Communications toolkit and guidance for schools

Communications toolkit and guidance for schools

It also provides guidance and templates to assist schools in improving their communication.

Print this guide - please note that the appendices can be found in the Templates, example documents and resources section on this page.

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Good communications practice

The following guidance is divided into three sections of communication; these are internal communication, external communication and communication with the media. 

Effective and open communication promotes an awareness of others' interests and needs. Being aware of the necessary skills and tools that encourage open communication is therefore very important.

Good communication builds trust in working relationships. Just as communication skills are important, listening skills are also needed for effective communication. It is very important that you take the time to understand your audience, practise face-to-face communication and listen to feedback and suggestions.  

By setting aside time to meet and keep people informed, for example school assemblies, staff meetings, parents' evenings and school fetes, you can establish and maintain open channels of communication with your school community. 

The key is to establish good internal communication which will give you a strong foundation to build your external communications on.

Internal communications guidance for schools

  • The best form of communication is face-to-face. Although this may appear to be time consuming it is time well spent and worth investing in. Face-to-face communication helps to ensure messages are not misunderstood and it provides the other party with a chance to respond, ask questions and give feedback. Face-to-face communication also helps to build stronger working relationships because the time devoted shows a commitment by the school to its employees, pupils and the school community.
  • Make use of the communication tools available to you. What resources are available to you and which ones will be the most effective in reaching your intended audience, whether it is staff, pupils or other internal contacts. Such tools of communication may include meetings and briefing sessions, school assemblies, newsletters, emails, display boards and websites.
  • Understand your audience. You should research how your intended audience like to be communicated with and what they want to hear about.
  • Use clear messages. Always communicate clear and simple messages and use language that your audience will find easy to relate to and engage with.

 

External communications guidance for schools

External communication covers parents, the local community and professional visitors in school and so forth. In order to create an effective communications strategy and get your key messages across to your school community it is a good idea to have a Schools Communication Plan.  

Schools communication action plan

Writing a communications plan for your school will assist you in devising a thorough and appropriate strategy to achieve your communication goals. The plan can be useful if you wish to change or improve how you communicate with your school community or link all your school’s communications together for consistency.

Start by thinking about your school’s goals and targets for the year or the next few years and then begin to link your communications plan to those by using those key messages throughout your communication. Key messages are the messages you want your audiences to remember; the best messages are short and simple. 

Think about your school’s strengths and what you might wish to build on and then consider some weaknesses and what needs to be improved. What are the opportunities and what are the threats that the school faces over the next year/ few years? These will form the basis of your communications action plan.  Remember that it is important that you try to be proactive with communication.  Click here to see an example of a yearly communications plan.

Other important factors which can help to improve external communication are:

Connecting with parents is vital to the relationship between the school and parents and ultimately a child’s success. Communication is key and it is important that you consider the following:

  • understand your audience. You should research how your students’ parents like to be communicated with and what they want to hear about. Make use of as many distribution methods as possible. For example, send home a written newsletter but also add a copy to your website. You may also choose to use emails and SMS to communicate with parents or may be planning to move towards these methods in the future
  • parents consider good communication as vital to increase trust with the school. Parents who receive more consistent information about their child’s school performance are likely to have a higher degree of commitment to helping their children improve.
  • if parents are satisfied with the level of communication from school, they are more likely to get involved with the school in other ways. Encourage parents to contact the school and give them the opportunity to get involved. This includes a welcoming reception, helpful office staff and being proactive with phone calls to parents and keeping them informed.
  • make sure that you have a communications policy for responding to parents. Many parents contact the school via phone, email and in writing but it can be challenging for staff to respond  promptly. Similarly, if parents do not hear back from the school they can become anxious and annoyed.
  • develop a set of guidelines for responding to parents even if this is just to acknowledge their contact and let them know that you are aware of the issue and when it will be dealt with. Once you have confirmed the guidelines, circulate these to parents so that they are clear about what to expect.  Please see the suggested guidelines below:

    Communication from parents Suggested response time

    Phone Calls

    Returned within 24 hours of parent’s call

    Email

    Email reply within 48 hours of receipt (set up an automated ‘out of office reply’ when you are away)

    Written Letter

    Acknowledge receipt of letter within 72 hours

  • develop a Parents’ Information Kit which can easily address the questions which parents regularly ask during the course of a year. This could be something which you distribute to parents at the start of the year and could be placed on your website for easy access. This could include:
    • School Operations – contact details, what to do if your child is sick, parking/traffic problems, structure of the school day, codes of conduct, school values, planned curriculum days, term dates and holidays.
    • Student activities – music programmes, sports activities, language programmes, camps and schools trips, curriculum details.
    • Security and safety – lost property, accidents/emergency procedure, illness and medication book, security.
    • Facilities and services – library, before and after school care programme, ICT services, book sales, co-curricular offerings.
    • Parent resources and advice – tips for parents – ‘how can I help my child?’, advice on how to get involved in the school, calendar of events, booklists, head lice management.
    • School procedures and policies – class sizes, voluntary contributions, 16-19 Bursary Fund, policy statements (bullying, homework, behaviour guidance, harassment), attendance policy, learning behaviours and exceptions for children.
       
  • Getting the most out of your events. Events are one of the best ways to get parents and the local community involved with your school. You may want to consider:
  • Developing a newsletter. A good newsletter is an excellent way of making good links with parents and the local community. Newsletters are also read by other family members, teachers, students, the local community, local businesses and the local media. Some schools even send their newsletter to local Members of Parliament to keep them informed. You may wish to consider the following:
  • Feedback is essential in order to create strong relationships with parents and the local community and it helps to ensure that you are continually improving the standard of your communication with others. There are different ways to collect feedback from parents and the community and these can be used for differing circumstances:
  • Sending out news releases and media alerts are a great way of celebrating achievements and successes. However there are a few things to bear in mind when writing your own news releases. Always be as frank as possible and never distort the basic facts – journalists will usually spot deliberate omissions. Below are a few tips:
  • Responding to media enquiries. A call from a reporter can sometimes unsettle even the most experienced person. The diagram below gives you a few tips on what to do when you find yourself at the receiving end of a call from the media.
  • Five Top Tips for being interviewed by the media at any time
  • Statements – be proactive in sending out statements when appropriate. You may want to send a statement out in response to a story or report or because of an incident that has recently occurred. This is the school's chance to put their side across to the public but remember that it will always be a compromise between what you would like to be published (or on air) and what the paper wants to print.
  • Children and the Media – Young people should be free to complete their time at school without unnecessary intrusion.

Journalists must not interview or photograph children under the age of 16 on subjects involving the welfare of the child or any other child, in the absence of or without the consent of a parent, or any other adult who is responsible for the child. Pupils must not be approached or photographed while at school without the permission of the school authorities. There must be no payments to minors for materials involving the welfare of children, nor payments to parents or guardians for material about their children or wards unless it is demonstrably in the child’s best interest. Where material about the private life of a child is published, there must be justification for publication other than the fame, notoriety or position of his or her parents or guardian.  Taken from paragraph six and seven of the Press Complaints Commissions Code of Practice. Click here to view the code.

A defamatory statement is one which exposes a person to hatred, ridicule or contempt or which causes him or her to be shunned or avoided or which might affect a person in their professional trade.

The following defences apply: Truth (if it is not libellous); Fair Comment (if it relates to a matter of public interest, and it has been based on the truth and made in good faith without malice); Privilege ( e.g. court reports, Council and Committee reports); Consent; Offer of Amends.

In the case of an unintentional defamation an Offer of Amends will operate to determine the proceedings. If not accepted, the Offer will act as a defence in legal proceedings, so it may have the effect of making legal proceedings a risky option. Where remarks have been made that on the face of it are defamatory, a retraction and published apology can be requested.

Head teachers who consider they may have been libelled are normally advised to consult their professional association. However, it should be noted that the cost of legal proceedings can be extremely high and this means that in the vast majority of cases such proceedings are not a realistic option though an offer of amends can be pursued.

Usually, it is possible to make arrangements with keen journalists who become aware a school is going through an inspection. They can be assured that the school will provide information for them once the final report has been agreed.

In the meantime it is best to develop a plan of action in discussion with the Chair of Governors. Here are some ideas:

Discuss the preparation of a news release.  This can help set the tone of a news story and provide ready-made quotes for a journalist to use – but don’t run away with the idea that journalists use news releases as they stand. You can do a news release yourself or seek help from communications experts working for Bradford Council. The release will highlight positives from the full report or the summary and also include some of the action points Ofsted has listed. A news release can also include things the school is proud of which are not part of the Ofsted process as a way of providing a wider picture of school life. Please note that DfE (Department for Education) / Ofsted guidelines say a school should provide a copy of the full report if it is requested – but sometimes journalists will settle for the summary.

You can use publication of an Ofsted report to start or build on a relationship with local journalists.  You might want to invite a local journalist to school to discuss the outcome of the inspection. At the same time, you might want to use a visit as an opportunity to share positive aspects of school life with a journalist to run with the Ofsted story or to run in the future. You might want to consider a photo opportunity to run alongside the story.

If you invite a journalist to school to discuss the results of the Ofsted make sure you consider the following:

  • Prepare for the meeting in advance by discussing the positive and negative aspects of the Ofsted report with the Chair of Governors.
  • Make bullet points on what you want to say and make a mental note of what you don’t want to say.
  • Decide who will be the main spokesperson – you or the Chair of Governors. Often the head teacher has a fuller understanding of the school.
  • Be prepared for “awkward” questions about some of the points for concern in the Ofsted report by jotting down a list of ways in which you have started to bring about changes since the inspection, or plans for improvement which will be in the Action Plan.
  • Be warned. If your Ofsted report criticizes the management of the head teacher and governing body – be prepared for a rocky ride. Of course, it is possible to outline improvements being discussed to the management of the school to counter comments made in the report.
  • Try to not criticise the report if your school has accepted it. If your school has not accepted it, it might be an idea to go through this process after a final report has been agreed by the school and Ofsted.
  • Have a brief discussion with the Chair of Governors once the journalist has left to consider what you expect the outcome of the interview to be and what could have happened better for next time.

Contact details:

  • Children in cases concerning sexual offences – The media must not, even where the law does not prohibit it, identify children under the age of 16 who are involved in cases concerning sexual offences, whether as victims or as witnesses. In any press report of a case involving a sexual offence against a child, the child must not be identified; the adult may be identified; the word ‘incest’ must not be used where a child victim might be identified; care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child.  Taken from paragraph six and seven of the Press Complaints Commissions Code of Practice. Click here to view the code.
  • Libel If there is a publication, in permanent form, of a defamatory nature, this may constitute libel. 
  • Ofsted –Ofsted says there should not be any comment on any aspect of the Ofsted inspection and report process until the final report has been agreed by all parties.
  • Help and advice available - from Bradford Council's Education Communications Team:
  • Complaining about media coverage - You may wish to consider taking advice from Education Communications Team (01274 434673 or 438899) before deciding to lodge a complaint about an item in the newspaper or magazine. It is best to first write to the editor; this is usually the quickest way of obtaining a correction or apology for inaccuracies. Give the newspaper or magazine at least seven days to reply.

If the matter is not settled in this way, or if you are dissatisfied with the response, then write to the Press Complaints Commission (address below).   Whenever possible, identify that part of the Code of Practice which you believe has been broken and then enclose both a dated copy of the item and copies of any relevant correspondence.

The Commission sends every letter which raises a prima facie breach of the Code immediately to the editor of the publication concerned with the request to attempt a swift resolution if at all possible. If a complaint cannot be resolved directly in this manner the Commission proceeds to a formal adjudication at which the complainant may comment in writing on the editor’s response. The Commission sends a copy of its adjudication to all parties and the newspaper or magazine must publish the adjudication when a complaint has been upheld.

Press Complaints Commission
Halton House
20/23 Holborn
London
EC1N 2JD
T 020 7831 0022
Email: complaints@pcc.org.uk

Templates, example documents and resources

Example school yearly communications action plan

Example school communications framework

Example timeline for publication of a newsletter

Example U16s media consent form

Example U16s release form for publication of students' work

Media contact details


Page owned by John Roberts, last updated on 21/02/2017. This page has been viewed 19,293 times.