One of the most frustrating experiences one can have these days is trying to find an organisation’s phone number. On some websites you can chat with a person through the website, which is fine to an extent, as long as you can be sure that you’re talking to a person rather than a bot.
On some websites you don’t even have that dilemma: you’re told straight away that the online chat assistant is a bot.
On yet other websites, there’s no online chat, and no easily-found phone number, just a contact form that you hope leads to an email account that is actually monitored.
Unfortunately, in my experience many schools fall into the third category. If you dig around for long enough you can usually find the school’s phone number on a page called “Absences”, by searching on the web or, if a parent, digging out a letter from the school. A determined person will find a way to communicate with a real person at the school in the end, but by that time they will probably be feeling flustered, angry and, perhaps worst of all, uncared for.
It doesn’t have to be like that. If your school uses Groupcall Messenger or Xpressions, parents can easily contact the school using text messaging. In fact, Messenger is especially good for this because it automatically creates a ‘paper trail’ of messages going back and forth about a particular issue.
If you use these products, make sure that parents know how to contact the school by phone or text. An easy way to do this would be to put the details in the footer of every text message you send them. Incidentally, you may think that would be a waste of time because all the parent has to do is hit ‘Reply’ to send a text message, or call the number the message has come from. However, sometimes such details do get lost or hidden — which is why, for example, I have my email address in the signature of the emails I send from my phone.
If you don’t use these products, you can still take steps to make it easy for parents to contact the school. Numbers for phone calls and text messages on the school’s website would be a good start. If the office is too busy at certain times of the day, then having dedicated phone numbers, for reporting a child’s absence say, is a good idea.
Another option is to employ someone like a retiree to work for an hour each morning manning the general office phone number. He or she could take down messages and contact details, and pass these on the office staff once things have calmed down. I’ve seen this work very successfully internally for dealing with teachers experiencing computer issues; why shouldn’t it work for external queries too?
Yet another avenue is to publish the school email addresses of each member of staff on the school website. This makes it very easy for parents to contact a specific teacher. It is a good alternative to providing direct phone numbers, which would of course be untenable.
Whichever of these methods or combination of methods your school adopts, you can be sure of one thing. If it is not made easy for parents to communicate directly with the school then they will communicate with each other — at the school gates — and with the world at large — on social media. Neither of these is likely to be complimentary.