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Building engaged parent communities matters: 100,000 UK children lost to education since COVID

happy group of four engaged parents

The ties that bind us to our children’s schools are largely invisible. It’s a complex web of connections, commitments and community that brings parents together for the good of their children. As a parent, you don’t notice the hugely positive impact it has on your life until your children leave. 

With news from the Centre for Social Justice this week that nearly 100,000 children (enough to fill Wembley Stadium) have not returned to school full-time since lockdown ended, it’s clear that when families become disconnected from schools, there’s a real risk to society. 

School marketing teams need engaged parents

For school registrars and marketing departments, having highly engaged parents is no longer a ‘nice to have’. Not only do engaged parents lead to better student outcomes, but they are becoming ever more central to the school’s brand. Since March 2020, when parents were plunged headlong into their children’s education, they are more aware and so, more critical about the service they receive from their schools in both the state and independent sectors. But engaged parents willingly volunteer time and donate money to their schools. They spread the word to other parents and extend the life of the school brand.

There are a few short weeks until the end of the school year here in the UK. Most families flocked back to schools when lockdown ended, gratefully. But they aren’t welcome to linger, instructed to drop children and leave as quickly as possible. Sports Days have been cancelled, along with summer fairs, camp outs and leavers’ discos. Parents can’t pop to the school office, or ask the teacher a question at the gate. They’re feeling lost and anxious. Parent communities have become disentangled from each other by a thousand tiny cuts to the societal fabric since March 2020.

Offer an alternative to the ‘wild west’ of social media

Parents are keen to reconnect with each other and turn to social media to reach larger groups. But posts on social media only heighten confusion and dismay when often well-meaning information is actually misguided or false. That’s in normal times: when the rules around COVID keep on changing, the opportunities for mistakes increase exponentially. School staff are bombarded with questions and complaints, or children arrive at school wearing the wrong kit. Worse still, rumours spread and escalate.

Social media pages are useful tools for marketing to new prospects, but not for communicating reliably with current students, parents or staff. Due to the fact that social network algorithms favour paid-for posts, you can’t be sure who is going to receive the message. Instead, school marketing teams, bursars and registrars are looking for community platforms like Classlist that are closed to the outside world, gated and secure. They need ownership and control. 

School community manager roles on the rise

Larger schools have recently started employing community managers to build on their reputation, retain current pupils and create a network of referrals to bring in the next generation. No surprise this is a priority with head teachers telling us that a whopping 80% of new pupils come into schools via referrals from existing parents.

How to attract more students for free

While most schools don’t have the budget to employ community managers, they do have the free and committed resources of their parent association. Offer parent association volunteers the use of an inclusive, easy to use online social networking tool like Classlist and you’ve got an incentivised team of helpers able to nurture the parent community that’s supporting your amazing school. If you consider that every happy parent at your school represents an opportunity to bring in new families, you’ll see why you need to service their expectations using the kinds of easy to use social networking technologies they are familiar with. 

Parents expect instant, professional responses

A huge benefit of hosting a school community online is that parents willingly chip in to offer advice and answer questions. Want to know if Yr 3 need their PE kit tomorrow? Ask the audience, not the school office. They are guaranteed to answer (at all times of day and night), saving office staff time.

Improve your school’s engagement through polling

Most schools are resistant to asking the questions they know they won’t like the answers too! But by reframing the relationship of parents in all schools from ‘benefactors’ to  ‘consumers’, you’ll be more open to finding out what’s working, what could be improved and how you can get there. Ask questions in the closed shop of your own private online school community and the risk factor to your reputation will be minimal. We’ve discovered that parents tend to leave constructive feedback in Classlist communities, rather than negative commentary. After all, their children’s teachers are reading it!

Registrars need to keep retention rates high

It’s no longer a given that younger siblings will attend the same school, especially if one child’s experience hasn’t been positive. When families feel part of a positive, happy community which welcomes new faces and brings them into the tribe, they are far more likely to keep sending their children there. Nurture that loyalty by encouraging them to participate in fundraising events in school and they’ll love you more. We think of this as the IKEA effect: when you have to build the product, you appreciate it more. And if you prefer the accountant’s approach:- the acquisition cost of converting siblings is far less than that of winning new parents. 

The bonds formed between families outside the school gates are critical and you can impact this by providing an online forum for them to connect regularly and reliably.

Commitment growth through ‘asks’

A classic community building approach is to ask parents for incrementally harder requests for help and funding. This way, you’re bringing them into your school at a deep level, ensuring their loyalty only continues to grow. Using Classlist, schools are able to push parents to commit to greater and greater levels – something we can report on for you, demonstrating the true value of Classlist as a community platform for schools. 

Book a school demo to see how Classlist can transform your parent engagement levels.

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About the author


Timma Marett