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If you have children at an independent school or are considering or have considered it

(39 Posts)
whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 13:01:29

Did the school's marketing play any part in your decision? What strategies did you think were particularly effective? Also,was there anything that particularly impressed you on the school's website or open day? And what age were your children when you started looking around and then made your decision? A school I know has falling numbers and is looking at its marketing strategy. TIA.

SoupDragon Sun 29-Sep-13 13:08:53

Isn't this really a non-member request?

ColdFusion Sun 29-Sep-13 14:41:01

What do you mean by marketing?

averyyoungkitten Sun 29-Sep-13 15:01:30

Why does it matter Soup Dragon? It's only the sort of thing discussed on Mn every day one way or another. Had "whendidyoulast" just said she was looking for information and could we tell her what we look for in a school - do we look at the brochures, or what impresses us ab out a school, most would have answered.

I cant speak for others but personally, the first thing I consider is reputation. So word of mouth plays an important part. However, MN isnt a good place for reputaion quite often and reputations change

Yes, I am shallow and the web site and glossy information booklets play a part too.

But I think I am most impressed by a school when I visit. I look for how well equipped it? Is it clean and well decorated? Are there activities which my Dc would like to do? The curriculum is on my list too. What the teachers are like. Are they well dressed and well spoken? Are they independent school teachers with good academic backgrounds? Are the staff experienced? Even the uniform can give me an impression. Do the children look tidy in their uniforms etc. Are they well spoken (if I get a chance to hear them).

Some MNers are looking for other things too , like exclusivity. being a top school like Habs or Eton is important to them. I tend to look for a sense of serenity and quiet confidence . I dont want any of my DC picking up bad habits. I am also looking for a school that feels successful. I am not sure how I know that. Its a feeling, not something I can quantify

I have my DC in a local independent school. I chose it because it was a near as schools went for me. It did well by my first DD and so I put my DC #2 there. However, one thing I am currently looking at in the school is the fact that it ( a bit like your school WDYL) seems to be losing pupils. Pupils seem to have left the sixth form especially. Last year none of the year 11 moved into Sixth Form.

I would like my DS to stay in the school. DS would like to stay too because the teachers in subjects most important to him are fantastic but we are both worried about all his friends leaving and him being the only DC to go into the sixth.

I am trying to guage how many are likely to stay. I want him to be with friends. I want him to be with local boys and girls. I am a bit concerned about the number of International students and short stay students the school is taking in Sixth Form. I am worried it may affect his education as the teachers cannot no matter how hard they try, deal with pupils who do not speak English and deliver a top notch education to my DS

So I am going to be looking at other schools for him - and yes, I am looking at reputation, brochures, web sites and teachers as well as exam results. Exam results are not always good indicators though. I will be looking at numbers in the sixth form and how many are local day pupils. I will also be looking at the number olf International pupils whyose English is poor. I will also find out from DS where everyone is going.

As I said everyone will be different and others may look for more significant things like exam results and academic standards or sport or drama, which do not worry me so much. My DC can do OK as long as they do not have to deal with disruptions and challenges in the clasroom.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:21:44

Thanks veryoung - that's interesting. Choosing an independent school is not exactly an impulse buy and often decisions are made, as you say, on factors which are long-term and difficult to change like reputation. I'm just wondering if someone was choosing between two independent schools or needed a push either to come on the open day or to get swayed once there what sort of marketing might might a difference to those sorts of parents. I wonder what other schools do to get talked about and get more people coming through the door in the first place.

jennycoast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:22:20

Had space
Local
Vibe
Purposeful staff
Very much an educate the whole child ethos
Constantly looking to refine and improve every aspect of what they do

I'm not sure if these are helpful, but in that order, it was what mattered to us. DD was moving in year, and the sought after schools (including the state school she desperately wanted to go to) in the area could not accommodate her. I think we have accidentally found the perfect school for her though.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:25:30

Cold, by marketing I really mean adverts, prospectuses, leafleting, open days, websites and anything else to raise the profile. Obviously some parents are going to prioritise exam results or sport or small class sizes and the marketing department can't change what the school has to offer only how it reaches parents and sells the school.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:27:13

Thanks, Jenny, but most of the things on your list, you could only know about from visiting the school. How did you find out about the school in the first place and is there anything the school did in terms of marketing that made those things stand out for you?

meditrina Sun 29-Sep-13 15:29:14

Is market research permitted these days?

I agree with Soupy - it always used to be in "non-members requests" or just deleted.

Why dont you make it into a proper market research focus group, pay MN, let people see the school website, maybe come on a tour (in exchange of JL Vouchers, natch) and give their feedback?

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:34:22

Blimy, I'm not DOING market research. I'm just interested in how and even if a school can market itself.

meditrina Sun 29-Sep-13 15:37:01

Is it the school you work for?

If so, I suggest you start by getting them to hire someone who can give proper advice, based on type of school, its location and what other schools there are in the area.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:38:39

Don't work for them, no.

averyyoungkitten Sun 29-Sep-13 15:47:10

The problem with market research is that often people do not tell you the truth. They give socially desirable answers.

Similarly when given exit interviews or questionnaires , people dont answer honestly ime. If my DS leaves his current school I wont be saying to them why. I will cite he cant get the courses he is looking for or something. Or he wants a change. I like the school. Its done us well. I wouldnt want to hurt the teachers by telling them what is wrong.

Being honest since I am anonymous here, the schools I am looking at for DS - the web sites are playing a part. One particular has taken my eye. The Head Teacher has struck me as particularly attractive - his speaking, his manner etc. His invitation to contact HIM directly. I am thinking of arranging to go there and take a look although its going to ber a bit out of my range travel wise. DS will have to catch a school bus.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 15:50:45

Interesting, veryyoung. If you got a good impression from the Head Teacher from the website, does that mean there was a video clip to watch?

Norudeshitrequired Sun 29-Sep-13 15:55:06

What sold an independent school to me was not in the marketing material. I don't think many parents would choose a school based on a glossy brochure.
The website did play some part as it's nice to be able to look at the website prior to arranging a visit. A website that is user friendly and sets out information relating to admissions (including bursaries /scholarships) and fees is essential.
The biggest 'selling' factor is the approachability of the school, in particular the headteacher. Other important factors: The communication efficiency - how quickly do they respond to your initial enquiry. The ethos of the school and how it comes across on your visit to the school. The pastoral care and how the school go about providing this. How content do the children seem. What extra curricular opportunities are available. Class sizes (not too big or too small, 15-20 being ideal). Breakfast clubs, after school clubs and holiday clubs being available on site.

averyyoungkitten Sun 29-Sep-13 15:55:46

There was a video clip, yes.

averyyoungkitten Sun 29-Sep-13 16:00:46

What NRSR has said about approachability. Thats what I felt from the web site and the Headteachers clip saying that finding a good school was about being able to visit and talk. He said something like "contact me on the e mail belopw and arrange a visit so we can talk" Thats sold me on seeing it.

Norudeshitrequired Sun 29-Sep-13 16:06:56

I've done a couple of open days for motivate schools recently and I have to say that those giving the hard sell just come across as desperate and put me right off.
This approach: 'here is what we offer, this is how we do things, make sure you make the choice that is right for YOUR child as something different suits each child and family' is the best approach.
This approach: 'we are fabulous, we offer the best of everything, our competitors are not worth considering, please send you child to us' is the worst approach.

chauffeurmummy Sun 29-Sep-13 16:07:24

Up to date information and honesty. If the last report wasn't great then say what the school are doing to improve rather than ignoring its existence (parents will find out anyway). If you have a below average intake but can offer lots of support and can specialise in a range of "less academic" subjects - then again say so, don't pretend you are focused on getting children through on scholarships to top schools. Marketing can't change a school but it can focus on what IS good about a school. Too many schools seem to focus on trying to show what they think parents want to see/hear regardless of whether there is any truth in it!!

Norudeshitrequired Sun 29-Sep-13 16:07:26

Motivate - should say private.
Damn autocorrect.

Taz1212 Sun 29-Sep-13 16:07:48

DS applied to two schools last year. We knew both by reputation (and my uncle had attended one, though not the one DS ultimately decided upon!). I wouldn't say the marketing material had any influence on our decision. We attended both open days and at the end of those, DS had a slight leaning towards the one my uncle attended. He then sat the entrance exam at both and walked out of the second school saying, "this is where I want to go!" I still don't exactly know what made him so set on his decision. It seems to have been the overall atmosphere or environment at the school. I'm afraid I'm not much help by saying the marketing of the school did not play a role- though maybe the verbal "selling" of the school did influence DS?

imperfectparent Sun 29-Sep-13 16:10:42

I think these days it is impossible to underestimate websites as a good marketing tool. We have been in the looking stage on three occasions over the years and were less than impressed with a small independent that had a website which was in the course of construction. The apology offered was dated 2 years previously. I think the information on the site should be as comprehensive as possible, especially if parents are hunting around from out of the area. The more information available, the more talking points to discuss on the viewing and the better opportunity to engage.

In the end, we chose a small independent which didn't have any particularly glossy features when we viewed it. We liked the ethos and feel of it when we visited on open day. I think also that it was helpful to be shown around by pupils as they are going to be truthful about their experience and IMO, they are the proof of the pudding. I'm not sure what strategy would work to market a school in advance of a visit. I know other parents who viewed another nearby school with much better facilities but felt a distinct aversion to it.

I wonder therefore whether things like reasonably priced one day music, drama or sports workshops could be offered to the target population on the occasional Saturday. This could help showcase the school and reach families who for one reason or another are not choosing the school.

whendidyoulast Sun 29-Sep-13 16:13:49

This is really interesting, thanks. I know that I make initial decisions about EVERYTHING based on what I find out on the Net so it makes sense this applies to schools too. But maybe we WOULD feel that way given that we're Mumsnetters smile

ColdFusion Sun 29-Sep-13 16:15:27

Marketing is everything the school does, not just advertising. Advertising is very expensive for the return it gets.

The most important part of marketing is getting word out that you exist.

For a senior school, this means making links with all feeder schools. This could be as simple as inviting in prep/primary school heads for a tour, chat and lunch. It could also mean having enrichment events, such as a science or language day, where feeder school pupils are invited for a day of fun.

It's also important to get your special events into the local newspapers. They are desperate to fill their columns, so always invite them to bring their photographer to your author visit days, dress up days, careers days, speech day. The same column inches would cost you £1000 if it were an advert.

Get your students to go out and about in your local town. Get their distinctive uniform seen, and make sure their behaviour is impeccable.

If you have bus routes, make sure your school name is clearly seen on the coach.

Leaflet libraries, leisure centres, churches in your local area and on bus routes.

Have a presence in summer fetes, and try to have an entertainment slot on the main show ground.

For open days, make sure the school is clean and tidy, and that senior staff are available to speak to prospective parents. PTA reps can be worth their weight in gold. Anticipate questions and have the answers ready.

Know your strengths and be ready to emphasise these. Know your weaknesses and be prepared for damage control. Know your competitors and point out where you are better without trashing them.

Present your fee structure competitively. For example, if your competitors charge for lunch separately, you need to so the same so that your headline fees aren't a lot higher than theirs, unless you can finesse it.

The website is the most important part of your marketing campaign beyond "we exist". This is the first port of call for most parents. You need to track where visitors come from and the pages they visit.

Your registrar needs to follow up every contact.

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