Today’s Schools, Anonymous Visitors and the Shifting Gate Post

Kate Borrie

Prospective parents and students have always hoped that visiting a school will enable them to clearly see and sense what it offers firsthand. The visit is an important part of the decision making process which is likely to confirm, strengthen, or lessen the likelihood of subsequent enrolment.

There was a time when visiting a school meant that you fronted up in person, walked through the gate and in the main doors. While open nights, group tours or individually hosted tours are still widespread, these days visiting a school may mean something else.

Entering a school via its website is increasingly commonplace. This trend will only escalate as internet accessibility improves and individuals become more technologically competent, accustomed to making all sorts of decisions with input from the worldwide web. Although you cannot smell the roses on the way down the school path nor have a two way verbal conversation, a web portal has several advantages. Firstly, it is immediate and available long after the office has closed for the day, term or year. Secondly, if a prospective parent or student wishes to investigate an aspect overlooked on the first visit, subsequent visits are simple and convenient. Thirdly, websites offer anonymity; a school can be appraised without the level of commitment fronting up may suggest.

In an increasingly virtual world, what is seen on a computer screen is used to judge the quality of the school itself. The reality is that a school may never get a traditional, in-the-flesh visit because it has already been assessed, compared with competing schools and eliminated without ever knowing that it was an option. This is especially so for potential international students who make global choices, students intending to board, especially from some distance, or families about to shift into an area with school enrolment zones who must make the decision about where they will live based on the schools they want family members to attend. Alternatively a school may have to work extra hard to compensate for poor initial impressions gained from its website.

None of these thoughts are new. What is puzzling is that, given their importance, why many school websites are not treated with the importance accorded to the physical entrance to the school. Content is often outdated and fails to consciously address many of the generic concerns prospective caregivers and students have. These are -

Of course, each of these will rank differently depending on the individual student but all need to be dealt with comprehensively on the school web portal.

It is not a matter of whether a school thinks that an effective website is a good idea, rather whether it views its website as an essential means of accurately communicating the school’s ethos, culture, style and priorities. The resources allocated to it are indicative of its actual importance.

Today’s schools have more than one entry point. Although a school knows who walks through its gates, it is also accessed and assessed by increasing numbers of anonymous visitors via its website. Regrettably, if a school neglects its website in a way it would never treat the traditional entrance, it risks being dismissed as an educational option by those it seeks to attract. Equal attention needs to be paid to both gateways.

About the author: Kate Borrie is a journalist who has taught at both secondary and tertiary levels. She also has a post-graduate Marketing qualification as well as a Diploma in School Marketing and is particularly interested in school website usability.

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