or five schools to travel to Ridgeway after seeing our page. Most importantly, of all the community is back in love with the school.

I would recommend the use of Social Media to any school. There are risks and it does have to be well-managed, but the results for Ridgeway have been huge. Check out Ridgeway’s Facebook page.


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Michael McCarthy
Michael is Head Teacher at Ridgeway Primary Academy, South Shields.