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Why school websites just aren’t helping

Stick with it. It will make sense…

Until relatively recently my mum and dad ran a car dealership.

The business was successful for many years, but things started to go wrong when the Internet came along.

Initially, my mum and dad refused to invest in a website, believing the web would never catch on.

When it became clear that they were wrong, they grudgingly agreed to pay for a site.

This was when they made their biggest error.

Instead of having a website that advertised cars for sale, they decided to focus the website on the MOT, repair and maintenance side of the business, marketing these services to the people who had already bought cars from them.

It was, to say the least, a mis-step.

The business limped along for a while, sustained by carrying out services and MOTs for existing customers.

But with very few people actually buying cars from them (people who would need their cars looked after), the MOT and servicing work eventually dried up and the business folded.

None of this is true. My dad is actually quite a good businessman and my mum is a retired maths teacher.

The point of this story is to get you to this point, when I drop the bomb on school leaders that their websites are almost certainly working in exactly the same way as my parents’ site was (had it been real).

This is because most school websites are set up to communicate and engage with current stakeholders – that is students and their parents.

They are not designed with prospective stakeholders in mind, which means they are not communicating effectively with parents looking for a school for their child.

Why does this matter?

It matters because if you strip away all the inspirational work that teachers do every day, then schools are essentially businesses and parents are their customers.

And if school websites are not talking to those ‘customers’ then they are doing absolutely nothing to make sure that the ‘business’ survives and thrives – which is a complete waste of that business’s primary marketing tool.

It might seem vulgar to reduce a child’s education to a transaction. But – at least in terms of whether a school can continue to open its doors, teach kids and employ staff – it absolutely is.

The way that schools are funded – on a per-pupil basis – means that every child represents thousands of pounds in funding. It’s around £4,000 a year for a primary and around £5,000 for a secondary.

We are not suggesting for a moment that school websites are designed to ignore existing stakeholders.

Rather, we advocate a properly balanced approach, with websites ticking statutory boxes and providing all the information that current parents and students need, but also telling the school’s story effectively.

This means making sure that the content you want prospective parents to find is thought-through, inspirational, prominent and all in one place.

A recent survey by Parent Ping found that looking at the website was the thing that people seeking a primary school place did most before making their decision.

Exactly 60% of parents who sent their child to a primary school had looked at its website, twice as many as those who had read a prospectus and more than those who had talked to other people about the school or taken a tour.

So, treat your website like your principal student recruitment tool. Recognise that it is your primary means of engaging with the people with whom you need to engage if you want to fill your classrooms.

Your school’s financial viability depends on enough people making the decision to send their child to you, so don’t use your main communication channel to simply talk to people who have already made that decision.

In short, don’t be like my parents weren’t.

 

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