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.


The Research

 Workshop with teachers

Workshop with teachers

 Research at the local community centre

Research at the local community centre

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.

Key insights


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: 

  1. To continuously and strongly communicate the school’s and community’s strengths and successes
  2. To develop positive and proactive links with parents and the community
  3. 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.



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.



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.

 Positive postcard written by a Weston School teacher and share by a proud parent on social media

Positive postcard written by a Weston School teacher and share by a proud parent on social media

 Screenshot of the new Facebook page created for the school, where proud parents are actively sharing pictures of the postcards they received by staff members of the school

Screenshot of the new Facebook page created for the school, where proud parents are actively sharing pictures of the postcards they received by staff members of the school


"The idea of 'Service Design' was something very new to me, but the process you undertook was both professional and purposeful and has given us genuine insight into the issues and potential solutions.

Throughout the process you have included key stakeholders at every stage and ensured that people joined the journey with you - something essential in project such as this. The support in creating a sustainable brand has been excellent and we are very lucky that you have been able to help us in this way. I am delighted with what we have achieved.

Coupled with this, I have been extremely grateful for the input of energy that you have brought to our school and wider community - this has been really useful as the nights have drawn in. You have both left people excited about continuing the journey."

-Charlie Henderson Head Teacher of Weston School, Riverton*.


 Aspire exhibition at the WIP Show 2017, Royal College of Art, London.

Aspire exhibition at the WIP Show 2017, Royal College of Art, London.

  Aspire exhibition at the WIP Show 2017, Royal College of Art, London.

Aspire exhibition at the WIP Show 2017, Royal College of Art, London.


Date: September-December 2016

Context: Fourth Term Project - Service Design MA at the Royal College of Art

Members: Estefanía Trisotti & Ella Walding

Extent of the project: 14 weeks, full-time

Tutor: Mat Hunter

Key Stakeholders: Weston School*, Royal College of Art