School websites: Common errors and top tips

Written by: Craig McKee | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Your website is a vital window into your school – for both parents and school inspectors – and there a number of requirements for what it must contain. Craig McKee discusses some common website mistakes


Since 2014, the Department for Education has specified information that schools maintained by their local authorities must publish on their websites (DfE, 2014).

There is similar guidance for academies (DfE, 2016) and although this is non-statutory, these schools will probably find that there is a requirement in their funding agreement to publish the same information as a maintained school.

As a former primary headteacher who had responsibility for our website, I completely understand how much work goes into maintaining a school website, keeping all your policies, curriculum, staff details, and statutory information up-to-date, especially as most of these things are constantly evolving.

Couple this with the fact that your school website does not necessarily have a tangible impact on teaching and learning and you can suddenly find this slipping further down your priority list. Sadly, though, we cannot escape a few facts:

  • Your school website is most probably the first port of call for parents or members of the public and you can only make one first impression – so it is important to get this right.
  • There are statutory requirements dictating things that must be on your website (and criteria in your funding agreements if you are an academy).
  • Ofsted will use your website to gather information about your school even before they have that initial conversation – so by the time you know they have been looking, it is too late to make last-minute changes.


Ofsted and your website

Let’s focus a little longer on Ofsted. There are two direct references to school websites in the Education Inspection Framework’s School Inspection Handbook:

  • 93. If any issues arise, the lead inspector may also need further clarification from the school, for example when information is not available on the school’s website.
  • 94. In addition to the information requested from the school, inspectors will review and consider: … relevant publicly available information, such as the school’s website.

However, having specific information or content on the school website is not actually mentioned as part of any of the grade descriptors in Ofsted’s EIF, which might lead you to conclude that the content of your website should not influence any specific judgement, but unsurprisingly this does not seem to be the case.

To see what Ofsted is actually saying about school websites, I went through a random selection of school visit reports from the last two years, with judgements ranging from inadequate to outstanding. Here are some of the comments I discovered:

First, from good or outstanding inspection reports:

  • The proprietor ensures that the school provides the required information that parents need. For example, a statement on RSHE and the safeguarding policy are available on the school’s website.
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of safeguarding, inspectors reviewed the school’s website and policies and met with safeguarding leaders.
  • The school sends a clear message on the homepage of the school’s website about the importance of safeguarding.

And some comments from requires improvement and inadequate inspection reports:

  • The website is mostly out-of-date.
  • The school’s website is difficult to navigate and it is not easy to find relevant information.
  • We explored the school’s website to evaluate the quality of information provided to parents.

So be warned: Ofsted does use the information from your school website as evidence to inform their judgements. It is also worth mentioning that although these were the only comments I could find within their evaluative statements, the majority of reports I read mentioned reviewing the contents of the school website in the “information about this inspection”.


Website monitoring and audits

So, my next question would be: how often do you need to check your website and who audits your website and when to make sure that it meets statutory requirements?

I would advise having the school website as a standing item on your senior leadership team meeting agenda – hopefully most weeks this will be a really quick discussion – “Anything to update on the school website? No? Great, next item” – but at least this way it keeps it as a focus.

It means that if you have had a policy ratified by governors, you will be reminded that it needs to be uploaded to your website. Or even for other non-statutory things such as updating dates or events that have been planned or things that have happened in school that should be showcased and celebrated.

Once upon a time, I would invite school governors to go through the statutory checklist and “audit” your website – especially if it had been recently updated. Essentially asking them to go through and check that they can find everything easily.

However, I have since realised that to correctly audit a school website you need to have a certain level of understanding. For example, a governor might go through and find your 2021/22 Pupil Premium Strategy – the document is there, seems to be in date so you get a tick, and they move on.

But what if it is not on the new statutory template that came into play this year? Would your governors know that? I have to be honest, the majority of mine wouldn’t have.

It is also useful to have someone with a knowledge of the requirements of statutory policies. For example, often in audits I run I find behaviour policies available and in date but on a two-year cycle where the recommendation is one-year. It is not that this must be changed, but the school may be asked why they have not chosen the recommended frequency and must be able to answer.


The most common mistakes

If you have read this far then you may well be considering auditing your website – especially if Ofsted is looming. After auditing many sites this year, below I have listed some of the most common errors we found (you’ll be pleased to read that most of them are easy fixes).

Contact details: Not having a named person who deals with queries from the public and just having “School Office” or something similar. Not having contact details for your SENCO.

Exam and assessment results: Not clearly marking the 2018/19 results as “not current”.

Curriculum: Not explaining how parents or members of the public can find out more about the curriculum. Not explicitly explaining how your approach to the curriculum fulfils your duties in the Equality Act 2010 and the SEND Regulations 2014.

Pupil Premium: Not having information on the effect of the expenditure on pupils for the previous academic year.

PE and Sport Premium: Not having swimming figures on the report. Obviously swimming lessons haven’t been able to happen through the pandemic, but this requirement has not been removed by the DfE! Personally, I sent a Google Form survey to my year 6 parents with these questions on so I could still gather the information and report it (something to consider if, for some reason, swimming has been a problem this year).

Equality objectives: Not updating your policy annually that details how the school complies with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

Governors’ information and duties: Not including information about how particular governors were appointed.

Financial information: Not having a statement about staff with a gross salary exceeding £100,000 (even if there are none).

Requests for paper copies: Not having a statement explaining that all material on the website is available as a paper copy and how to request this.

  • Craig McKee is a former primary school headteacher who has worn most primary school hats and who specialised in ICT. He now runs Education Safeguarding, providing online safeguarding training and school website audits. He also runs Pupil Magazines, a platform to publish pupils’ writing. Visit https://educationsafeguarding.co.uk


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