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Last updated on 12 July 2019
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Use our article to help you identify what parents are looking for in a school and how to make your school stand out. Get to grips with how to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter to get your message out there and pull people in.

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Contents

  1. What parents are looking for in a school
  2. Find out what's marketable about your school 
  3. Come up with your key messages and choose your channels
  4. Channel 1: social media
  5. Channel 2: school websites
  6. Channel 3: school newsletters
  7. Channel 4: events  
  8. Channel 5: advertising 
  9. Create your plan

This article will take you through a step-by-step guide on how to market to parents:

Marketing flowchart
  • Set aside some time to go through the sections below. Start with the first 2 steps and then come back to the article
  • If you just want to know how to use different channels to enhance your school's selling points, dive straight into the relevant sections further down

What parents are looking for in a school

Before you can decide on a marketing plan and your key messages, it's important you understand what parents in your area are looking for in a school.

Use focus groups and parent surveys to collect this information. Ask parents during events such as parents' evenings or post your survey on your website and on social media - use Survey Monkey or Google Forms to create one online. 

New parents 

Find out why new parents chose your school above others. Ask them:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What were the key reasons that made you choose our school? 
  • Did you attend an open day? Did this help you decide?
  • Did any of the following inform your decision:
    • Ofsted/results?
    • Location?
    • Facilities and/or building?
    • Curriculum?
    • Vision and ethos?
    • Extra-curricular services (e.g. clubs/wrap around care)?

If you can, speak to parents who didn't choose your school. Ask them why and what they were looking for when they decided. In addition to the questions above, ask: 

  • What were the key reasons you chose another school?
  • Is there anything we could have changed for you to have chosen our school?
  • Are there any services we could offer that would have led you to choose our school? 

Current parents

Ask your current parents about their views of your school:

  • Are you happy with the progress the school is making?
  • Are you pleased with the school facilities/building?
  • How do you find our extra-curricular services (e.g. clubs/wrap around care)? 
  • If you've made any recent changes: what impact have the changes had?  
  • What do you think about our curriculum? 

Look further afield  

As well as collecting information from parents, you can check out what other schools around the area are offering. You can 'mystery shop' other schools by attending open days or asking questions over the phone.

Visit nurseries and toddler groups to speak to prospective parents about what they're looking for. 

Find out what's marketable about your school 

Now that you've collected information on what parents are looking for, look at what other aspects of your school are marketable. 

Look at what's unique about your school 

  • Do you have a subject specialism or good school facilities? (e.g. sports equipment) 
  • What are you doing that other schools in your area aren't? (e.g. wrap around care) 
  • What's special about your curriculum?
  • What extra-curricular activities does your school offer? 

What have you done to address challenges? 

  • Look at your self-evaluation form (SEF)
  • How have you addressed issues brought up by Ofsted? 
  • Where is your school going in the future? (Look at your SIP) 

Consider your vision, values and ethos

  • Are you happy with them?
  • Do they accurately reflect your school? 
  • Articulate these so they are clear throughout the school

Come up with your key messages and choose your channels

Bring together all the information you gathered from what parents are looking for and what's marketable about your school. 

  • Use the information to come up with your key marketing messages
  • Decide which channels you want to use to promote them - see the sections below

There's no one-size fits all. You might choose one or multiple channels. You can also combine them. For example, if you run a successful event with prospective parents you can then promote the event on social media or your website. 

Share your wisdom. Are you doing anything amazing to market your school? We’d love to hear about it. Pop us a message via the feedback box at the bottom of the article, thanks!

Channel 1: social media

Most schools use Facebook and/or Twitter. Social media is free, easy to use and a great place to market your school because it has a wide reach. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites allow instant updates to parents and your community. 

Use social media if:

  • Parents in your area use it a lot. You can incorporate a question on this into your focus groups and parent surveys (e.g. Do you use social media? If so, which platforms?)
  • You're willing and able to update regularly. Successful social media rests on frequent updates 

What good looks like

Formby High School's Twitter page is a great example of how to use social media because they:

  • Display their vision and values in the header, along with the school name and logo 
  • Post regularly (at least once a day) to show parents what's happening around the school 
  • Link to the school website, where parents can find more information 
  • Advertise school events 
Formby High School Twitter

Your next steps

  • Set up a FacebookTwitter or Instagram, if you haven't already
  • Decide who in your school will be posting and making sure your accounts are kept up-to-date. More than one teacher can be logged on at a time, so multiple staff members can post
  • Decide how much you'll post - daily, weekly or when you've something to share
  • Make sure you seek consent for posting pictures/videos online
  • Share:
    • Photos and videos of what's going on in the school
    • Photos and updates from events or school trips
    • Upcoming events or school trips
    • Examples of students' work
    • Anything that shows how you're fulfilling your vision and values 
  • Set up a folder for photos/videos (e.g. a Google Drive or Dropbox account). Organise it by phase, year, class or theme so it's easy for your staff to find the right photos/videos 
  • Read our article about how to use your Facebook page for more top tips

Top tip: campaigns 

Come up with a social media campaign to promote one or more of your key messages. Campaigns are focused, have measurable outcomes and are aimed at influencing followers (e.g. prospective parents) in a certain way. 

An example of using a campaign at a school would be promoting your vision and values:

  • Your focus: your vision and values
  • Your measurable outcome: 100 new followers, 20 shares and 50 likes
  • Post images and messages that reinforce your vision and values, using a particular hashtag e.g. #visionandvalues. By encouraging others to share with this hashtag you can grow your follows and share your message. Learn more about hashtags here

Read our articles on...

Channel 2: school websites

Having an up-to-date, easy to navigate website that promotes your selling points will draw parents in. 

A school website is a useful tool because:

  • It's often the first place prospective parents will look
  • An attractive and informative website will give parents a good view of the school
  • It's a great place to advertise events, showcase pupil's work and give a feel for what it's like to be at your school

What good looks like

Brill Church of England (CofE) School's website is a great example of how to market your school because:

  • It headlines their vision and values 
  • It has sections for ethos, PTA, forest school, art, news, parents and pupils 
  • The 'why Brill' section outlines testimonials, life at Brill, wrap around care and Ofsted 
Brill Church of England School Website

 Your next steps

  • Make your vision and values part of your homepage, making it clear that the whole school is working towards your goals
  • Add your social media links 
  • Update your website with any pictures of events or sports days that you've had
  • If you're wanting to redevelop yours, hosting sites (such as Wordpress or SquareSpace) offer free or cheap websites that are easy to customise
  • Create a section for prospective parents outlining your school's key selling and add a flavour for what life is like at your school 
  • Be aware of schools with the same name as yours (e.g. St Paul's School), make sure that your website clearly states which school the parent is looking at

Top tip: check your presence on Google and respond to reviews

Make sure that your school is visible on Google Maps and that your school 'owns' the profile - follow the simple process here.

When a parent googles your school the first thing they'll see is a small Google map of your school along with reviews. Make sure you respond to all reviews - particularly bad ones. A one star review will put off prospective parents. You can also flag reviews as inappropriate if you think they're too old or unfounded. 

Read our articles on...

Channel 3: school newsletters

Keeping your parents up-to-date with your school news is important. A newsletter is a good way of doing so. 

A school newsletter can help you market as:

  • It can be posted online or on social media
  • Parents can easily share it with others in the community
  • It's an easy way to keep parents up-to-date with what's going in the school  

What good looks like

Hawksworth CofE Primary School shares a weekly newsletter on its website. The newsletter shares:

  • Star pupils
  • Whole-school news
  • Individual class news
  • A weekly gallery of photos 
  • Dates for the diary
  • School news feeds (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) 
Newsletter

Your next steps

  • Decide on your newsletter format - printed or uploaded online. Websites such as MailChimp are free and easy to use, creating a good looking online newsletter
  • Decide who in your school will help put it together
  • Include a 'forward' button if you're using an online newsletter, so parents can send it on to prospective parents
  • Think about how often newsletters should go out - for online newsletters once a week is common 
  • Post your newsletter on your website and share it on social media 

Top tip: include children's work 

Including children's work in the newsletter (or even having it produced by a group of students) adds a touch of familiarity to the letter. Parents like to share their children's work if it's showcased and may share this with other prospective parents. 

Read our articles on... 

Channel 4: events  

Parents feel a real connection when visiting a school and meeting the staff and students - it allows them to imagine their child there. Hosting local events can bring in prospective parents and involving your community in your school allows parents to familiarise themselves with the school.

School events work well for schools that: 

  • Have a large building, school hall or field
  • Are in a central location, easy for parents to get to
  • Have staff who are able (and willing) to run events outside of school hours 
  • Are in an area with other schools who hold successful events. Look at surrounding schools, are their events popular? 

What good looks like

St Michael's CofE Primary School has a calendar of events on their website. Their events include: 

  • Sports day
  • Leaver's shows
  • Family picnic

The school then posts photos of each event in their gallery. 

St Michael's CE Primary School Sports Day

Potential events include: 

  • Summer fetes 
  • Christmas fairs 
  • School plays/musicals
  • Leavers disco/prom
  • Open days 
  • Sports day 
  • Quiz nights 
  • Carol concerts 

Your next steps

  • Think about which events would work in your school. Does your school have the facilities to accommodate events? (e.g. large field, school hall or stage for plays)
  • Consult your school business manager on budget for larger events 
  • Make sure you take photos of your events so you can use the pictures on your other channels - e.g. school website, in a local advert, on social media etc.
  • Look if other schools in your area hold events and if they're well attended
  • Events go hand-in-hand with advertising (see below) 

Top tip: hold an open day 

Prospective parents like to visualise their children at the school. Holding an open day is a great way of allowing them to do this.

Some parents may not be able to make open days, so make sure that you have alternative tours available. It's also a good idea to have the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) on hand, in case any parents wish to speak about the relevant facilities available. 

Read our articles on...

Channel 5: advertising 

Using local and national advertising can help get the name of your school out to prospective parents. Parents might not know that your school is in need of new pupils. Advertising can help you get the message out. 

Advertising can be useful if: 

  • You have a wide catchment area - parents may not know they're eligible to apply
  • You're an outstanding school - parents may think that (because you're outstanding) you won't have places available. Adverting can help combat this misconception 
  • Your school is in a visible area - consider using a banner to draw parents in
  • You have an event to publicise 

What good looks like

John Scurr Primary School use the following image as an advert for their school. It:

  • Promotes unique aspects of the school (such as French and music lessons)
  • Highlights school staffing points (e.g. friendly staff and strong leadership)
  • Shows images of children enjoying the school
  • Is colourful and eye-catching
  • Makes it clear that there are places available 
  • Includes a telephone number 
John Scurr Ad

Your next steps

  • Decide what key messages you want to promote in your advert
  • Decide where you want to put it - community facilities like shops and sports halls, local newspapers
  • If your school is involved in community outreach (like visiting hospitals or old people's homes) ask them to post your advert on their websites
  • Consider using digital advertising - post the same advert on other channels such as your website and social media
  • Read our case study which has further top tips about using advertising 

Digital advertising 

Digital advertising may be the way to go:

Top tip: contact local estate agents

Local estate agents will often sponsor events in exchange for signs in front gardens. This is a really cost effective way to promote events to the wider community.  

Create your plan

Fill out the template with all the information you've collected to help you keep on top of your plan. 

 

Sources

Simon Hepburn spent 10 years working in marketing in industry and consultancy. This included managing a £1.5m advertising budget for Reed, advising Vodafone on improving its image as an employer, and developing a new practice in one of the UK's leading reputation management consultancies, Communications Management. He retrained as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and spent 10 years working as a teacher and Head of Department in state and private schools. After being asked to help these schools and others with marketing challenges, he now combines part-time teaching with training, consultancy and running a small network of school marketing professionals. Simon is the author of ‘Marketing Your School’.

We also consulted with internal experts at The Key: Sarah Hernandez (Chief Marketing Officer), Tom Clark (Head of Digital Marketing), Georgie Brown (Communications Assistant) and Vikkey Chaffe (Community Manager). 

The Key has taken great care in publishing this article. However, some of the article's content and information may come from or link to third party sources whose quality, relevance, accuracy, completeness, currency and reliability we do not guarantee. Accordingly, we will not be held liable for any use of or reliance placed on this article's content or the links or downloads it provides. This article may contain information sourced from public sector bodies and licensed under the Open Government Licence.