How difficult can it be to help an organisation with a possible safeguarding issue?

Today we picked up a public tweet on one of our social monitoring alerts from a female who tweeted that she was getting bullied at lunchtimes. Two clicks later and we pop a phone call in to the organisation to let someone in a pastoral role know in case this student, whose name we also gave based on their Twitter name, may need help. This isn’t a school we work with and it doesn’t happen often. From here on in I’ll write in first person as it happened.
I left my mobile number and details. I got a call back from a safeguarding person. Here’s how it went – slightly abridged but key phrases are accurate.
*start of call*
Them: Is this a sales pitch to get in to school?
Me: *blood simmers* Pardon? Goodness me. You must have had some very bad calls to say that. That’d be completely unethical and clearly you don’t know us or how we work with schools.
Them: Would you contact every school you come across about something like this even if you didn’t work with them?
Me: Well, we would certainly stop anyone crossing a road who hadn’t seen a car coming whether we knew them or not. All it took was two clicks to identify the organisation where this person said they attended. We have passed on a name and a public tweet for you to act on or ignore. It’s up to you really. We have no other agenda.
Them: I’m not confirming this student is one of ours. We take safeguarding very seriously and I’ve had the training so my guard is always up.
Me: I do understand safeguarding issues very well from our work with other schools.  Do you want the link to the tweet so you have that?
Them: No. We have our own team who do all that.
Me: Very good.
[professional pleasantries]
*end of call*
Obviously this stings particularly badly at my personal integrity and core values and I just have to acknowledge that.   Many things whirled in my head during and after this call though.  If I’d been a person of disrepute would I have contacted the organisation to first check the female was a student, left my cross-checkable details etc? I genuinely don’t know.  People can be cunning can’t they.
What I do know though is that the tweet & it’s contents appeared to hold no interest (I’m sure it was checked out ultimately) and the notion of someone, particularly from a company, offering information with no other agenda than ‘to help’ just did not compute for the other person.  What that speaks worse of I’m again unsure.
I’ve never told anyone about this before but it’s relevant here so I will. I did once, I believe, stop a young lady from being killed on a zebra crossing by blasting my car horn to make her stop dead in her tracks as another car, that I’d seen approaching in my rear view mirror but she hadn’t, shot through on the inside lane. I still run this like a mini-movie years later with surprising frequency.  Today felt a bit like that, except that there seemed to be someone else there who instead believed the car horn was probably a wound down window or open door.
Safeguarding is important. It’s critical and you’re probably here reading this with a good understanding of the gravity of some scenarios schools face each week. However, today gave cause for some personal reflection.
  • Would I blast my car horn at a zebra crossing again?
    Yes. Though there’s no guarantee the person will stop.
  • Would I call a learning organisation to pass on some information that could affect the welfare of a student – even though they haven’t paid us to?
    Yes.  I believe so.
  • Do I need a brew and to get on with my paid work now?
    Yes. Definitely.


Vague descriptions of entities and individuals only used to protect identity

Photo use under: Open Government Licence v3.0

Death Knell of the School Newsletter?

The school newsletter has always been a big deal for at least two people in school, typically the Head plus the poor soul who inherited the MS Publisher Template from the last incumbent.

‘Knowing’ glances often shoot across the table during conversations about the school newsletter and website.  Given the information requirements for school websites this is hardly surprising.  (Clerk to Governors is a must read.)

In my experience here are the most common 5 approaches where tech touches school communications specifically for the newsletter. Some of these are done in tandem.

“We send the newsletter to parents every week on Friday…

  1. on paper with pictures
  2. as an SMS message linking to the website
  3. as a PDF email attachment
  4. via a Facebook update with a scanned image of the newsletter
  5. via Twitter to parents with a link to the newsletters page on the website

…so why do parents still tell us they don’t know what’s going on?”

If Brian Blessed read the school newsletter out loud on a Friday standing in the playground parents would still not know fully what was going on in school.  Why?

Is school boring?

Generally no.  However what’s considered to be news and how these exciting things are shared might be giving the feeling of ‘old news’.

Is it to do with timing?

Yes without doubt.

People are used to ‘on demand’ consumption of media.  Most homes if you’re lucky will save a paper newsletter to read later when they’ve nothing else to do – that’ll be never.  They may though get a calendar out and add dates to it from the newsletter to remind them when it’s non-uniform or sports day or parents evening.  They are less likely to read a scanned newsletter on a timeline and add dates from there remembering the detail while switching views.

Tweeting or Facebooking on a Friday will land better but, still, what is it that’s making you do it on a Friday?  Our data shows that this is not the day to do it.  What time on a Friday is best if you decide to still pick Friday? 3.30?  You need to know when people are being receptive to receiving your ‘stuff’.

Is it to do with the format?

Yes without doubt. About 50% of people reading this post will have stopped already because there are too many words, not enough pictures, maybe they’re just tired, know all this already or someone has just un-paused the Blackpool stage of Strictly.

SMS messages are definitely a ‘read later’ thing once the parents get used to seeing the school sender name and they know that there’s just a link to a long newsletter awaiting.

There are some schools who have gone to extremes.  I know of one school where parents have been given an iPad to get them to use Twitter and receive school Tweets!

Many more schools use Facebook now and report greater reach, engagement and impact. Some however seem to lean to far towards ‘operational’ updates – don’t forget this, don’t park there & nits.   Even on Facebook it’s hard to break old habits and to forget that it’s ‘social’ not broadcast media where the relationship is ‘the thing’.  These messages sit like uneasily in Facebook.

Even in Facebook there are improvements now to make sure parents get your updates over and above others but how many parents know about these.

Horses for courses

Teachers and business managers are experts in their business not in design.  Too much effort has historically been spent by schools on making design choices at a micro level. Now, simple is best.  Look at the format of Tweets, FB Updates & websites.  Clear, simple, brief and fuss free from conflicting font styles and colours. Why use 200 words when 25 will do? Let the system you’re using style your message in a way with which parents are familiar already.

Is it to do with content?

Yes. People today are spoilt!  They’re used to personalised this that and the other – even Coke and Nutella let you put your name on their label.  There’s very little ownership over a school newsletter even though it’s a clear sense of transparency and honesty that excites/engages parents.

On Facebook (our favourite horse in the race) personalisation is king.  These are the their updates,  their school, their victory in the cup, their great decision to send their child there.

So how about scanning/saving a newsletter and sharing it as an image update on Facebook?  That’s canny but I don’t think it’s transformative.  How about disaggregating the newsletter into bitesized chunks and drip feeding them as updates at optimal times across the week instead?

With technology it’s often been the case that people do just what they did before except a bit faster/easier without reflecting on how else it could be measurably better.  It’s maybe an indication of the times in which people work – less time to reflect, ticking off the list of jobs and so on.

If you’re in charge of the school website too, as part of the school comms strategy, you’ll have even more to think about. Our approach is to blend web with social to avoid doubling of effort.  Much of a school’s attention is on tending their social ‘garden’ while the website is given a lick of paint each year to meet the necessary requirements. Who really is the audience for your school website anyway?  Ofsted.   We’d like to imagine many others too but sadly it’s holidays and snow closures that make your site stats spike.

Does all this mean the end of the school newsletter as we know it?  Yes – in any useful form I’d says it does but it’ll be a while before parents realise if you announce it in the newsletter.