A word about school websites…
Updated: Sep 20, 2018
I should preface this blog with an apology. Very rarely will you see an angry blog from me. I might occasionally write them, but never publish them. But this topic still has me mad a few months on, and is preventing me from writing about anything else, so in an effort to get it out of my system, here goes... and apologies all round... normal service will return shortly.
I worked on a project in early summer reviewing school websites. I probably viewed 2000 of them over several months. And half of what I saw was not good at all. It made me pretty mad. Let me explain:
Template design. Oh. My. Word. (Or, as comedian Sean Lock would say "What’s that all about?" – other than a cash-cow for some specialist ‘education’ web design agency, obviously). During my research, I would see the same school website 30 or 40 times, differentiated ONLY by the school logo. Sometimes even the logos looked vaguely similar.
Then there is the design which is targeting the five year old. Complete with Comic Sans and stick people drawings. In which family is the five year old the primary user of the school website? Is it the five year old who will be navigating the site to find out what can be done to support their SEN? Or identify who to contact in case of an emergency absence? Or to find out when sports day is?
And amazingly, there are still school websites which have non-responsive design. And have clearly never viewed their website on a mobile device.
A number of sites fell by the wayside due to my short attention span (although that may say more about me than the site). Whether they were slow to load due to rotating banners or unnecessarily huge images or groovy graphics, anything more than 10 seconds had me staring out of the window wondering what I was going to cook for tea. All is lost at that point.
Confusing, messy navigation, with lists so long they can’t be viewed without scrolling.. and scrolling.. and scrolling.. and then whoops, it’s been so long scrolling that the top of list has disappeared into a black hole never to be seen again and I have forgotten what I was actually looking for.
The poor administrator who has been instructed to utilise the content from EVERY document the school has EVER produced. Word for word. Line for line. And in a single continuous block of rolling text. And then adds a pdf of the same text, just for good measure.
The school website with a welcome page, with absolutely no indication of who is welcoming the visitor. Not. A. Scooby. The ‘Meet Our Team’ page which is just a blank page with a pdf attachment bearing a list of names. Please just label this section as Stafflist. Because that’s what it is.
There was some light relief, presented to me in the form of out of date information. Whilst sweltering in the July heatwave, I was vaguely amused by the number of schools informing me they were closed. Due to snow.
And then, at last, the content I was supposed to be looking for, but became heavily distracted along the way - the statutory information Ofsted requires a school website to include. Some schools have cunningly created a whole new section for this and labelled it Ofsted Information. There you go Ofsted, take that. Everything you need to check off your list in one place. We don’t care too much that the parents won’t look in this section (which actually includes some information which is very important to parents and is why Ofsted requires it to be on the site in the first place), we're happy just as long as the inspectors can find it.
And some schools – well, they just hadn’t bothered with including the Ofsted information at all. Which is exactly the ammunition Ofsted needs to launch a no-notice inspection for non-compliance with statutory requirements. Not the best start to the week for any Headteacher...
Oh dear. On reflection, I think I’m still feeling a bit angry about that project. Angry because, I hate to see schools in the dark when with a bit of support and know-how they could be doing a much better job of presenting themselves to stakeholders. And angry because I see schools turning to specialist agencies for that support, and getting ripped off. And while there were certainly many fantastic school websites I viewed, sadly it’s only the truly awful which are stuck in my mind.