Do you always know what messages your parents are taking away with them? Carole Farrar examines some of the messages that you may be giving out
Does your setting always give out the messages that you want it to? Many aspects of an organisation can convey ‘hidden’ messages, so it is important to be aware of what these might be and how they could affect the image of your setting.
A useful way to do this is to conduct an audit. As you do this, bear in mind the requirements of Every Child Matters (be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing).
However, does your setting communicate to parents just how much value you place on each of these outcomes? Many groups have an Every Child Matters display, but there may be some subliminal messages that undermine the commitment we express. Open access, grubby premises or tatty equipment will not support claims to keep children healthy and safe. Untidy or absent displays of children’s work, or poor opportunities for independent learning, may hint at a lack of commitment to the other outcomes. It can be very useful to take a look at your provision through the eyes of Every Child Matters to make sure you’re getting your messages across in the ways that you want.
The appearance of the building and grounds
Take a walk around your building and grounds and try to see them through the eyes of parents.
- Are entrances clearly marked and do they have easy-to-understand access instructions displayed nearby?
- Are the grounds well kept and free from litter?
- Is the outside of the building well maintained and graffiti free?
- Are gate fastenings working and easy to operate so that children are secure?
- Do signs deter dog walkers and unwelcome visitors?
- Is the setting accessible to parents with disabilities?
- Is there a secure buggy area?
If the answers are yes, then you are giving out clear messages about the universal welcome you are offering and the importance you place on keeping children safe.
Signs and notices
Do your signs and notices cater for all potential users of your setting? Ideally, key information should be displayed pictorially, in locally used languages and if possible even in Braille. This sends out the message that everyone is welcome. It is also a good idea to ensure that the words used are positive in tone, for example ‘All visitors must report to the office’ can be changed to ‘Welcome to Anytown Nursery – please call into the office when you arrive’ and will sound so much more friendly.
A ‘welcome’ board near the entrance is a common feature in many settings and can be used to communicate key information such as:
- ‘who’s who’ – staff names and photographs
- curriculum information
- advice, eg what to do if your child has headlice
- signposting to other services such as health and family learning.
It is important to keep such displays fresh and up to date, or they can soon start to give out the wrong messages. Another good touch is to have a small wipe-clean whiteboard on which to write a daily message, for example ‘Today the vicar is coming to visit us’.
If you share your setting with other users, this is an area that can be quite tricky, solutions such as removable signs or a temporary board on an easel can help.
Meeting or waiting areas
Setting aside a place for parents can be difficult if space is at a premium or facilities are limited. However, if it can be achieved, such an area will give out an important message about how much parents are valued. Comfortable seating around a coffee table, a range of up-to-date leaflets, information about the local community and booklets of children’s work will provide a welcoming waiting or meeting space.
Attitude and appearance
It is important to ensure that staff attitudes and appearance contribute to the image you want to create. Workers should be clean, tidy and appropriately dressed for the work that they do. A policy or code for staff to follow can be a good idea so that no one is in any doubt – for example will visible body piercings or extreme hairstyles be allowed? Will there be guidance on which body parts (eg thighs, midriffs and chests) should be kept under wraps?
Workers should also be given guidance about how to convey positive body language and courteous attitudes – standing with arms folded and a bored expression will not inspire parents’ confidence. Making expectations about such matters clear from the outset can go a long way towards preventing conflict.
How a setting is perceived in its local area is vital to success, and parents can play a key role in helping to promote a positive image in the community. Using well informed parents as ‘ambassadors’ to welcome new families or to contribute to information sessions will say much about the mutual trust and respect your setting engenders among its user group. Other ways to ensure a positive profile for your organisation include celebration events, contact with other suitable community groups and publicity through the local media.
Concerns, compliments and feedback
A simple system for sharing concerns and compliments can be a helpful way to check you are giving out the messages that you think you are! A handy way to do this is to produce a simple leaflet which is readily available at all times. It could be titled How to Make a Suggestion, Comment, Complaint or Say Thank You and should explain how parents can make their views known either in person or in writing.