Improving the perception of Weston School* by positively and proactively engaging parents and residents.
* Name and location of the school have been anonymised.
Weston School* is a secondary academy situated in Riverton*, UK. This is an area of significant deprivation with a pervasive and longstanding stigma. Student numbers are low, as is student attainment. This has a damaging effect on the school’s budget, having to make significant reductions.
In this context, we were asked to work with the school and community members to systematically research the current perception of the school, its perceived strengths and weaknesses and find out how local people and parents might wish to engage more with activities at the school.
As part of the discover stage we spoke to 59 people, including 15 parents, 7 residents, 5 governors, 3 community organisations and 2 local councillors and a community development officer. It also involved two focus groups with 20 students and 5 teachers and administration staff.
Shifting the focus
The original project brief was to create a series of activities to get people into the building. By applying the service design approach, we found that although this would be an effective solution, there were additional problems that this solution was not addressing, given that the ultimate aim was to increase student numbers. Activities will require a lot of energy for staff that are already over-stretched. It was seems that the most effective way of changing the narrative about school was by using the existing parents, to stimulate them to talk more positively about the school, and to encourage direct feedback about concerns. It was therefore clear that developing a system of activities was secondary to building stronger relationships with parents.
Those challenges were translated into the following goals:
- To continuously and strongly communicate the school’s and community’s strengths and successes
- To develop positive and proactive links with parents and the community
- To get funding for someone at the school to lead a sustainable plan to implement 1 and 2
How might we make Weston the school of first choice by positively and proactively engaging parents and residents?
Solutions were developed by the MA service design students in partnership with the school on the basis of the insights from their qualitative research and on national research on what works in improving engagement in service delivery and what delivers positive communication. They are divided into three areas; public relations; customer care; and activities.
1. PUBLIC RELATIONS
Brand: A positive brand was developed to successfully communicate Westons’ strengths. From the research it was very clear that Weston School has a strong identity of investing in every student and helping them to achieve their dreams which we built on. Posters will be printed to be placed around the school showing the new brand and the website has also been updated to incorporate this.
Positive press: A new Facebook page has been created to better communicate the school's successes. We have identified which staff will post positive stories on a regular basis and a built in a method for getting stories into the local press.
Success display: A new entrance board will be placed at the school entrance to communicate some of the school's successes. The digital screen can also be used to advertise upcoming events.
2. CUSTOMER CARE
Positive feedback: Teachers will send home one positive postcard a day to help parents feel continuously reassured. Each subject has a postcard and the online register will help keep track of this and make sure no child is missed out.
Parent feedback: Several methods for parents to feel encouraged to come in and give feedback have been introduced. Firstly through an extra function on the website that allows parents to give feedback to the school with clear standard for responding. Secondly parent and community forums have been introduced to take place once a term for the school to receive face-to-face feedback on an ongoing basis.
Customer care training: For Weston School staff to receive customer care training in the same way that a business would, so that all staff have the tools and understanding to deliver excellent customer care and know how to deal with the most difficult parents so they walk away feeling it was handled well. No school does this well so it would help Weston to stand out as excellent.
Report card: A new student report that is clear, engaging and impressive. This has involved a simple breakdown of the new grade boundaries, and information on whether your child is on target, and what to do if you are worried. It also shows progress made and uses clear and simple language.
The final solution, activities, could help to meet both the positive PR and customer care needs:
Activities for parents: Activities for parents have been written into the job description of a new role of a widening participation co-ordinator due to start in January. These will provide parents with extra insights and reassurance, such as exhibitions of students’ work. Other staff have also noted how to incentivise parents to come into the school from the research.
Activities for residents: As a means to get people into the school. A weekly healthy living activity will be starting in January along with some sessions on mindfulness for parents.
Activities for students: Surrey Youth Focus may also be able to help to create employment opportunities for students by running speed dating events with businesses.
As the research identified the need for additional leadership capacity we have applied for funding to enable the school to recruit a full time Communications and Engagement Leader for two years.. This role would cover two functions, public relations and community engagement. This leader would work as a team with the widening participation coordinator, funded by Surrey University, and Lucy, the community link worker. This would create a really strong team committed to making change in the school. This application is currently being processed.
Over the past few weeks we have started working with the school on the implementation of these solutions. The approach has not only helped to create a strong school identity but is beginning to significantly improve the experience for all those using it, not just students, but staff and parents as well. Being able to help other put themselves in the shoes of the customer by explaining the customer journey has generated a deeper understanding of the customer experience. It has also helped highlight the most effective ways of making the biggest impact on the school reputation, within the resources available.