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Should I set up a WhatApp group for messaging Parents?

Firstly, this question is for principals who want to send messages to parents, not for teachers! Teachers should never ever ever set up a WhatsApp group for their parents and have messages coming from their personal WhatsApp account. That is, of course, unless they wish to be contacted by parents at any time during the day or night.

The reason this question was asked was twofold. Text messaging is expensive, up to 5c per text sent. In a school of 400 pupils, this could cost up to €40 to send one text message if there are 2 contacts for each child. Communication apps are an alternative, which send push notifications to parents on their Smartphones. However, parents need to download a particular app to do this, and how many people want to download yet another app? So, it makes sense to use an app that parents already use and, with almost 1.5 million Irish people with WhatsApp accounts, it’s likely that any parent with a Smartphone has WhatsApp installed.

You could set up a WhatsApp group for your school, where you can send a message from a school phone and it could be seen by everyone. One issue is that there is a maximum of 256 accounts allowed in a WhatsApp group so it’s a non-starter for schools with more than 256 contacts. You could set up a WhatsApp group for each class level. This means that general school messages have to be sent out to each group. In a school of 16 classrooms, this is 16 separate messages, which is a bit of a pain. Either way though, if you set up a group, you run the risk of everyone replying to your message and everyone seeing that reply and that could get very very messy!

I’m really not a fan of WhatsApp groups as even with a small number of people, I find them to be very busy places and often they are very open to mistaken-messages being sent (i.e. a private message being sent to the whole group) As WhatsApp is a 2 way communication tool, this opens it up to people replying to your messages at all sorts of times of the day and them popping up on your phone. You could find yourself in a situation where your phone never stops buzzing. Not only that, everyone else’s phone in the group will be continuously buzzing and there’s no control whatsoever about who is going to type a mad message!

There is a way to ensure that massive group messages don’t happen and that’s with Broadcasts. (how to set this up, here) This allows you to send your message out to everyone and it won’t go out as a group message. This means that each thread will be separate to each person, meaning that if a person replies to your message, everyone else doesn’t see that message. Again, you are restricted to 256 users so the same issue applies.

Ultimately, for schools, your best bet is to try your best to encourage parents to download an app to their phones. These days almost everyone has a Smartphone, so the likelihood of anyone not having access to an app is very low. There are plenty of apps that allow for messages to be sent by a school to parents without the need for replies. IPPN’s Text-a-Parent and Aladdin offer an interesting hybrid option where anyone who downloads the app gets a push notification and anyone who doesn’t gets a text message, Other options include ClassDojo (through Class Stories) and Komeer.

Last Update: April 7, 2018  

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