Everybody's doing it! It's not enough just to connect to the Internet, surf the web and make acquaintances via e-mail. To have truly arrived in the online world your school has to have its own web site - or so everyone would have you believe. But are they right? Is it really as simple as they make out and are there tangible benefits for you and your pupils?
Let's get the technical bits out of the way first. You no longer need to be some sort of guru to make a website. If you can handle the basics of a word processor and create a simple newsletter or poster with some text and pictures then you can make a web page. Get a copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 (IE5) or Netscape Communicator from a magazine cover disc and you will have all the free tools you need. Front Page Express, which comes with IE5, is probably the easiest for the novice. It's so intuitive you probably won't even need the help files that come with it and you'll be producing pages in no time - provided you've got ideas for their content.
Good quality, interesting content, is far more important than the technical bits that make the pages look pretty. Without something to maintain visitors' interest they will be clicking the "back" button to exit instead of the link to the next page. Here are my top ten tips to realise the potential of your school site and make it stand out from the rest:
* Involve others Pupils, staff, parents and governors can contribute ideas and, when they see them translated into pages, will want to create their own too. Share the workload but retain editorial privileges. Before publishing, get a couple of those willing volunteers to check that your page links work and that your spelling is correct.
* Check out the opposition Visit other school sites (perhaps as a class activity) and discover what excites you, the children and their parents.
* Get an identity The school name or location can provide inspiration for a theme in the site's design. My school is in a seaside town so that was easy for us when making our site.
* Think 'community' Reflect local people and events, and showcase the best of what is going on in and around your school. Try to avoid producing just another school brochure.
* Match content to audience Children, other teachers and parents are your most likely visitors. As well as children's work, have a parent "problem page" or initiate a teachers' "site of the month review" perhaps.
* Be accessible Make sure that visitors can contact you. Provide at least the webmaster's e-mail address and consider a guest or comments book too. You'll be amazed from how far afield visitors come. Most are complimentary if you've got the basics right, spurring you and the children to do even greater things.
* Give it away Offer something for free - homework activities, your best literacy lesson plan, a printable dot-to-dot puzzle, in fact anything that leaves your visitor feeling that they have had value for money. Everybody pays for their time online in one way or another.
* Keep it fresh Update "news" pages regularly.
* Get connected Offer to link to other school sites (good ones, of course) in return for a link back to yours. Oh, and don't forget to register your site for listing in the Internet search engines by e-mailing the big names such as Excite, Yahoo, Lycos.
But most of all, have fun. Ensure that it doesn't just become another deadline to meet.
Chris Flanagan is head of Sutton-on-Sea CP School, Lincolnshire(http:www.sutton.lincs.sch.uk)l See Chris Flanagan's guide to ICT, 'Primary' magazine, page 55