Getting your school website design right is mission critical.
Normally we write about business website design on the blog, which is a completely different kettle of fish to public sector web design.
With business web design, it’s often the case that you’re looking to do one of two things:
- Make sales
- Generate leads
Public sector and school website design is a completely different beast.
The job of a school’s website, is to communicate effectively to it’s viewers. You’re not often selling when it comes to school web design.
You’re trying to communicate the required information, in a useful, easy to understand manner.
With a school website, you typically have three types of visitors:
- Parents of the pupils at your school
- The pupils themselves
- Potential new employees
As you have such a wide variety of visitors, it’s important your school website design is immaculate.
So, what does your school website need to make sure you get it right?
I have a young child that attends primary school in the UK.
Quite often, I pick him up from school, and I get to see and interact with a range of people in the school yard.
These days, there’s a huge range of people interacting with a school.
- Young parents
- Older parents
- Grandparents and Great Grandparents
- Other family members and relatives
- Childminders and caregivers
Among all of that, you have a range of accessibility issues.
People with poor eyesight, people with no eyesight, people who understand technology, people who don’t.
The list could go on and on.
Your school website design must be completely accessible.
But what do we mean when we say accessible web design?
Here’s the deal:
- Make sure you’re using Alternative Text for your images, so those users on screen readers can understand the images too
- Not everyone can use a mouse, so make sure you’re making use of alternative input options such as voice
- If your website contains audio files, make sure you transcribe them for people who struggle with their hearing
- Make sure you’re using high contrasting colours when it comes to the text on your website
- Offer a range of text sizes, so people can scale up your website content.
Accessibility is a key issue in website design, and with such a diverse range of visitors, it should be a top concern for your school.
The way we access websites has changed completely over the last few years.
With the rise of smartphones and tablet devices, people are browsing the internet more frequently than ever before.
In the school yard, at home, at work, the way we browse today is a lot different to several years ago.
A lot of my friends don’t even own a desktop or laptop machine these days, preferring to access what they need on their phone or tablet.
With that in mind, it’s important that your school website is responsive by design, meaning it works well across a range of devices.
I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself:
You go to visit a website on your phone, but you can’t see the content for having to zoom in and scroll left and right.
That means the website isn’t responsive, and we want to avoid that bad user experience at all costs!
Your website content should shift and scale depending on your visitors device.
That’s the best way to communicate effectively and gives your user a positive experience of your school website.
Great Design and Photography
Your school website is going to be frequently visited by parents.
It’s important, that it looks great.
Good design involves:
- Good use of white space
- A good visual hierarchy which dictates reading order
- Easy to digest information (no huge walls of text!)
- Engaging content that keeps your visitors interested
- Nothing weird or strange that visually arrests your visitor.
Personally, I prefer websites with a white background to a coloured background. I feel it helps the content to breathe.
They say good design is invisible.
By that, I mean there’s nobody commenting on it.
It’s well thought out, it’s easy to use, and there’s nothing that causes distraction or offence to the eye.
Your school photography also plays a key role in your website design.
Good photography can make a good website great, and a great website outstanding.
So make sure you have high quality photos taken at least once per school year, and update them as frequently as possible!
Easy to Access Information
The main reason people are coming to your school website, is for information.
Parents want to know what their kids are up to.
Pupils want to know what’s going on at school, or are tapping into additional learning resources.
Prospective new teaching staff are looking for job opportunities and to learn more about your school.
So making your information easy to access, and easy to find, is a top priority.
Don’t hide important things away a complex menu structure. And don’t use “in terms, nicknames, or cute labels” for navigation items.
Your About Us page should be called About Us. It should not be called “Our South Sea School Family.”
Contact Us should be called, Contact Us. Not “Send a Raven” (yes, a Game of Thrones reference) or something to that effect!
Clarity goes a long way when designing a website, and people appreciate it.
School Contact Information
This one should be obvious:
You need to put your contact information on your website.
I like to put contact information in both the header and footer, as well as the contact page.
You should have:
- A telephone number
- An email address
- Your physical address
- A Google map of your location
- Links to social media accounts
I normally opt to put the telephone number and email in the header and footer, and keep everything else for the actual contact page.
By having your telephone number and email address easily accessible, you’re giving people who “just need to contact you” a quick and easy way to do that.
Again, you’re creating a positive user experience and giving the people the information they want, as quick as you can.
A Warm Welcome from the Headteacher or Principal
Like it or not, your school is a family.
And when you’re welcomed into a family home, you should be received with a warm welcome.
As a headteacher or principal, it’s up to you to do the welcoming.
A short paragraph or few sentences about the school, combined with your photo and signature, goes a long way in making people feel welcome.
That leads nicely on to a…
It’s good to show off your teaching staff.
Not only does it allow parents to get to know each of their child’s teachers, but it showcases your team and their roles across the school.
Being able to put a face to a name is really useful.
As is having key staff’s direct contact information.
I needed to email my son’s teacher lately, and I didn’t want to have to go through the school administration staff first.
That job was made easy for me, because of the staff directory on his school’s website.
Showcasing your staff again, helps deliver relevant information quickly, and allows parents to put a face to a name.
Calendar (with Key Dates)
One of the main reasons people will visit your school website, is to keep up to date with events and goings on within your community.
Running an after school class? You should have it on your website’s calendar.
Closed for training? That should be in the calendar too.
Everything your school gets up to, should be featured on your website’s calendar.
Which leads us nicely on to…
Term dates deserve a section of their own. It’s the part of my son’s school website that I visit the most.
When we’re planning out our family calendar, we always need to know when our son is or isn’t at school.
And with so many holidays these days, having a section for term dates is always going to be a popular choice!
Alongside finding your phone number, finding term dates is probably going to be the second reason parents come to your website.
Give them what they want, and make your term dates easy to find!
The next reason I often visit my son’s school website, is to find out what lunch rotation he’s on.
Finding out whether I need to make him a packed lunch at the start of the week, is a key reason I use his school’s website.
Lately, they’ve progressed and got an app called Live Kitchen, which is ok, but it’s not as good as the menus published by his school directly.
Allowing parents to check on their kid’s lunch menu is going to relieve you of questions at the school gate or over telephone and email.
One thing I’d recommend when publishing your lunch menus, is to embed them into the site directly, rather than making them a downloadable PDF!
That way, people can get access to them without having to download a bloated PDF file!
Anonymous Issue Reporting
From calendars, term dates, and lunch menus, to something much more serious.
A great feature I’ve seen used on school websites, is anonymous issue reporting.
Let’s say you’ve spotted a child being bullied, then you can report it anonymously through the school website form.
Or, if your child is uncomfortable bringing an issue up to their teacher in person, they can use this feature too.
This might not be the top of your website feature list, but it should be.
By having anonymous issue reporting built into your website, you might just be able to help a child that needs it most.
News and Updates
It’s important that your school website provides up to date news and updates.
There’s nothing worse than a website that has a whole load of news on there.
With most modern content management systems it’s easy to provide updates about what’s going on at your school.
You’ve got people coming to your site regularly, for vital information, but you’ll also have people checking back for updates.
My son’s school posts updates when they go on school trips, and as parents, we get to see photos that we wouldn’t get to see otherwise.
Ofsted and Performance Information
Ofsted are the “official standards for education” in the UK. I’m sure other parts of the world have similar regulatory bodies.
By having your Oftsed information front and centre, you’re making it easy for parents to find out about your schools performance.
You have two options:
- Publish a copy of your school’s or college’s most recent OFSTED report
- Publish a link to the webpage where users can find your school’s most recent OFSTED report.
It’s a legal requirement that your school publishes it’s Ofsted information on the site, but parents find it interesting too!
We want to know that our children are in good hands.
One of the things that I find the most frustrating about having a child in the school system, is getting enough information about the curriculum.
At the start of the year, there’s a parents meeting, during the working day, that gives brief overview of what they’ll be covering this year.
But for parents unable to make it, there’s not enough information online about it.
If my son is going to be learning about the Roman Empire in Term 1, I’d like to know that ahead of time.
It would mean we can engage with him about it on a different level.
As it happens, my son is currently learning about Romans, and we’ve organised a trip to Rome during his half-term holiday.
But with more curriculum information available directly on his school’s website, we could be a lot more involved in driving his understanding forward.
Class Specific Information
This follows on from knowing more about the curriculum.
Knowing what certain classes are up to, would really help drive our family tea time discussions and catch-up.
School websites could benefit from publishing timetables online, so parents know what lessons their kids have when.
Ideas to include on class specific pages could include:
- A welcome from the teacher
- Class specific photography
- Useful resources for the curriculum directly related to that class
- Relevant news and updates
Having a specific information page about each school class could help to drive further online engagement with parents and your school community.
Each week, we’re given a printed school newsletter, that uses Comic Sans, and comes home in a crumpled heap at the bottom of a book bag.
By having an e-newsletter, we could get up to date school information directly to our email addresses, which would make it easier to read.
Especially if they ditched the Comic Sans too!
If your school are producing a newsletter already, why not create an e-newsletter that allows you to distribute it digitally?
You’ll be able to save on printing costs, but also include things you couldn’t have previously, like full colour photos.
This is one of my biggest pain points as a parent.
The way kids do maths these day has changed!
I would love to be able to access some useful primer documents that explain how we do long multiplication and division in school these days.
That means when my son needs help with his homework, I can continue to build on the methods you’re teaching in school.
Having a Useful Documents link on your school website would really help with that. And again, it allows you to build engagement between pupils, their parents, and your school.
Online Uniform Store
One of the biggest stresses in our family life comes when ordering school uniform.
It’s never the right size, it’s never the right fit, it’s hard to return, it’s impossible to order because of the outdated paper form filling system.
Bring your school branding and website into the digital world, by creating an Online Uniform Store.
Not only does this make taking orders easier for you (no handling of real cash), it makes ordering easier for parents!
It also ensures consistency in your approach to uniform.
If your school wears blue jumpers with their logo embroidered onto it, you can ensure you only sell those jumpers.
By doing this, you’ll probably be able to prevent people going to Aldi and Asda to buy unbranded school wearables.
Breakfast Club / After School Club Booking System
In the spirit of jumping into digital, being able to book Breakfast Club and After School Club online would be a dream come true.
Right now, we have to use a paper form and book in by the day before we need it. Which is quite inconvenient.
Sometimes, you don’t know you’re going to need to make use of After School Club.
Being able to book online through your school website would be a massive bonus.
With the invention of platforms like Woocommerce and Woocommerce Bookings, creating a Club Booking facility is easier than ever before.
Having this ability would delight parents, and give your administration one less headache.
An Inclusive Feel
Like I mentioned earlier, being a part of a school community, is like being part of one big family.
Your school website design should do everything it can to feel welcoming and inclusive.
Inclusivity is a hot topic at the moment, and your web design agency should be working with you to drive that through into your website design.
From the headteacher’s welcome, to updates from specific teaching staff, your school website should really feel like you’re introducing and welcoming people into your family.
Effective Use of Social Media
Social media is a bit of a sticking point when it comes to schools.
Who should be allowed to use it? What content should and shouldn’t be shared?
Well, whatever you decide, you need to use it effectively.
The headteacher at our son’s school writes weekly blogs on Facebook, which could also be posted up to the school website.
Whatever you do though, don’t include a redundant Twitter feed, unless you’re going to update it regularly!
Up To Date Information
We’ve already mentioned posting up to date news and blog posts, but the rest of your website content needs to be updated regularly too.
If you do have curriculum and class pages, make sure they’re kept up to date on a regular basis.
Out of date website content is a huge killer when it comes to the effectiveness of a website.
Make sure you keep on top of:
- News and updates
- Staff directory
- Curriculum pages
- Class pages
By giving them a once over every month or so, you’ll not go far wrong, and you’ll be communicating effectively.
The last thing you could choose to include in your school website design, is job listings and opportunities.
Sure, a lot of schools tend to list their jobs through other portals, but there’d be nothing wrong with advertising for a role on your own site.
Listing jobs on your site gives you active engagement within the employee world. Meaning if you find staffing to be an issue, you can resolve that.
Once word gets out that you post your own job openings, you’ll have people checking in regularly.
How about another e-newsletter that discusses opportunities within the school?
Making your school desirable, will help resolve staffing issues once and for all.
Conclusion: 23 Things Every School Website Design Needs
School websites have to do a whole range of jobs, but communicating effectively is their number one priority.
The information you present should be current and up to date, and your school website design should be well designed and easy to use.
Please lose the Comic Sans!
The way parents and pupils interact with your school is changing, and you need to make sure your school website isn’t left behind.
What do you think? How often do you update your school website? Does it include all of the things we’ve listed above? Let us know in the comments below.