The nights are drawing in once again and I have finally nudged the thermostat up. This time of year can often feel like the calm before the manic rush of the Christmas period. But some families are preparing to make big decisions about the next stage of their child’s education, as school open day season is in full swing.
Those parents choosing their child’s next school will be busy gathering an impressive collection of glossy brochures and professionally produced curricula as they are welcomed through the doors of schools keen to showcase the high standard of education and facilities on offer. But families are increasingly looking beyond the spit and polish of the open day to find the right school for their child.
Here are some key things to think about that will increase your chances of becoming the first-choice school for parents.
1. Support parents in making the right choice
You wouldn’t expect to buy a house after spending ten minutes wandering around the show home, and the same rule applies when it comes to parents choosing a school. Your school might have an impressive record of pupil achievement, outstanding sporting facilities or a list of alumni that could easily be mistaken for a copy of ‘Who’s Who?’, but parents expect more than first impressions alone. It can be a good idea to offer a return visit to parents to give them a chance to come back once they have seen a few other schools. By doing this, they will have the benefit of more experience and can then get a clearer perspective of what your school has to offer. This will help you to demonstrate that your school has the qualities and ethos to inspire a child to achieve and develop the skills they need to flourish, whatever pathway they take in the future.
2. Prepare your pupils to showcase your school
Encourage pupils of all ages to participate in the open day and show parents around. Families like to speak to the children and ask them about school life – they want to see that pupils can make conversation, without the need for a script. Preparing your pupils in advance will help to ensure they feel happy and confident to take on the responsibility of being young ambassadors for your school.
3. Offer families the chance to see your school in action
Some parents won’t settle for the show home alone so why not offer a visitors’ day, where families can come in on a typical day and see the school in action? A visitors’ day will give parents the opportunity to look in on a physics lesson, witness the hockey team training for the next match or watch the school orchestra rehearse for the Christmas play. This will provide a much more realistic picture of school life and allow them to get answers to the questions they often won’t get from an open day alone – are the children engaged in what they are learning? What is behaviour like in the corridors at break time? Do pupils get a wide selection of healthy meal options – that can be purchased quickly and easily with the swipe of a canteen card?
4. Demonstrate how your school inspires children to succeed
Not every child is a maths or science whizz, but each and every child has the potential to excel so parents will be looking for a mix of certificates and trophies on display that represent pupils’ academic attainment, as well as their achievement in the arts, sport and music. Demonstrate that your school offers an eclectic assortment of academic and co-curricular activities to help staff identify and nurture a child’s individual strengths. Families will want to be reassured that your school can provide the support their child needs to achieve all they are capable of – whether that is winning the end of term poetry competition or clinching top prize in the inter-school debating tournament.
5. Encourage parents to find out more
Parents are more likely to choose your school if they have a good idea of how their child is likely to settle in. Why not offer taster days, where children can come along and join in with lessons and activities. This can help give them an idea of what it is like to be a pupil at the school and they might even make some new friends while they are there. Make sure you have answers to all the questions that parents might have about your school during an open day and at other times – how will they be kept up to date with how their children are doing? Does the school share target and effort grades regularly? Some schools send real-time information, such as details of homework and notes on behaviour, directly to parents’ phones, which can help them nip problems in the bud and better support their child from home.
Choosing a school can be one of the most important decisions a parent will ever make. Therefore, your school will want to ensure they have all the information they need to make the right decision for their child’s future and that your school is top of the list.