Many schools have mixed feelings about parents’ WhatsApp groups. They can provide useful information about school life but can also become overwhelming, or create misunderstandings. In almost all cases, some parents won’t be invited or may be unwilling to join WhatsApp groups, meaning they are rarely inclusive and leave many parents out.
When discussion turns from lost property threads to sharing negative sentiment about school, it can quickly affect a school’s reputation. With limited options to moderate discussions or delete content, some schools report cases of bullying, and sharing of pupil data which can create safeguarding issues. There can also be legal risks. WhatsApp’s T&Cs limit it to “personal” use. It therefore doesn’t provide many of the data protection safeguards required in many countries to manage structured groups where parent data is shared. Parent and PTA reps could even face legal liability if they don’t observe the relevant regulations.
Restricting parent-to-parent digital communication isn’t the answer. When parents connect online for example to set up playdates they help foster the friendships that children need for socialisation and for building a happy, positive learning environment. Social media is often where fundraisers are organised; second-hand school uniforms bought and sold, social events arranged and communities grow. Keeping the parent community active, engaged and positive is something all great schools invest in.
What are the alternatives to WhatsApp for school parent communities?
There are two main options: Facebook Groups, or Classlist. Facebook Groups are free; there’s a marketplace and a way to take RSVPs for events. However there’s no easy way to find other parents, no parent data management tools, no integrated payment system or way to manage volunteers. But Facebook’s biggest challenge is inclusivity. Many parents simply won’t use Facebook on principle, making it unworkable as a school-centred comms system.
A few school information systems provide a basic parent Directory, enabling some level of lookup and simple messaging. This is a world away from modern social media communications, and can introduce real GDPR risks if Class or PTA Reps try to copy and paste personal data to their email client, or into other systems such as WhatsApp or Eventbrite.
Why is Classlist a great alternative social media platform for schools?
Classlist’s app brings the whole school parent community together in one private social network that has full moderation capabilities and a professional interface. Classlist is fully GDPR-compliant and meets all Data Protection requirements facing schools and parent associations. It is fully inclusive, and parents can choose to share as little or as much data (such as phone numbers, emails, addresses) as they wish within their Classlist community.
School parents can be segmented into class, form or year groups. From there, parents have the freedom to add themselves to interest or community groups such as a cross-school committee, art lovers or parents of the football team.
Parents can find others by searching by a child’s name and can add optional address details to make lift-sharing easier. They can also join group discussions or 1:1 chats and avoid getting bombarded by adjusting their notification settings.Parents can additionally buy tickets and RSVP for school and parent association events, and refer to the calendar to ensure they aren’t missing any school admin. They can buy and sell second hand uniform and other items on each school’s private Marketplace.
Why Classlist is a gift to school marketing and admissions teams
Many schools work hard to give new families a warm, inclusive welcome. Pointing them towards ad-hoc WhatsApp groups with anonymous phone numbers and unmoderated content creates significant brand risk for the school.
Andrew Nott, Chairman of IAPS, says that the experience of being part of a welcoming community is a far more powerful marketing tool than any advertisement. “When you have a happy, thriving parent community you have access to positive word-of-mouth marketing. Supportive, positive parents will provide a reassuring perspective for prospective parents and the wider community, helping to enhance a school’s reputation. There is no doubt that such marketing is far more effective than paid-for advertising.”
A welcome gift for new parents
All school staff want to make families feel welcome, engaged and connected to their new schools.
Offering new parents an easy way to connect with each other is the welcome gift that parents crave. Schools have fed back that offering Classlist to new joiners in their welcome pack has been a big success as parents organise playdates in the summer before the first term, helping children meet in real life, to build the links and strong friendships that make the school a happy, rounded place to be. When parents feel invested in the school community they are more likely to give back through word of mouth recommendations or volunteering to help in the future.
Right from the start, new parents can receive invitations to events and information about what’s going on in school. It’s this insight into school life that will make them feel confident that they have chosen the right setting for their child.
Why can’t public social media include all parents?
A community platform has to be open to everyone. Many parents - lawyers, doctors or teachers - do not want to share their private phone numbers on social platforms. They are then quite unfairly excluded. Many parents don’t use WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, and feel they shouldn’t be forced on to these public platforms to access information about school.
Online parent communities welcome a code of conduct
It’s often noted that people behave differently online. The ‘disinhibition effect’ and always on, instant response format makes it very easy to share negative or divisive information. Often it’s just a handful of parents that behave poorly - but their views can spread far and wide in seconds. Worse still, even group admins can’t easily remove inappropriate comments from WhatsApp threads.
Facebook Groups and Classlist use community guidelines to help manage this. With Classlist, it is easy for other parents to anonymously report people who they feel are violating these. The school’s Ambassador can act on this by taking down the comment if needed and refer to the guidelines, defusing the upset that comes with this kind of potentially inflammatory situation. And a lot depends on context - if parents feel they are in a respectful, mature community, they behave appropriately.
Classlist’s code of conduct
- Respect fellow class parents, which includes not using their contact details for marketing or professional purposes
- Be honest, authentic, and straightforward in all actions
- Don’t share information from the website without the author’s permission
- Maintain the privacy and security of the site by creating a unique password and keeping this safe
- Don’t use the website to complain about the school or individuals connected with the school
There is a ‘report’ button on every post and every member profile. All reports are tracked and acted upon.
Does the school have to monitor Classlist?
This isn’t necessary - although schools can do so if they wish. We recommend putting your trust in your Classlist Ambassador and a team of school parents to do this. We support hundreds of thousands of parents around the world, and can count the number of serious reports on one hand. When parents have a clear objective and clear ground rules, there are far fewer problems.
Why can’t parent associations use email lists to communicate?
Parent associations were asked to stop using email lists when GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) came into force in May 2018. As a data controller, the PTA has a legal responsibility to manage personal data from parents securely, including obligations to delete data; to let parents know what personal data is held about them, and report data breaches. Because email lists are typically distributed out to individual computers, and then managed by individuals who may not have GDPR training, it becomes very challenging to comply with these conditions.
What do Headteachers, Bursars and Technology Directors think about choosing Classlist as an alternative to WhatsApp?
Jenny Hill, Bursar and Clerk to the Governors, Aldwickbury School said: “Classlist is a huge hit with the parents... and really helped us with GDPR concerns. Thank you for a wonderful product!”
Lynn Knapp, Head of Windmill Primary School, Oxford said: "Classlist has been really effective. It is very inclusive for all our families, and resolves the burning issue of connecting parents to each other."
Matthew Bryan, Head, Longacre School, said: “We’ve had Classlist for two years, it’s been a great success. It’s more efficient than other comms channels including WhatsApp. It reaches all parents and enables them to get info quickly.
Brian Lockwood, Education Technology Director, Copenhagen International School said: "Classlist’s dead simple - I hand it over to our PTA and they just run it. It’s a trouble-free solution and less hassle than Facebook. It’s such good software and such a successful programme I would love to see Classlist used in many other areas.”
Rachel Snaith, Bursary and Development Officer, Harrodian School said: “It takes parents off WhatsApp groups and gives us a bit more control. We love it.”
Richard Ellard, Former Chair, United World College South East Asia, Singapore Parent Association said: “It’s a great tool.. a powerful way to welcome new parents.”
Tania Botting, Head, Greenfield School said: “Classlist has been really popular. We use it to target particular groups of parents. They don’t miss out on information; get fewer emails and it moves them away from WhatsApp. The Parent Association and Class Reps find it great for comms and events.”
Tracey Hartley, Headteacher, John Hampden Grammar School said: “We particularly like the positivity it has brought for families, specially during COVID. It has been great for supportive conversations. Parents also use Classlist to arrange lift-sharing, find missing PE kit, and get to know each other. They are less likely to use WhatsApp.”
Josephine Marsh, Head Teacher at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Chalfont St Peter said: “We really like Classlist. It’s well controlled: we know who’s on there so it’s a safe environment for parents to share information about the school and their children.”
Is your school on Classlist yet?
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