Two-thirds of email newsletters sent to teachers and schools by the Department for Education are not read

Email inboxOnly a third of emailed newsletters and circulars sent out by the Department for Education to schools and teachers are read by the recipients according to new figures I have secured following a Freedom of Information request to the Department.

In 2012 the Department sent out 148,182 such emails, with their systems recording 49,504 of them as having  been read at least once (33%).

If this was simply a cold-calling type email marketing list, then a 33% open rate would actually be quite good. However, this is very different from that – it’s official information from the relevant department to people directly affected by its activities.

Messages about how to improve outcomes for pupils eligible for free school meals, despite the obvious importance of the subject matter, only had a readership rate of 44%, whilst emails about the funding allocations for summer schools for disadvantaged pupils were read by only 37% of those who were sent these messages. That is despite in all the cases the emails not simply having gone to ‘everyone’ but being more targeted.

Who is to blame for this? If nothing else I suspect these figures are a good test of your political instincts: are you already thinking the blame lies with Michael Gove and the Department for Education for not making their messages more compelling or with the teachers who aren’t reading them in greater numbers?

Michael Gove has recently complained that,

Recently when we launched an initiative – open to every state school in the country – to enable their students to visit a top university, see for themselves how welcoming and exciting such places could be – and tempt them to apply. Only 766 schools responded. Less than a quarter of the total number of secondary schools.

He placed the blame on a “lack of ambition” from schools and teachers. Yet when so many messages his department sends out go unread, he should also take on his own share of the responsibility for that. Communications are only meaningful if they are read. On those grounds alone, could do better Mr. Gove.

Note: original post corrected as I included the wrong total for the number of emails opened. The open rate percentage was however correct (and still is).

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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16 Comments

  • Schools frequently consider themselves to be too busy to deal with anything which they can possibly get out of dealing with. So the standard approach to problems like dyslexic children is often to deny the problem and use delaying tactics, so as to avoid having to do the extra work needed to rescue such children from a potentially wasted life.

    In all fairness, they are busy. At the end of an exhausting day, with the marking still to do at home, opening Mr Gove’s emails no doubt fails to appeal. However – If schools don’t have time to listen to government, or to teach dyslexics properly, then it is primarily government that has failed. And the answer is not simply to apply more sanctions and performance targets so as to make teachers work harder, either!

  • Of the 148,182 emailed newsletters and circulars , I wonder what the average number per school and individual recipient was? I would hope not more than 1~2 per week on average. Also if a copy gets sent to the school office, and is assessed to be relevant and important then it is likely to be printed off and circulated that way.

    One of the big problems with email (and effectively all digital channels) is that it is in fact a very poor communications medium (there are plenty of studies that show that the readability of an article read on-screen is about 40% less than the same article on paper). So whilst some think that what is required is lots of single subject emails with punchy titles (the sales approach), actually what is required is a regular physical newsletter that can be skim read within a break – I believe this is a reason for the success of papers such as i and Metro. So the DoE would be well advised to condense all their newsletters and circulars into a weekly Guardian Education Supplement backed up by quality web links to further information! Reserving email for important and urgent communications.

  • Peter Watson 19th Feb '13 - 1:45pm

    @Mark
    What actually prompted you to request this information?

  • Paul McKeown 19th Feb '13 - 2:04pm

    “Two-thirds of [ALL] email newsletters are not read”

    Seems rather a low figure to me. Nine tenths?

  • Maybe I’ve missed something, but, 33% from the quoted figures looks wrong. Should this be 23%?

  • tonygreaves 19th Feb '13 - 4:27pm

    I am coming to the view that email is a very inefficient means of communication. I have come to the view that most emails are not read and of those that are, an increasing number are looked at briefly on a mobile device of some kind, automatically marked as read, and ignored from then on.

    If I am right, it explains how people actgually cope with an increasingly uncopable amount of stuff that arrives via various electronic means.

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Dean 19th Feb '13 - 4:38pm

    Email has some very useful features.

    The writer can think before communicating, and this can help avoid communicating messes and errors. The writer also has the opportunity of arranging the communication is a way designed for ease and effectiveness of comprehension – generally this means short and to the point.

    And the writer and reader automatically have a written record of the conversation. This can help avoid misunderstandings and keep a conversation on topic, but can sometimes end up as rather embarrassing too!

  • It would be interesting to know how DoE record an email as being read.

    It is normal good security practise to turn of automatic read receipts as this helps kill spam that is probing to see if an email address is live. I also suspect that many IT admin’s will have totally disabled read receipts as standard, so users don’t even get to see that one was requested.

    Another way to obtain a read receipt is to include a ‘picture’ URL/link in the email that contains a unique identifier, so when the user opens the mail and enables the download of pictures the URL/link effectively calls home. Obviously normal security practise is to disable the automatic download of ‘pictures’ for the same reasons as above.

    The final way is for the actual newsletter/circular to not be attached to the email but for the email to contain a link to it. So for the user to read the newsletter they need to explicitly click on a (personalised) URL/link. Whilst this method gives an accurate count of the number of times the newsletter has been opened, it is slightly user unfriendly as it requires the user to be online in order to obtain the newsletter.

    Hence about the only conclusion that can be drawn fro your data is that there are a significant number of educational establishments that have not implemented normal good security practises.

  • Given the Department for Education’s long-standing habit of micromanagement guidelines changing every couple of weeks, I applaud British schools in ignoring this spam and cracking on with the business of teaching our young.

    P.S. As Liberal Democrats, we should not be supporting Gove and his destruction of the state schooling system in any way, shape or form.

  • I have a friend who works in marketing. He considers a 10% response to a survey to be good. I’m surprised such high numbers read anything from Gove.

    How are emails checked for being read anyway? I always decline invitations to allow ‘read requests’ even though I’ve read the email.

  • Just thought to actually look up a reference rather than talk off the top of my head.

    Industry-standard ways of checking email readership:

    Messages Sent: Total number of outbound emails sent as part of a particular mailing.
    Hard and Soft Bounces: A hard bounce is a permanently undeliverable email—for example, one sent to an invalid email address or to an address that no longer exists. A soft bounce is an email that is only temporarily undeliverable—for example, to a recipient whose mailbox is full.
    Messages Delivered: Total number of sent emails actually delivered to recipients’ inboxes.
    Unsubscribes: Total number of recipients who unsubscribe in response to a mailing.
    Messages Opened: This is the number of recipients who open your email to read it. Due to the way open rates are tracked and the rise of image-blocking software, this number will never be accurate, but is still useful.
    Click-Throughs: This is the number of times any recipient clicks on any trackable link within the email.
    Conversion Rates: The collating of responses to action requests made in emails, which may have avoided being detected by other means.

    From a campaigning viewpoint what is generally regarded as important isn’t so much the actual figures but how they change between mailings and over time.

  • Helen Tedcastle 20th Feb '13 - 10:10pm

    @ martin Lowe: ” Given the Department for Education’s long-standing habit of micromanagement guidelines changing every couple of weeks, I applaud British schools in ignoring this spam and cracking on with the business of teaching our young.

    P.S. As Liberal Democrats, we should not be supporting Gove and his destruction of the state schooling system in any way, shape or form.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the last sentence. The email debate is secondary .

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