Since 2012 the birth rate in England has fallen 10%. It doesn’t take much working out that this, eventually, will mean a decrease in student numbers in our primary schools. But this is by no means the only reason why more schools across the country are struggling to recruit students. There can be local reasons – a disappointing Ofsted rating, a poor set of SAT, GCSE or A-Level results. Maybe a neighbouring school is on the rise.
Regardless of the reason, a fall in student numbers means a fall in the funding that your school receives, and this can have devastating effects.
Over the last few months, we’ve been experiencing a rise in the number of enquiries about campaigns to increase student numbers.
When thinking about such a campaign, here’s what we think is important:
Use your entire communications ‘ecosystem’
A campaign strategy must include all your communications channels. An isolated banner, poster, press piece or social media post is very unlikely to produce the results you are hoping for. People usually access information across a number of media touchpoints.
Let’s imagine someone sees an article in the local press about how your school is catering for students during lockdown and supporting local key workers. They don’t have time to read the whole article. Their interest is piqued and later they look at your website and see a link on the homepage leading to a page with an article, timetable and some images. Later that week they are scrolling on Facebook and in their feed is a similar post highlighting how the school is rising to the challenge of lockdown for local key workers.
Considering the whole communications eco-system not only means some consistent messaging but increases the touchpoints for your audience and re-tells the narrative of the school in different and engaging ways.
Consider who your website is for
We often see school websites that are designed as a resource for current staff, parents and students. Whilst it’s true that having easily accessible information for these groups of people on your website is incredibly important and useful, it shouldn’t be the sole focus of your site.
For many prospective staff, parents and students your website is the first information they get about your school. If it’s a poorly designed website that is not updated regularly and where the information they want is not easy to find, they are going to get a bad impression of your school. Design the site well, use the right images well, set up a section that gives prospective parents all the information they could want, make sure the person maintaining the site and uploading information sees it as a key element of their job.
Your website is your main prospectus and it tells the story of the school. Make this story an attractive and compelling one.
Remember that people will use your site as the school’s main prospectus whether you want them to or not. If you do it well then you have a good prospectus. If you don’t do it or do it badly, then you will have a bad prospectus. A glossy brochure that is forgotten in a bag or lost under a car seat after an open evening is not going to change this.
Understand your audience – do the research and look at the data
It’s all too easy to begin a campaign before you really understand who you are trying to attract to your school. Without doing the research and paying attention to the data you are likely to end up messaging no one in particular about something they are not interested in.
Take the time to understand the demographics of your catchment area and consider what kind of messaging these people will most likely respond to. This may mean experimenting with different language on your social media accounts and measuring the results.
The more you understand your audience the more likely they are to respond to your campaign.
Know what kind of information is relevant to your audience
Once you’ve researched and understood your audience you can begin to recognise what kind of information they are looking for.
Let’s say you’ve written a post on social media that invites parents in your catchment area to an event that you’re hosting to introduce them to your school. But the link on the post directs them to the homepage of your website.
Although your homepage might look great, it probably won’t be giving these people the information that they are looking for. Most people are after concise, relevant information that quickly answers their questions – not a homepage where they have to search for details.
Setting up dedicated landing pages is really important. It answers your audience’s questions, in this case details of the event, and gives your audience a clear idea of what to do next – be it to get in contact with you or enter their details into an online form.
Tell the story of school or MAT
When you’re trying to recruit students to your school or MAT, you should think about how you can tell your unique story in a positive and compelling way. After all, it is narratives that people warm to, not sales pitches.
It’s true that every school has a story. Maybe you’re an old school with decades of history or a new school opened to serve a new housing development. Either way, it is the values of your school which can inspire parents and students to want to know more. For instance, your school may have an emphasis on inclusion and creativity or focus on kindness and caring. Whatever it is, finding a way to incorporate your story into a student recruitment campaign is really important.
Is it worth it?
You’ll know that one more student in your school means £3750 extra funding per year in a primary school and £5000 in secondary schools. During the seven years that the student is at your school, one extra primary pupil means £26,250 of funding or £35,000 for a student at a secondary school. Times that by ten students or pupils (we’ll let you do the maths) and the amount of funding your school is missing out on by not recruiting enough students becomes a real problem.
We know that there are many reasons why a school might experience low student numbers but by using your entire communications ecosystem and effective marketing this can be reversed or totally avoided.