For those who don’t usually move in business circles, this is about your school’s Unique Selling Points – those features or qualities that make your school special, that give it the edge and help it stand out from the crowd of prospectuses and websites. USPs should be genuine rather than created to make you look good – a school needs to do what it says on the shiny, sparkling tin! As educators you are likely to despise the false use of ‘unique’ to mean ‘rare’ or ‘unusual’ but, let’s face it, businesses are much less likely than schools to let a little incorrect use of English stand in their way and, thus, this phrase has taken seat in our promotional and marketing vernacular.
Identifying the best features of your school and finding ways to show them off needs to be balanced with demonstrating that you meet all the standard criteria; yours may be the only school in the country with a fully equipped planetarium but you also need children achieving good exam results and an active extra-curricular timetable. There are a few places to go looking for your USPs and having found them you can discuss how best to highlight them with those responsible for producing your marketing materials; your design company will help you with words, pictures, style and format, all aiming to attract parents and students to your school. You cannot hope to be all things to all people so accept that some of your school’s strengths may be less important to some parents – sell the school to those who will appreciate it once they belong.
History & Background
Whether your establishment is reminiscent of Hogworts or Grand Designs, a good place to start looking for USPs is the building itself and its surroundings. Excellent quality professional photographs will help emphasise its appeal. If you work in a more humble environment there may still be aspects of its history and background worth selling: how long has your school been around? – what was happening around the time it was founded? – or is it the result of a new commission or recent legislation? If its founding history isn’t striking perhaps it has undergone significant development or plans are underway. Bring out what is interesting or remarkable – was it founded with a specific purpose in mind, are there famous alumni worth speaking of or does your school sit in a secluded valley or surrounded by an ancient forest where a 1991 blockbuster was filmed? Your design company will be able to provide copywriting, if you require it, with an understanding of the educational context and without making it sound as if you are selling furniture or cornflakes.
The array of different types of schools now helps provide them something of distinction but this can also be distracting or confusing for potential parents. Try to emphasise what specialist physical or teaching facilities are available rather than relying on a potential parent to understand the significance of a category such as Free School, Academy or Community School. Names and ideas may have changed since a parent was at school, which is a reason to include a short definition but not to headline it unless the type of school is truly a USP, e.g. a Rudolf Steiner school. Specialist schools should highlight what their specialism brings, ensuring their status is meaningful in terms of facilities, teaching or school life. Obviously parents and students also want to know the curriculum is not narrow or that an arty child won’t be left behind in a engineering specialist school, but the difference between a specialist music school and a specialist sports school should be apparent.
Parents deciding on a school for their child are advised to find out what the place feels like; this emerges from details of extra-curricular activities, competitions and student-run events or societies. It’s the stuff outside of lessons that builds the community – the shared purpose, belief and pursuits are what demonstrate that students and teachers connect. Smiling children with something to say about their school are the best advertisement for your school community. You can promote this not only through pictures and quotes but through the results of structured mechanisms for feedback and consultation. If this isn’t something you already do, talk to your design company about using what is already in place and about what might enhance your community and your depiction of it in the future. You needn’t be afraid to include examples of students who have struggled – here’s an opportunity to show what the school offers in terms of support and improvement.
Having a strong and positive profile in your local community is helpful in itself because you become a conscious presence in the lives of potential parents and students. It also offers opportunities for promotion through photographs, quotes, newspaper articles, awards and endorsements. Try to take advantage of existing input to local events, connections with local employers, charity activity or contact with other schools/colleges. If these don’t exist then start to build them; see your school as part of something bigger in your locality. In particular, you might think about building a long-term relationship with a local trader or charity; annually set events (such as a fundraising concert) help create a sense of involvement, caring and thinking beyond the classroom. Many of the bigger charities offer particular packages to schools about how to get involved; whilst there is nothing wrong with all wearing a red nose once a year, you might also consider befriending a small, local good cause that fits the ethos or style of your school. This can create a long-term relationship benefiting both charity and school. Developing your community profile isn’t just about inviting people to come and do something in your school, it’s about getting out into the community and taking part in local events. This can be difficult with the level of workload that staff already have, especially given that community activities most often take place at evenings and weekends. Work out a plan to engage in these activities in advance.
Some schools are built on a particular religious, political or philosophical affiliation; this will be reflected in teaching style, discipline, parental & student involvement and its annual timetable. All schools, however, will find they work from an understanding about what is important, what is valued and what is best for children. If this isn’t clear in your school then now is a good time to go looking. You could ask your design company about potential input from external professionals to work on establishing a school vision, mission, values and desired outcomes. Not only will this create a motivated and enthusiastic team (staff, children, parents, trustees, etc.) but it will provide ample information to brighten up a website, to capture the attention of browsing parents and to strengthen your school.
Parents want to feel confident their child will be happy and cared for, as well as pushed to reach their academic potential; any materials coming out of the school, e.g. prospectuses, should reflect this in their words, pictures, themes and formatting. It’s relatively easy to produce generic marketing materials that are well-designed and appealing – and this is important – but much harder to stand out from the crowd, to connect with young and old that are considering your school – and to continue to do that over the years so that your students and parents know they made the right choice. Everyone in the school needs to share an understanding and be able to express it. Whilst it’s important that your school does what it says on the tin you need to ensure it says on the tin what it does!
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If you want to find out how Blue Apple Education can help you unearth the remarkable in your school you can call us on +44 (0) 330 223 0766 or email us [email protected]