I have sat in pretty much every seat possible in dealing with a school closure. As a member of staff and a parent I have sat there frantically refreshing the school website hoping for news, as a Chair of Governors I have been involved in the decision and as the person responsible for school / MAT communications I have been the person charged with keeping everyone in the loop.
Based on these different experiences, this is my take on the best way to communicate a school closure – most typically this applies to bad weather closures, but it should also apply to most other closures.
Communication does not have to start with the closure decision, it can and should start as soon as you know there is a decision to be made, or at least as soon as it is obvious to staff and families that there is a possibility of the school needing to close.
As a parent / staff member the worst-case scenario is it being 50 / 50 that the school will be open because the world outside your window is completely white but there being no update from the school at all. For some reason schools traditionally only announce a closure and rarely confirm they are open. This means that you may have to leave for school without knowing for sure whether it will be open when you get there, or an announcement being made after you leave that you will miss.
If you know expectation of a closure is reasonable then as early as you can post an update on your website. If you are not yet sure then post an update saying you are currently evaluating and, most importantly of all, include a time when you will post an update – and then make sure you post an update at that time, even if it is just to provide a new time when an update will be made. It is also useful to include the time the current update was posted so people know how old it is.
These pre-decision announcements do two things. Firstly, it keeps people informed, and secondly it stops people sitting there constantly refreshing your website. The last thing you need when you have important information to communicate is your website falling over because of excess traffic.
If you are pretty sure of the way the decision will go then there is also nothing wrong with setting an expectation in these early announcements for example “We are currently evaluating whether we need to close the school due to the inclement weather. It is most likely we will be open, but we will confirm as soon as we can. Next update will be at 07:15. Posted at 07:00 29/01/2019”
Also think about the language you use in the notice – using phrases like “in the next hour” or “Tomorrow” may be accurate at the time, but the notice may stay in place for several hours so can become misleading, especially if you have not included the time of the update.
Once a decision is made, it is important to post the announcement in as many different media channels as possible – but make sure the message is consistent, especially as different people may be responsible for the text message system than the twitter account for example. A good tactic can to say as little as possible in the messages but include a link to the page on your website where you post updates. That way updating the everyone should be getting exactly the same information.
I have already outline this above, but it is worth repeating - it is as important to let people know school is open as it is to let them know you are closed.
Once you have posted the message, make sure you have a plan for taking it down – the worst possible scenario is that a message remains on your website announcing school is closed 24 hours too long and gives mixed messages. Again, good practice is to confirm school is open the first day after a closure so there is no ambiguity.
The link below is a basic flow chart to help try and manage this process – it is well worth downloading and sharing with the entire team involved in communication. Remember the most likely scenario is when you need to communicate a closure you will not be all in one place to co-ordinate. Planning in advance, even down to preparing draft messages for different scenarios, may help make the whole process a lot smoother.
And remember, a school closure (or even a possible closure) is the day you will get the most traffic on your website and the greatest engagement from your extended school family. Making sure any notice you place is strategically nestled in amongst other important notifications for people to read while they are waiting for updates is not a bad idea.
Neil Limbrick is the founder of theEducationCollective and a partner at Limbrick Consultancy LLP with over 18 years experience of leading IT strategy in schools and multi-academy trusts.
The flow chart can be downloaded from our blog:https://www.theeducationcollective.com/blog/
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