What do we know about school websites?

The STUDENT WELLBEING HUB website is designed to proactively take on the challenges of living in a digital age: “The Hub is guided by the principles of the National Safe Schools Framework, which highlight the importance of educators, parents and students working together. ” Created and maintained by Educational Services Australia, it is built around the ground-breaking research undertaken by the Wellbeing Research Group, Centre for Research in Education, at the University of South Australia. 

A key component of the research arises from Carmel Taddeo‘s 2011 doctoral research in which she methodically constructs a ‘website development framework’ to assist schools in understanding what constitutes an effective and engaging school website. The framework is discussed in some detail by Dr Taddeo and her doctoral supervisor, Dr Alan Barnes, in the British Journal of Educational Technology. A key point is the description of two divergent categories of school websites.

One is progressive in its adoption of technologies to engage and meet the needs of its stakeholders, including the delivery of innovative approaches to learning. The other, emergent category represents websites in the infancy or early formative phase, which have not yet begun to explore or capitalise on the potential of school websites beyond providing school contextual and contact information. (Taddeo & Barnes, 2016, 423) 

The Case For School Wellbeing

In A Report on the Evaluation of the Safe Schools Hub the Wellbeing Research Group acknowledges the inappropriateness of evaluating school websites “through indicators normally associated with the business or marketing sector, with a focus on e-commerce and the generation of revenue”. (Taddeo, Spears, Ey, Green, Price, et al., 2015, 5) A similar point is made about web analytics. Instead, Taddeo’s Website Evaluation Framework (Taddeo, 2011) offers a model for integrating website design, purpose, content and technology to promote a holistic approach. Its criteria is designed to enable schools to achieve comprehensive insights into

  • educative digital resources that enhance teaching, learning, communication and innovation in the context of Safe Schools and young peoples’ wellbeing; and
  • connect and engage school communities and stakeholders by facilitating interactivity and the exchange of information, ideas and resources in order to become an embedded feature of contemporary education settings. (Ibid, 6)

As a school leader, you want to have at your disposal the most effective and efficient ways of relating to parents. Prospective and existing parents all deserve your attention, so you need technology to work for you, helping you communicate the great teaching and learning taking place in your school. To do this, you need your school website, social media pages and other ‘web assets’ like your school app, all of which you have envisioned within their overall ICT school policy.

Whether prospective parents are gauging the reputation of the local school before buying into an area, or a parent is sending their child to school for the first time, the key strength of any school community is winning the support of all parents.

ACSSO fact sheet

On its ‘fact sheet’ guide to families and schools put out by Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO), the message is clear. The Family-School Relationship doesn’t just happen: it requires planning, nurturing and implementing. The ‘engagement journey’ is effectively outlined in the ACSSO’s infographic heralding the ‘partnership school’ in opposition to the ‘fortress school’. At the very least, building successful partnerships with parents and communities requires dependable and emotionally satisfying forms of communication that fuel the steady stream of discussions, dialogue, interviews and interactions. The ‘fact sheet’ advises that effective school-community communications involve reporting and feedback processes.

School Map & Website

A school map arises from National, State and Local Government policies and legislation, reflecting principles and beliefs in education. Over time, school building designs alter, though the general configuration of blocks of classrooms, amenities, administration areas, communal spaces like halls and playgroups seem to remain the same. Perhaps the most variable parts relate to specialist areas such as whether or not a primary school has a music room, performance space, visual arts studio or gymnasium. The configuration of school libraries also varies: from modestly equipped rooms to well-equipped resource centres.

The geographical-cultural links of any school are poignantly expressed in the ‘welcome to country’ that we now say at the beginning of important school events.

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and the Elders from other communities who may be here today.

The acknowledgement not only shows the relational nature of geography to human communities but how vitally the school ethos is at the heart of building a coherent perspective around which individual students and their diverse cultures exist within the Australian cultural landscape. The question to ask then is what is represented online by a school’s unique culture and ethos, through its main website, classroom microsites, social media pages, multimedia documents and other digital assets?

Imaginative solutions needed

I believe this question is best answered through an imaginative response that understands that inspiration is just as important as hardcore results-driven data. Sir Ken Robinson puts it like this with regards to how both are required in any rigorous approach to meeting the complex challenges of school life.

Great teachers are like great doctors and lawyers. They have a whole reparatory of skills; techniques and approaches, and a lot of experience, but the real skill is knowing which skill to apply where, and how to adapt it to the people in front of you…great teaching is about ‘judgement and connoisseurship’, and while gathering relevant data means “you can be objective about what you’re doing”, he posited that education has become far too data driven, sidelining teachers’ judgements.  The future of schools: Sir Ken Robinson explains what “was never true”,  Friday, March 9, 2018

As a curriculum developer and teacher,  I have observed how often reforms in schools are made less effective because they have not combined data and professional judgement. This seemed to be particularly true whenever policymakers, school leaders and politicians downplayed the goodwill needed from parents and the wider community in order to get through the inevitably long-term nature of school improvement.

The fact that school leaders must manage both their school’s physical and web presence only makes their work more complex.  On the positive side, the combination of physical and digital presence can also make the challenges more transparent and the achievements more noticeable.   As an education content creator, it is the latter point which inspires my work when helping schools communicate their vision and mission, locally and globally.