Attract the parents

  • 9th July 2024

Katie Cardona explains how a nursery can drive up pupil numbers to a school


For the June edition of this magazine, I wrote an article setting out the value of having a nursery as part of your school, pointing out that one of the main attractions is the nursery acts as a recruitment tool for the prep school.

Attracting families to join your nursery and ensuring they stay through to the prep school, and beyond if you are an all-through school, involves a 360-degree approach that combines strong branding, high-quality education, effective communication and ongoing support for families.

So, how can you attract families to your nursery and encourage them to stay for the prep school, ensuring a continuous and enriching educational experience for their children? Here are our top tips:

Create the seamless journey

  • Ensure that the nursery and prep school are seen as parts of a unified educational journey.
  • Stress the long-term benefits of starting at your school nursery and continuing to prep school, such as familiarity with the educational philosophy, continuity in teachers and teaching methods, and a smooth transition to the prep school. For some, this might even be the guarantee of a place in reception which for a highly sought-after school is an enormous advantage.

Design the nursery curriculum to align with the prep school’s academic standards and emphasise the benefits of being in a nursery that’s part of a prep school, for example, the specialist activities led by qualified teachers from the prep school such as music, art, forest school activities and language classes, ensuring consistency and familiarity and the use of excellent facilities.

Market the seamless journey

  • Ensure there is brand consistency with the main school, taking into consideration name, logo, ethos and values.
  • Make the youngest pupils feel they are part of the bigger picture from the start, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that nursery pupils have to wear the same uniform as the older children.

We’ve seen a number of instances where very small children are dressed in uniform that is inappropriate for their age. King’s House School in Richmond found the perfect solution to this dilemma. Its nursery pupils wear customised smocks, personalised for each child, and this creates an endearing element of age-appropriate uniformity.

  • Showcase success stories of children who start at the nursery and continue through to the end of the prep.
  • In your marketing materials, include testimonials and case studies from happy parents whose children have successfully transferred from the nursery to the prep school and beyond.
  • Hold joint open events to allow parents to experience both the nursery and prep environment on the same day, providing the opportunity to see and engage with older pupils who are, of course, the desired ‘end product’.
  • Ensure your website places adequate emphasis on the nursery section of the school and the breadth of its provision.

Gain the trust and support of parents

  • Foster strong parent relations so they don’t want to leave (and children won’t want to leave their friends either). This should include parenting enrichment events and good comminications. Many of the independent day care nurseries offer webinars and events for parents, covering topics such as tips for potty training, first aid for babies and young children and advice on healthy eating.
  • Bridget Torlesse is a photographer specialising in schools. When she was marketing manager at Rydes Hill Prep School and Nursery in Guildford she regularly sent photographs of the children to their parents. This sets up an important emotional bond between school and parent.
  • Encourage nursery parents to get involved in whole school activities which will create a sense of community and encourage them to engage in the school’s overall success.

Make the proposition as financially appealing as possible

  • Offer discounts or an attractive offer for parents who commit to transferring their children from the nursery to the prep school.

Stress the benefits of a large staff in a school situation

  • We hear anecdotal evidence of high staff turnover in independent day care nurseries which parents and children find disruptive and stressful. One story reached us recently where an independent day care nursery alerted parents at 7.30am that due to staff illness they wouldn’t be able to accommodate all children that day and it was ‘first come, first served’. Imagine if that was the day of an important meeting and parents were left without childcare. This is unlikely to happen in a nursery in an independent school because of the number of staff overall.

Independent schools are generally blessed with staff who are experienced and passionate educators, providing high-quality learning. They may well have been in post for a long time (because of the strong sense of community a prep school normally offers) and usually there’s a mix of older and younger nursery staff which parents find appealing.

  • It’s also worth emphasising that the specialist teachers who have taught the nursery pupils will be familiar faces once they go into reception.

Emphasise all the above points in your marketing materials as they are important sector differentiators and will help recruitment from the nursery into the main school.

Finally, it is important to remember that the nursery is an integral part of the whole school. The more engagement a school can establish between nursery pupils and their families, the better they will get to know you and want to stay.

Katie Cardona is a consultant with marketing and research firm Reed Brand Communication.

Katie Cardona

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