Carole Farrar highlights how you can make the most of formal communications with parents.
Formal communication tends to be planned in advance; is concerned with getting accurate information across and will often be written. Used appropriately, it can help you to successfully meet the needs of your organisation and those who use it.
Policy statements are a key feature of formal communication in early years settings. They should be drawn up in consultation with all stakeholders and be regularly reviewed. Key documentation will include:
- health, safety, security and child protection policies
- special educational needs, medical needs and confidentiality policies
- moving, handling and physical restraint policies
- school-home and behaviour/discipline policies etc.
Each must be written in plain English and should clearly set out the duties and responsibilities of all stakeholders. It is a good idea to keep a folder of all policy statements in an accessible area so that parents can refer to them easily. When reviewing policies, try to involve parents so that you can be sure that what is written is transferring to effective practice.
Your prospectus can provide a wonderful communication opportunity. Not only should it provide clear information about a range of routine matters such as session times, staff details, absence procedures, charging policies etc, but it should help to bring alive the aims and ethos of your setting so that parents see what is unique and special about your environment. Information about teaching, learning and assessment should be as easy to understand and jargon free as possible. Illustrations and photographs should be used to bring your prospectus to life (remember to get parental consent to use photographs). The prospectus can also ‘signpost’ parents to further, more detailed information – if your prospectus is available on your website, this could take the form of a link (eg to www.parentlineplus.org.uk).
There are many occasions when you will need to send out letters to parents. Sending them home with children can be a bit hit and miss, so systems such as sending them out a particular day of the week, putting letters in children’s trays or using a signal such as a big bright ‘L’ sign put in a prominent place can be helpful in alerting parents to the existence of a letter. Such letters should always be checked for spelling and grammatical errors, as mistakes will reflect badly on your setting. Sentences should be short and to the point and paragraphs used carefully. A system should be set up to ensure that any absentees still receive information.
Regular newsletters can help to keep the volume of paper sent home to a minimum. Developing an individual style for your setting, for example by consistently using a suitable heading, logo, typeface and paper colour can be helpful.
The layout should be appealing – plenty of short articles, perhaps set out in two columns. Text should be aligned to the left and the font size 12 should be used to help ensure text is as accessible as possible to the reader.
Newsletters can be used to celebrate achievements and pass on information. They can also be a chance to say hello/goodbye and to profile new staff. You can include regular features such as a ‘Your problems answered…’ section dealing with common issues such as headlice, bedtimes etc. and a list of diary dates is always useful. Your newsletter can also be used to invite feedback if you include a regular ‘Anytown Early Years Centre values your comments…’ detachable slip.
Posters, notices and leaflets
Your noticeboard should be situated in a prominent position; be visually attractive and kept tidy and up to date. A leaflet holder placed nearby will be useful. These facilities can be used to display information about local and national events and campaigns. They can also provide a focal point for disseminating information about what children are learning, eg aspects of the curriculum, particular topics and school-home activities. It is a good idea if one member of staff is allocated particular responsibility for this area.
When designing your own posters, notices and leaflets, you should avoid the temptation to include too much text. Get someone to check that information is accurate and full – it is easy to omit a crucial detail when it comes to the ‘where when who’ aspects of an event!
If possible, it is good to occasionally personalise formal communications. Talented users of ICT could use ‘mail merge’ facilities to add individual parents’ names to letters. Children could also be sent personal invitations, for example to visit the setting or stay for lunch. The individual touch is always appreciated.
There are many advice sheets available for parents, such as those produced by the government or commercial organisations. It is important to check what they contain before passing them on, as parents are likely to feel that you are endorsing the contents. Sometimes, it is easier to make your own help sheets – particularly when it come to giving advice about preparing children for life in your setting or your approach to learning letters and numbers.
Finally, it should always be remembered that not all parents will be able to easily access your standard written communications. Local authorities can often be a useful source of advice and support in such circumstances.