Most Scottish schools have failed to embrace Twitter and are missing out on one of the richest educational resources of the digital era, according to a writer who has analysed their presence on the social network.
William Jenkins, who blogs at edutechstories.blogspot.co.uk, found only 600 schools on Twitter out of about 2,700 across the primary, secondary, special and independent sectors. “If educators can’t get behind a tried and tested model like Twitter, which is free, has been around for nine years and has countless examples of success…then becoming a nation of innovation is going to be a struggle,” he said.
Mr Jenkins acknowledged that headteachers may be put off by the perceived risks of using social networks because of “negative stories in the press”, but he added that there were initiatives to help schools overcome their concerns.
His analysis highlighted only 43 school accounts with more than 1,000 followers, suggesting that “there may be a training issue with social media”. He also drew attention to how few educators tweeted about the Scottish Learning Festival last month: the 545 people posting came from just 24 schools.
‘It’s fast, efficient and parents love it’
Despite Mr Jenkins’ concerns, some areas stand out in their use of Twitter, including Falkirk, where ICT staff make a point of encouraging schools to use it. With only eight secondary schools, the authority has five of the 10 most followed secondaries in Scotland. It also has seven of the 10 most followed primaries.
Moray Primary (@MorayPS) has the most followers at 1,466 and also has 25 other Twitter accounts for its 15 classes and other school groups. “It’s fast, efficient and parents love it,” depute headteacher Lynda McDonald said. “You know what it’s like when children go home and parents ask what they did at school, but now parents have something to go on.”
Older students are largely left to decide what their class should be tweeting, and 10 children who have been appointed as “digital leaders” use Twitter to report live from the pupil council and meetings covering issues such as road safety and outdoor learning. Children in reading groups have also made big gains in confidence because the focus has shifted from their literacy difficulties to their proficiency with social media.
St Ninian’s High in Giffnock (@stninianshigh) has more followers than any other school in Scotland. Headteacher John Docherty said its feed functioned like a constantly updated “online newsletter” and was far more effective than its paper predecessors, which were often out of date by the time they reached parents.
Twitter opens a broader window on to school life, he believes – for example, regular updates from foreign trips allay parents’ anxieties. The school’s account also draws attention to pupils who may have gone unnoticed in the past, rather than focusing purely on academic and sporting high-flyers.
Ben Marder, a social media expert at the University of Edinburgh Business School, said Twitter should be used by schools to encourage feedback from families, as this will “help build and maintain strong, beneficial relationships”.
But he warned that school accounts must be “meticulously managed”, with queries replied to in good time and procedures put in place to manage “social media fallouts”.
“My advice is that schools should either make their Twitter account a priority or choose not to have one at all,” he added.