Primary schools that proactively market their services can look forward to real dividends, suggest education consultant Christine Bayliss and marketing expert Antonia Chitty

As the annual secondary school admissions round draws to a close, the primary process steps up a gear. More and more schools, maintained as well as academies, are realising that maximising intake is key to addressing the challenges of squeezed budgets.

A proactive approach to pupil recruitment will help make the figures add up. In Kent for example, in 2017 each pupil generates an additional £2,740 per annum: just over £19,000 if they remain for seven years. Many schools have gaps in pupil numbers, and filling those places could allow a school to continue to offer extracurricular activities or retain a valued staff member.

So what makes parents choose a school? If you discount proximity and siblings, we have found that a school’s reputation and a warm welcome from the staff and headteacher are key considerations. In fact, reputation is the most important factor when rejecting schools.

Parents are not impressed by a glossy prospectus

The Ofsted report is important to families who are unfamiliar with the school, and a much stronger consideration than school league tables.

Parents are not impressed by a glossy prospectus, preferring an informative and attractive website to provide the information they need about a school. They want to visit the school, meet the headteacher and staff who will be teaching their children and meet existing pupils.

So what does a more proactive approach to marketing school places involve? Here are Antonia and Christine’s top three tips:

Know your prospective parents

Only one of the schools we worked with systematically collected the names and contact details of parents who attended open events or asked the school for information. So long as a sign-up sheet has the data protection declaration about using personal information, you can follow up every event with an email reinforcing your key messages and inviting questions.

Given the deadline for applications for reception places is January 15, you could follow up by sending out an invite to a Christmas event or end-of-term celebration. People need more than one contact before they take action and apply; get this right and prospective parents will feel valued and commit to your school.

Harness the power of social media

There is wariness around using social media to promote a school, but we know the benefits far outweigh negative implications. Setting up a school Facebook page and a Twitter account is free advertising. Facebook pages are easy to use and geared towards organisational content. You can even boost posts with cheap advertising to target your audience.

Twitter works on a slightly different model but is extremely effective in raising a school’s profile within the community. We know that there are negative aspects to social media, and our advice is that you must have someone monitoring accounts on a daily basis to quickly deal with any negative posts. You can implement settings that require approval for posts. This means that you can deal directly with any negative comments and nip issues in the bud.

Know what works

It surprised us that so many schools don’t regularly monitor their website data or look at the Facebook or Twitter analytics. Data is key to improving the way your marketing works. If you are not getting many hits on your pupil recruitment pages, try looking at how a parent would navigate to those pages. Change the navigation if it is counterintuitive, and don’t forget you should regularly seek feedback from parents who entrust their children to your school.

A subscription to an online survey company will repay itself over and again if it gives insight into what is working to attract parents. Just remember successful marketing is all about telling your audience about what a great school you are and then following through to meet parent’s expectations. Work out what you do well and keep doing it.

Christine Bayliss is an education consultant. Piece co-authored with Antonia Chitty