It has always been a challenge to get parent engagement right - there are so many channels and news updates across different years groups and clubs, as well as varied types of communication - some which are more urgent than others.
South Hampstead High School and Wimbledon High School are both part of the GDST group, a unique family of 25 schools catering for girls aged 3 to 18. It is the largest group of independent schools in the UK, and educates 20,000 girls each year.
A pivotal moment for South Hampstead High School was when their netball team were on their way to a match and their minibus had a minor collision. “News travels fast these days but panic can travel even faster - there were photos on social media within moments. Our staff did everything by the book and dealt with everything calmly and professionally. But one parent hadn’t checked her email and was upset she wasn’t instantly aware of what had happened.”
Essentially, the school comms system at that point didn’t allow immediate text alerts to be sent to specific groups. The school subsequently signed up to use Firefly’s Parent Portal communication tool and got that mobilised very quickly. Since then, it’s supported them with tailored communication - including weekly updates and reminders, online consent forms and regular newsletters - as well as providing an easy text message functionality.
Jo Mason, Head of Marketing & Comms at South Hampstead High School, says: “The priority really needs to be ensuring that your basic, everyday systems are fit for purpose and work for your parents. Every communication matters - information needs to be timely and it needs to be accurate and relevant.”
For Rachel Brewster, Director of Marketing & Comms at Wimbledon High School, it was really about establishing a routine, and sending out targeted communications which all staff could contribute towards, reducing the burden on their small communications team.
“With Firefly’s communication tool, all messages go into one mailing box and parents receive a round-up email on Wednesdays, that includes calls to action for the following week. They are targeted too - if a child is doing music, then they receive an update about music, if your child isn’t in the hockey team then you won’t get that message.”
Parents are very busy and don’t like to be bombarded, so sending all the key messages in one weekly email has helped them to increase their open rates and responses. An added benefit is that they have also been able to copy in students who are very good at nudging their parents if they haven’t replied to a message.
“It is a team effort, with all teachers able to contribute. You have to get the message out to your colleagues that every communication counts and that getting the right tone is key. I have oversight over those messages but I can’t check every single one. We have the system in place so, with co-ownership of messages, we can collaborate. All those messages come into one mailing.”
Flexible integrations with other mail automation platforms such as Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor means both schools have been able to produce beautifully designed newsletters which incorporate photos, videos and social media posts displaying school life, whilst bringing in all the data back into Firefly’s communication tool - making it easier to manage and track engagement as a whole. In Wimbledon High’s case, the newsletter goes out on a Friday as a round-up of the week’s news.
The Firefly Parent Portal has also helped them to share the learning experience of each child. In particular for their Junior school they are able to use Firefly blogs to share photos & videos to keep parents up to date on a regular basis.
Jo Mason at South Hampstead High School: “Now that we have the systems in place, the challenge is ensuring every message ‘lands’. Parents are busy, as is the pace of school life. Our aim is to ensure that all our parents - no matter how engaged or organised - feel they have all the information they require. Listening to what families really need will help us to continue to build effective, efficient communication - a two-way dialogue and a stronger community.”
At South Hampstead, the community now values a system that is simple, straightforward and convenient. “Parents can easily complete online forms, refer back to all messages in one place and keep up-to-date with what’s going on. Everything is tailored to them. In an era of information overload, we want to help keep things simple.”
Jo and Rachel recently shared this story and their top parent communication tips in our webinar - to find out more watch the recording here.