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School App or Responsive Website?

If your school currently operates a responsive website, you may wonder whether you also need an accompanying school app. Despite hosting a variety of information, it is more than likely that your website does not serve your parents particularly well. A responsive website is simply a website rendered more legible on smaller mobile screen sizes.

Instead of having to use your fingers to expand the page on your phone and move it side to side and up and down, a responsive website adjusts the size and positioning of each section of the page so it becomes effectively a tall thin vertical page which you can scroll down and read more easily. Responsive websites are sometimes also called web apps. Being websites, they were designed for fixed-line computing and are written in HTML. Native mobile apps (normally shortened to “mobile app” or “app”) such as our school apps are a technology specifically designed for the mobile world. They are written in non-HTML languages such as Java and C++ and content does not have to be reformatted to fit onto small screens.

A school website and a school app are aimed at different audiences

The website markets your school to the general public, houses policy documents and is the first port of call for the inspectors when the next Ofsted comes due. Once a child has joined your school, naturally much of this content is no longer relevant to the parents that have chosen you. An app is designed for current parents and students and as such it carries content relevant to them: FAQs about the school, a wider selection of news than makes the website, information about what their child is doing, instant messages from school, an events calendar, forms, and surveys. In short an app is the ideal hub for parents to find important content that they need without having to sift through a plethora of other material.

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A website needs to have an internet connection to operate

Parents on the move may find they are out of range or out of data and therefore unable to upload your responsive website on their smartphone. They will get an abrupt message on their phone effectively saying “Not working, try again later”. An app, however, caches information from the last time you used it. This means you can still access all of the features such as the messages, calendars, contacts and news even without a connection. The latest updates will not load on the app until they are back in range, but in the meantime, those parents needing to quickly find a date or wanting to check details on a previous message will have a much better experience.

If you want two-way communication…

… an app is much quicker and more streamlined than a responsive website. A modern app can offer a two-way form completion process that can significantly reduce school admin time and cost, as well as making life easier for parents. Forms are hosted in the app and parents are notified to complete ones relevant to them. These can be filled in and instantaneously returned back to the school on the app.

Websites have complicated navigation

When you are trying to make your responsive website tick a number of boxes, navigation can become complicated very quickly. Because it contains more information aimed at different audiences the sitemap can become vast, and the website menu layout familiar to users will likely be changed by your responsive website to a different navigation pathway. The more complex your site, the less user-friendly it becomes. As an app hosts focused content intended for parents with children currently in the school, and a menu layout again designed specifically for the mobile world, parents can find what they need with ease.

Websites take time to load content

Speed is a problem for responsive websites as a high volume of information is being continually streamed to them when they are in use. People will give up very quickly on a website or app if buffering takes too long. Again, as apps were designed for mobile communications and are less data-hungry they run at a much faster rate. So users should not have to wait long for pages to load and refresh.

Content can be integrated

You should not need to be concerned about duplicating work, posting articles once on the website and again on the app or vice versa. Automatic feeds can usually be set up between one and the other such that you enter information once and it will appear on both media. The same can be done for the school’s Twitter and Facebook accounts if you have them.

Apps are cost-effective

One thing apps did not have in their favour until recently was cost. As a newer technology, they were expensive, and responsive websites were relatively attractive even if just as a halfway house solution until app pricing dropped. That point has now come and apps are now affordable for any school. Combined with the performance advantages apps have over-responsive websites an app is now the clear way to go.

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