Have a plan
Daniel Cohen outlines ways to maintain and/or improve your school admissions practices
Now that the first term of the academic year is over, this is the time to reflect on your school roll and applications to join the school. For some, that will be positive with an increase in the pupil roll and, for others, the picture won’t be as rosy with a drop in overall numbers.
Irrespective of whether you are celebrating or commiserating, there needs to be a plan in place for what to do next: whether that is working out how to maintain numbers, increase numbers, or market share, it is imperative that there is a well-researched strategic plan in place to ensure that you understand how you have arrived at your current position and then detail how to make the necessary improvements.
Measure your metrics
This strategy will need to include recording your key performance indicators and metrics to allow for quick and easy investigation into what is working and, more importantly, what isn’t. It is time to ditch the ‘finger in the air’ approach to marketing and admissions strategy altogether and adopt a data-driven approach to ensure that the department is run cost-effectively and efficiently.
Now, more than ever, schools need to define the value they offer to prospective and current families. It’s no secret that VAT will be added to fees if Labour wins the next general election and that VAT could be added as soon as spring 2025. Some families will continue to pay fees without question, but they will be paying more attention to the value provided for those fees. Each demographic group will perceive value differently, whether that is your facilities, extracurricular activities, or the experience their children have through the school.
Here are some questions for you to consider:
- How do you go about defining value?
- How do you demonstrate that you understand what the parents want?
- How do you build this into a strategy to ensure that you are attracting and recruiting a broad spectrum of families whose children would be suited to what you offer?
It is all about understanding what each parent wants. There are a variety of ways to know this:
- Socioeconomic demographic analysis.
- Stakeholder engagement, including current parents, staff and non-joiners.
Having defined ways to collect data regularly from each of these sources, this allows you to ensure you know what your families want and, just as importantly, what prospective families want, allowing you to define your value proposition accordingly, ensuring that you are able to set realistic goals, have the agility to change and improve upon them, and ensure that your strategy is as efficient as possible.
It also allows you to make sure that the customer experience is as good as it possibly can be, with each parent able to access the information most suited to their needs and requirements. This provides better customer service and improves conversion rates.
This of course all needs to marry up with the messaging and values that the school projects and must run through the organisation seamlessly, with all members of staff understanding what it is and buying into it. In such a competitive environment, there isn’t room in a school for anyone who isn’t singing from the same hymn sheet.
As part of ongoing research into parental buying habits into independent schools, we recently carried out a survey to 1,000 parents to understand the barriers to entry, what they expect for their money, and their overall perception of independent education. The majority of the respondents could be defined as ‘aspirational’, two working parents who would need to, or who are already making, sacrifices to send their child to a fee-paying school. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority said that small classes, high-quality education academically, and strong pastoral care were prerequisites, which is what they expect from your school as a bare minimum requirement for sending their children there. No longer can these qualities be considered a USP, so you have to define your value proposition clearly and demonstrate what they get for their money.
Daniel Cohen is director of business development at schools marketing firm MTM Consulting