The past few years have been a constant struggle to make sure there are enough pupils on roll to match our Pupil Admission Number (PAN), and therefore our staffing structure.
I often get asked why I spend time marketing my school and the answer boils down to bums on seats!
One of my most important roles as headteacher is to moonlight as chief marketer and promoter.
I often battle with this concept and wondered whether it was right to spend time and potentially money on marketing.
But then I remind myself that most of the school’s income comes from parents choosing this school for their kids. And that makes marketing a no-brainer.
As leaders we need to see this as an essential part of our role. I can’t see how we cannot market and promote our schools.
Attracting more pupils
At my previous school we ‘owed’ around £50,000 to the local authority and our pupil numbers were well below PAN, with less than 80 on roll.
Over the course of three years, we managed to increase this to over 150 pupils and this, in turn, improved both the opportunities and standards of education we were able to offer.
Quite simply, it transformed our budget.
Fluctuating birth rate and competition between schools created by Ofsted gradings and new housing developments can impact pupil numbers considerably, and with every child bringing in around £3,000, losing pupils can have a huge impact.
So how can you attract more pupils? How do you change perceptions in the community and market your school effectively?
There are no right or wrong answers, but here are a few ideas:
What makes you different to other schools – not necessarily better but different.
Work out your unique selling point and make sure your website reflects this.
It might be a focus on sport, or your pupils’ access to music tuition, or your amazing variety of after-school clubs.
Create brochures or leaflets that you can give to prospective parents and staff - the more professional the better.
A student created ours and we had them printed at less than £300 for 250 leaflets.
Negotiate a good rate with a local printing firm for a professional finish.
Get a virtual tour done for your school.
You can pay someone to do it professionally, or just use an iPad to record walking around the school and adding your own commentary.
Parents like to see inside a school but don’t always have the time to come to an open day.
Get your school featured in the local papers as often as you can (see writing press release information, below).
I find that writing my own article with photos and sending it to them works well. I make it as easy as possible for them to put in a good news story.
Better still, find out if you have a communications or marketing professional among your parents who can help to write or edit press releases.
Celebrate and advertise all the great things you do on social media and make sure you choose the right platform and ensure it is regularly updated.
We use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to make sure we appeal to different groups. Different staff members are responsible for each platform.
Review PAN in the classes where this is manageable and get your staff on-side.
My staff don’t object to having one or two extra pupils in their KS2 class if it brings in more funding.
This sounds controversial but schools often must take in additional pupils anyway, because of appeals.
Open your doors to visitors as often as you can.
We couldn’t do this during Covid, but we found that increasing the number of opportunities for parents to attend events or open days really increased our numbers. Word soon spreads if you are holding community and family events.
We tend to work with local charities such as those supporting people with things like stay and play or domestic violence support and have a designated member of staff – our community leader – who is given the time to develop relationships and organise events.
Spend time writing bids and grants and give a designated colleague the time to do this.
You are likely to get free advertising if you are successful, and you can add the money to your budget to do things you would not otherwise be able to afford.
While making money doesn’t seem to be on any job description for a headteacher it is becoming a key part of our role and one that I think we need to give time to – without feeling we are not doing what we should be doing.
How to write a press release
Publicising your school to the media, and dealing with journalists, might feel a bit scary. But if you send in a well-written press release, it will maximise your chances of coverage.
- When sending a press release ensure it contains an embargo date and the time, date and venue of any event that you’re planning. Remember to include your name and contact details.
- Keep it simple. Use easy to understand language to explain who you are and what you’re trying to publicise – the kind of language you’d use if explaining it to a friend. Avoid slang, jargon and acronyms they might need to look up.
- Target your press release to the appropriate person and by name, if possible. National and regional newspapers often have an education or community correspondents, whose details should be on the website of the publication. Broadcast media contacts can be harder to find, so send your release to the News Desk. Copy in the news desk to newspapers too, in case your designated reporter is away.
- Initial contact is best by email. Be short and to the point, and try to make your subject line as interesting as possible as journalists receive hundreds of emails every day. Sending your release in the main body of the email, rather than as an attachment, will make it more likely to be read.
- Try to give journalists some notice if you’re offering them a story about an event – a week is ideal for a daily news outlet. Despite the advanced technology now used in the print production process, deadlines and production times can still be long.
- Offer a high-res image or photo to accompany your release if you can, as newspapers often rely on contributors to supply photos.
- Remember that journalists can’t guarantee coverage. As interested as they might be in your story, events elsewhere can take precedence and it isn’t the reporter who makes these decisions.
- Try to develop a relationship with your local education or community journalist. Invite them to visit – the worst that can happen is that they say no. If they agree to a meeting it could be the start of a mutually beneficial, professional relationship.
Kyrstie Stubbs is principal of Boothroyd Primary Academy, Dewsbury. A version of this blog first appeared at thetattooedheadteacher.com