Not all information is created equal

Information is really important right now. The right information, at the right time, delivered in the right way, to the right people. More than ever we are seeing how the right information can help people make the right choices. Unfortunately, we are also seeing how the wrong information, or the wrong timing, or the wrong way…can cause many more problems.

The government is delivering daily briefings to let us know what is happening across the UK, and to inform us all of the decisions they have made. However they have often forgotten a very important link in the chain when making education announcements: head teachers. 

One such example was the announcement about providing free school meals. Firstly there was discrepancy between what schools were told at one briefing compared to what was then announced later. One moment free school meals would not be provided during the Easter holidays, and then, on the very last day of term (indeed mid holiday for some areas) Gove said that they would be provided through the holidays. However such a big piece of news would, naturally, fill up headlines in mainstream media very quickly. Mostly on a Saturday. In the holidays. So schools were inundated with phone calls and emails asking how to get their vouchers. Yet schools didn’t know how yet…they read the headlines at exactly the same moment the parents did! 

This led to lots of difficult conversations in schools. Then the voucher system, provided by Edenred, was struggling to cope with the sudden, unexpected demand for the vouchers – likely they first heard about it just a few days before. Data is vital for a project like this and it appears Edenred suffered from a lack of information. 

Schools had already started to organise their own solutions. Something schools will always do when they are not getting the information they need…they find ways to make it work. Many school canteens started making meals and teachers began delivering packed lunches daily by walking or driving to family houses. Others offered a collection service of food parcels once a week. Others teamed up with local businesses to provide above and beyond the government offerings. Schools are always resourceful and we are seeing the very best of that at the moment. 

Another government announcement made in a briefing, yet with no further information to back up the “how” of such a project was the offer of free laptops and 4G routers for disadvantaged pupils – starting with Year 10 as they are due to take their GCSE exams next year. Yet again, however, schools were totally in the dark about this and I have heard from many who had very demanding parents on the phone on Monday as this announcement was made on a Sunday. Another weekend headache for teachers and headteachers who are facing the most difficult time of their careers. 

We are under no illusion that it is a difficult time for the government too right now as they try to navigate a path through the unknown. It seems though that communications could be improved to ensure future announcements do not create more awkward conversations between schools and parents. 

Perhaps their website could have all the backup information ready to go live as soon as the announcement is made so that schools can go and read that immediately and be ready for parent phone calls? Maybe then school leaders can even put that link on the school website meaning that parents can read it before calling? Maybe they could even put that link in a notification and send it out via their school app so parents have the information long before they go searching?

One thing that is becoming clear with guidance and information changing almost daily – your school website has never been more important.

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