Elin de Zoete gives basic steps in how to boost your school’s public image. It’s worth it, she says, as it makes all the difference when it comes to parental choice.

It is not the done thing in education to talk about a competitive schools landscape. Our education institutions are keen to be seen to collaborate and share best practice, but when it comes to pupil and staff recruitment, schools need to stand out locally to parents and teachers.

In a funding environment in which resources are largely determined by the number of students on roll, it is essential for schools to proactively market themselves to their local community to ensure that they fill their classes and have the means to invest in teaching and leadership.

It is essential for schools to proactively market themselves to their local community to ensure that they fill their classes

Pupil and staff recruitment is easy if a school has an outstanding Ofsted and great exam results, but for many schools those headline indicators aren’t as compelling and don’t tell the whole story. Many schools are living with an old Ofsted grading that isn’t representative today, or no grading at all if they are a free school. Or perhaps SATs results have dived, as a result of changes to the test.

Without extra public relations to put context around the accountability measures, schools that fall into those latter categories run the risk of losing local parents who read the headlines and get put off. These are the schools that need to ensure they are getting out there with their story and regularly showing and telling the community about progress and achievements.

Here are some pointers for schools to build their own positive PR activity:

Work out an overarching message
What message do you want to get through to local parents and teachers? Decide this at the outset, ensure that it is something you can evidence and then build your PR plan around it for the year ahead. For example, if the message is that you are a “rapidly improving school” this becomes the theme that all of your PR activity should bring to life

Think about what you do every day that demonstrates you are delivering against your main message
Don’t underestimate what seems very normal and run of the mill for you; people will be interested. Your local audiences want to read about individual student successes, they will be interested in new staff appointments and the ideas that person will bring, and they definitely want to see lots of pictures of children engaged in activities that are stretching them, or participating in new experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have had. Aim to capture at least one positive story a week that you can share more widely, and always think how you can link it back to the main message that you are trying to convey.

A picture is worth a thousand words
It is becoming harder for cash-strapped local media to send out their own photographers to cover events, but pictures are such a powerful communication tool. Allocate a member of the school team to take photographs of all of your planned activities and send them on to your local press; a high-resolution iPhone image is good enough for print. Journalists receive many emails in a day, but a note with a brilliant picture attached will jump out.

Take pictures close up, ensure you have consent and always label images with the students’ names. A phone call to check that a journalist has received your message never goes amiss either.

PR isn’t just about the press
Schools should consider their relations with the public in a broader sense. Think about other ways you can communicate your messages, pictures and stories. Look at your website content, set up social media channels, film short videos, start a newsletter and ask to distribute copies in your local library or GPs’ surgery. Think about indirect PR too, and open up your school to community groups to showcase it. Get the endorsement of others – build partnerships with local businesses that can help to champion and support you, or invite MPs and councillors to visit and share their photos and experiences.

Elin De Zoete is managing director at PLMR, a specialist education PR agency