UTS Library

ACT Campaign for 'My School' Website

Client: 

ACT Department of Education and Training

PR Company: 

ACT Department of Education and Training

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2010 C1 - 8

Year: 

2010

Executive Summary: 

The ACT Department of Education and Training (DET) was part of a national launch campaign for the My School website.  The website was designed to give parents greater transparency on the performance of their child’s school and a comparison of performance with similar schools nationally.

 

A key campaign management issue was a negative campaign against the website by a range of special interest groups including the Australian Education Union, representing a majority of teachers, based on the possible misuse of website data by third parties, specifically the media.

 

A secondary issue was the significant socio-demographic difference in the ACT from the rest of Australia – in essence that our schools draw students from very wide regions across Canberra, which do not have the same entrenched regional socio-demographic differences as other jurisdictions.

We also aimed to ensure schools were kept well informed in the lead up to the My School website launch, and well supported on the day of the launch and subsequent weeks when it came to media and communications.

A coordinated communications strategy focused on key target audiences, information dissemination and access and proactive media management.  Results measured by a range of evaluation measures, exceeded local expectations and were at the high end of national results.

Situation Analysis: 

The launch of the My School website nationally on 28 January 2010 was a coordinated national campaign led by the Commonwealth and involving all jurisdictions.  The website was a joint Australian Government and State/Territory initiative, coordinated through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA).  The aim was to target the parent and school communities and other stakeholders with the message that the website was a useful tool for parents and schools to learn more about their schools, and to compare the performance of a particular school against similar schools nationally.

 

A key focus was to assist parents, students, the teaching community and government the opportunity to identify problem areas and ways for improvement.

 

While working with the Commonwealth was a critical aspect of the launch campaign, an important focus for the ACT was that its school cohorts differed significantly in socio-demographic terms from other jurisdictions.   Canberra schools often draw students from a wide area, and Canberra itself has no significant areas of socio-demographic disadvantage.

 

There was a significant issues management challenge both nationally and locally, namely that the Australian Education Union was running a virulent campaign against the misuse of website data.  There was also the possibility that individual schools might attract negative media attention.  Schools could be ‘singled out’, mentioned by type of area or generally be referred to in a negative light.  It was also likely that other third party groups such as the ACT-based public school lobby group ‘Save our Schools’ might also give their interpretation of website or the data and generate their own media coverage from this.  

 

A key strategic imperative was to gain school principals as champions of the website to ensure media understanding and community support. 

We also strived to support schools so when the data went live principals felt comfortable taking about My School with their school communities.

Research: 

In addition to national attitudinal research, the ACT Department of Education and Training undertook extensive qualitative consultation research with stakeholders, principals and school communities.

 

Research also included:

 

  • Analysis of an equivalent State-specific website launched by Victoria in November 2009
  • Analysis of media coverage locally and nationally, including statements and positions of special interest groups
  • Qualitative research from ACT principal and teacher forums
  • Reviewing internal communications which had been sent to schools and central office about the My School website and its launch
  • Reviewing and analysing ACARA information which had been sent to schools and released in the public domain about the My School website

A Departmental preview of baseline results for schools enabled the ACT to identify potential ‘problem’ schools which may be targeted by media and develop credible defensive lines over performance issues.

Target Policies: 

Target Audiences/ Media



Target audience


Key messages


Media


Comms Tools


Parents



 


-       My School website is going live



-       Reassurance of what to expect when it comes to their school



-       What the school is doing to improve outcomes



-       Why My School has positive factors



-       Why league tables or ranking schools is not helpful (if they see them in the media)



-       The principal is available to talk to if they have any concerns


Newsletters, mail-home letters, letters given to students


Drafting letters, text for emails


Principals



 


-       What My school is



-       How it might impact the school



-       How to deal with media interest



-       Principals should make themselves available to talk to concerned parents



-       Positives of My School



-       What school is doing to improve any negative results


Fact sheets about My School for principals, key points for answering media/school community questions, media protocol guidelines, forums so they understand My School, setting up an assistance line principals can call and website materials


Drafting fact sheets, key points for media/school community questions, media protocol guidelines, organising any media training, forums, setting up an assistance line for principals and website materials


Third Parties



(eg. Media and other interest groups)



 


-       What positive initiatives schools are doing to improve literacy and numeracy



-       Positives of My School – shows gaps where additional funding/resources can be allocated



-       Why greater transparency and My School is good for parents



-       Why league tables or ranking schools are not helpful


Websites, newsletters, domain email.


Media release, Communique, FAQs, student profiles


Teachers


-       Principals need to take a leadership role and explain to teachers what to expect with My School and how school will perform



-       Why school might have performed like that and what is being done to improve it



-       Why My school has some positive aspects



-       What to do if parents ask teachers questions (direct them to the principal)


Email, staff meeting, staff newsletter


Email, newsletter

Communication Strategy: 

Based on national and local research, the Department developed a detailed communication strategy, coordinated with the national communication strategy.   Coordinated planning for the launch began in November 2009, with full implementation of the strategy beginning from 21 January 2010, a week before the launch of the ‘My School’ website.  The strategy included sub-plans for key target audiences and identified appropriate communication tools relative to those audiences (Refer Attachment A – Communication Strategy: ‘My School’ Website).

 

An imperative was developing the key campaign messages:

  • There are many positive aspects of My School such as the ability to compare schools to “like schools” so we can examine data and performance in a new way
  • Gives schools the chance to learn from other “like” schools not only in the ACT but nationally (opens up networking channels for promoting best practice)
  • Gives school systems the chance to identify areas which need more/additional support
  • My School is one piece of data, and in conjunction with other data and performance information, it can be used by schools to plan for the future and improvement
  • Parents and the school community should talk to principals if they have concerns about My School and the school’s profile  

The strategic approach was to set the agenda for interpretation, media coverage and commentary, with proactive placement of media, including a briefing of the ACT Education and Training Minister’s Office by the Department’s statistical and analytical research unit, who inturn provided a briefing to media, media releases, interviews and ‘grabs’ from the Minister and Departmental executive team (particularly using radio for immediacy), and continuous updates of linked source material on our website (linking through to the ‘My School’ website).

 

Prior to the website launch, school principals were briefed in detail by the Department’s statistical and analytical research unit, which also included advice on how to make best use of the statistics and strategies on engaging with school communities. 

 

Key communication materials included briefing packs (refer Attachment A) coordinated by the Media and Communications unit for principals, Departmental executive and the Minister’s Office, letters to parents advising them about the My School website, and information for school newsletters.  A Q&A was developed to deal with essential questions and possible approaches to response (refer Attachment B).

 

Media and Communications organised for the Education writer on the local agenda-setting newspaper The Canberra Times, to have an exclusive interview with the Department’s Chief Executive in the week leading up to the My School website launch where the Department’s commitment to school improvement was discussed which not only helped soften the blow when the My School data launched, but also helped to set the agenda and get the Department’s commitment to excellence and improvement again out in the public domain. This message was carried on radio during the day.

 

The Department also liaised with the Canberra Times in getting an Op-Ed article from the Chief Executive published in the paper on the day the My School website went live (refer Attachment A) which further stressed our key messages as well as providing important messages to the key stakeholders of schools and parents.

 

Issues management relied on precise and timely monitoring, including:

 

  • Real time monitoring of media coverage through commercial supplier, in-house resources and Federal agencies
  • Monitoring of media releases and activity from special interest groups
  • Feedback from schools, including principals, to our assistance phone line and generic email
  • Feedback from parents through our Schools Leaders Network

Implementation: 

While development of the campaign began in detail in November 2009,  school and Christmas holidays, and a launch date prior to ACT schools beginning their school year (unlike other jurisdictions), effectively presented a very compacted implementation timeframe.

 

Schedule

 

Communications timeline

Item

Target Audience

Media

Date

Invitation to Principals Briefing Forum

Principals, Deputy Principals

Face-to-face briefing forum

27 November 2009

Draft newsletter/letter home for parents

Parents

Newsletter/letter home for parents alerting them to My School website is going live, reassuring of what to expect when it comes to their school and the principal is available to talk to if they have any concerns

2 December 2009

Principal information packs

Principals

Principal information packs included:

packs including:

-       Covering letter about My School website from DET executive

-       Key messages for principals when discussing My School website with parents, school communities and media

-       Media Protocols

-       Contact numbers of ACARA information line and Departmental Assistance Line

-       ACARA information and fact sheets

Couriered to schools on Friday 22 January.

Also sent electronically to principals on request

Website page on DET website with links to ‘My School’ website and ACARA website

Parents, community, teachers

 

Friday 22 January

Generic email address

Principals, teachers, parents

 

Thursday 21 January

Telephone assistance line

Principals and teachers

 

Thursday 21 January

Newspaper Op Ed by DET Chief Executive

Parents, teachers, community

Importance of My School website as an additional tool for parent assessment and selection of schools

28 January (coinciding with launch)

Media Releases

Media, parents and community

 

28 January

Ongoing media monitoring, storyline development, issues management, media liaison

Media, parents and community

 

From 28 January

Results: 

The results of the launch campaign in the ACT exceeded expectations, with:

 

  • Very high visitor numbers to the Department website, equal to our highest usage rates.  Many of the visitors then tracked by link to the national My School website.  The My School website attracted over 2 million visitors in the first month of operation (Refer Attachment A for DET site usage analytics).
  • Generally positive and balanced publication media coverage, very positive parent community feedback, and strong principal and teacher support was reported.  The union ‘line’ while receiving some limited backing was heavily outweighed by positive community and stakeholder feedback (Refer Attachment A).
  • Effective resolution of calls to the telephone information line, either directly or in conjunction with the national line.  The telephone information line was particularly effective in side-stepping with direct information one major national issue where, because of the volume of hits, access to the national ACARA website was impeded.  Similarly, the generic email address offered a direct and immediate response to enquirers.

Evaluation: 

A comprehensive evaluation strategy included analysis of data from a battery of quantitative and qualitative research tools:

 

  • Telephone information line
  • Generic email address
  • Website page

Media coverage was analysed in toto and by individual medium, for the extent of coverage, prominence of campaign messages and favourability.