Socitm gives council online schools application websites a gold star

Socitm has said that over three quarters of local authority websites for secondary school applications were “good or very good”.

The survey found that 78 per cent of the 27 county councils tested provide a good or very good service. The organisation’s Better Connected survey found that two thirds (67 per cent) providing information on a school’s latest inspections. Another two-thirds helps parents in applying for schools outside their catchment areas. One website provided a “catchment finder” but no explanation of how catchments work or whether applicants have to stick to ‘their’ catchment area.

The study said that most councils have tried hard to sell the benefits of applying online and do so effectively, with clear deadline dates and obvious links to the online application form.

According to Socitm, nearly half a million online applications were made in 2015, during a three-month window. This, it said, was an important task for local education departments to get right.

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But Socitm said that according to its task report, there was too much information buried in very lengthy PDFs, with key information, such as catchment area arrangements, often hidden in these documents.

“A better approach is to present the most important concepts on the web pages and then direct people to the PDF guidance documents for more in-depth explanations. Otherwise, applicants are faced with a 60+ page document without guidance on which bits they actually need to read,” said Socitm.

Some websites also lacked an attention to detail with poor labelling and typos, indicating a slapdash approach. There was also a tendency for authorities to write in “officialise” about things of little direct relevance to the user.

Socitm cited East Sussex, Kent, Lancashire, Surrey, and West Sussex as good examples of where authorities have thought through how parents need to navigate the application process and got the balance right between pdf and web pages.

Colin Marrs

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