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Marketing? It’s not just for private schools

“What you are suggesting seems to be what they do in the private sector. This is the state sector. I didn’t come into teaching to spend my time marketing, I came into it to educate.” That’s the gist of a conversation I have had a few times of late.

Posters on railway station platforms with smiling children wearing blazers in a manicured courtyard? Adverts in local newspapers featuring acceptably intense boys and girls playing sport? That’s what they do in the independent sector.

In state schools, you do all you can to provide kids with a good education and everything else takes care of itself. Children in your catchment come to your school. Then, the next year, other children in your catchment come.

Some parents might choose nearby schools for their children instead of yours. But that’s fine, because this is not the private sector. They are not paying to send their children to your school. You are not competing for their business. Competing for your business is what they do in the independent sector.

Clearly, as someone who wants to get paid for increasing and maintaining student numbers at state schools, I find it a frustrating point of view. Of course, I also completely get where this point of view comes from. I get the principles and motivations of teachers in the local primary or secondary.

There is a nobility about teaching in the state sector. It’s a great calling. It’s a badge, if you ever wanted to use it that way, of integrity, decency and higher values. It’s a bit like working in the NHS or being Boris Johnson. Actually, not the last one.

In the private sector, there is always a sense that teachers – however committed they are to their students and the craft of education – are contributing to the sale of a product. In the state sector, it is purely about the education and the students.

But it is potentially very damaging for school leaders in the state sector to regard marketing as somehow being inappropriate or a luxury. Instead, it should be fundamental. It should be an essential. And that is because the financial stability of a state school depends on its ability to attract students to the same extent as an independent school’s does.

You know the next bit, but it is important to my argument, so… On average a private school charges £17,000 a year per student. On average a state primary receives £3,300 per pupil, while a secondary receives £4,800.

The private school obviously gets more money. And that money comes from the parents of the student, not the state. But the impact of falling or rising numbers at both types of school is the same. It means less money. And that means cutbacks and compromises.

It means staff are made redundant, that equipment is not replaced and repairs to buildings are not done. It means results and morale suffer and the general reputation of the school in its catchment is damaged. Which means numbers drop still further and the situation just gets worse. It is ‘failure’ feeding ‘failure’.

In an era of dwindling budgets, when state schools are less able to absorb dips in numbers and, therefore, funding, it is vitally important that schools market themselves.

You might feel this isn’t part of the ‘game’. That it’s not what you chose when you chose teaching. But more and more smart leaders are realising that dismissing marketing as something vulgar that has no place in the state sector is a dangerous approach.

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