Someone said to me recently that we make a career out of being a parent these days; our expectations for our children are high and any interactions we make on their behalf are almost business like. We want to be able to book a doctor’s appointment online, we need to be able to pay for ballet or football lessons by direct debit and we also expect to be able to keep in touch with school news via website, social media or email.
Which got me thinking… are schools keeping up with these changing times? Should they be considering themselves as businesses, in the market for new clients and extolling their USPs via interactive websites, social media updates and press releases? It’s perhaps a bit of a sad fact; of course the focus for the school must be the education of the child, but in order to make for a successful education it’s important to remember that schools need the support of the local community and all the many stakeholders.
Traditionally there has never been the budget, inclination or need for schools to have to do all of this. But today is a different landscape; state schools – whether they are academies, local authority maintained or free schools – tend to be funded on a per pupil basis. As a result the number of children on roll is a vital element of the school’s budget; low admission numbers really matter to the bottom line. In short schools need parents to choose them. And parents have more choice than before, and will travel further for their children to attend a ‘good’ school. So that choice is more complex than just opting for the catchment area school. As a result, ensuring that the school is positioned as well as it can be in the local community is a critical consideration for the head teacher and governors.
So what can be done?
Private schools have tended to be much better at marketing themselves; by their very nature they have to be to garner the fees; so good looking prospectuses, interactive websites, national and international advertising campaigns and formulated PR to report on exam results are pretty much the norm. In this respect state schools perhaps need to play catch up, taking a leaf out of their counterparts books.
It’s not just about the money though; with the advent of social media, parents communicate with one another differently. Facebook and WhatsApp groups of mums are the norm, sharing news, reminders and concerns about the school and teachers online. Some schools have embraced this – setting up Facebook pages and sharing news and information online to better engage with parents. In this way they are controlling their messages, helping parents get the most out of the school and keeping its presence front and centre for the next intake of parents and children.
The upshot of all of this is that schools need to take themselves seriously and consider marketing themselves appropriately; the success of a school (and consequently its pupils) is down to ensuring it sits at the heart of its community, engages with all of its stakeholders and communicates effectively with the parents of today and the future. Only then does it do the best it can for its children.