Small School, Big Ideas

Lurking in your staffroom there may be a something long forgotten, not original, stained and rarely used. It’s not the old Headteacher or the All-Sports Cup. It’s a mug, given as a leaving present – now rarely noticed unless all the other mugs are dirty and no-one did the washing up – again! The mug has written on it: Teacher, Advice-giver, Carer, Comforter, Helper, Inspirer, Marker, Organiser, Super-Human. Got one? Oh, sorry… Anyway, if you work in a small school it may be there isn’t room on one mug to list the jobs you do. Policy-setter? Peer trainer? Spare pen provider? Trip organiser? Finance manager? Publicity officer? Those last two combined are important to any school but assigning money to marketing your school and spending it on a carefully thought-out action plan may be behaviours that demand too much time and attention.

An understanding and equipped design company can support you in determining what level to aim for…

If your school is in a remote or very rural area or is, for example, a stand-alone nursery school, you are likely to face difficult choices when it comes to putting on a face to the world or your nearest hamlet. Websites and prospectuses may be bottom of your ‘to-do’ list; possibly a notice in the post office window and a talk by the Professor on rambling routes will attract enough local interest. But if not… if you want to boost numbers or build your profile or improve your ‘Ofsted’ rating… maybe you need a Big Idea. Donning your well-earned super-hero costume, though it has its place, is unlikely to bring about the change you need, but selecting tone, theme and pictures for a website could just do it. If you’re sticking to a two-mile radius (maybe all 12 local people are one family and 8 of them are in the right age range?) then a prospectus can work wonders, especially if your school is in one of those internet black holes. In fact, many parents like something they can hold in their hands, even when a website offers all sorts of delights.

Jokes aside – and rural or remote schools face more than their fair share –the relative size of your school impacts on your budget, yet a prospectuswebsite or anything else costs as much for a tiny nursery school as a huge city academy. Don’t be tempted to think your version of a prospectus has to be hand-made by the local W.I or your website put together by the caretaker-cum-farmhand whose girlfriend works in the mobile library. Ask your chosen design company how they can keep the costs low by coming up with straightforward yet effective marketing tools. Develop a strategy (ask a professional with educational design expertise to help if need be) that works through the process of getting your message out there and states clearly how you will measure its success.

COMBS infant school photography boy lying on the grass smiling at sticks

There are 2,500 primary schools in England with fewer than 100 pupils. One in three such schools have fewer than 50 pupils. (Figures from National Association of Small Schools). Most small schools come out exceedingly well in terms of academic results for children. You should certainly boast about this. Appealing to potential pupils and parents means promoting the school by showing off what it has to offer precisely because it is small or rurally located. A spin-off of this can be attracting teaching and other staff, too. Being off the beaten track might be a travel nuisance to a few people but look at what the area offers in terms of public transport, school parking and, possibly, lack of congestion. Consider what facilities are available in and around the school – is there a newsagent? – a place to pick up a sandwich? – a café? – a playground or park? All these things make an area attractive by answering practical needs and giving a sense of community and character.

Similarly, if you have small classes or mixed-age teaching because of low numbers, you need to emphasise this as a significant and effective teaching style. Now’s the time (and haven’t you been waiting for it?) to draw on educational theory and explain to potential parents the benefits of a flexible and creative approach to teaching. Show off your ingenious use of interactive or constructivist teaching and match what you say with quotations and pictures that carry home the message that your school’s smallness is part of its greatness.

Nursery schools may have a lot to say about the benefits of early years learning, information that suffers from low public awareness; a small nursery school in the heart of a rural community can make much of its role in supporting parents, working with children with special educational needs and disabilities and supporting vulnerable children and family groups. It can appeal to people by being the nearest… possibly the only. As pre-school education is not compulsory, some parents may first need information about general benefits. A nursery in a rural locality might argue the opportunities it presents are even more important that elsewhere: social interaction is fundamental to a child’s developing mind and body. Whether or not there is competition, small schools and schools for small people need to demonstrate that they more than meet standard requirements and that they offer something else – something special, special enough for Molly or Max or Maya or Milo.

SANDHURST primary school photography TWO-GIRLS-IN-WOODS

Most parents will want to come and look around a nursery or school and how the space, the staff and the children present can impact significantly on a decision. There need to be examples of work displayed but also a sense of children being happy, stimulated and friendly; nothing like a welcome straight from a confident, bright and smiling pupil. You might also consider how best you use the space and equipment you have available; look busy but not crowded, look interesting but not overwhelming. The feel and function of what you provide will appear in photographs, words and, possibly, videos on your website and in promotional materials.

In many small schools the Headteacher continues classroom teaching – something many children and parents like because it suggests the head is still in touch and because children get to know the head much better, adding to their sense of confidence and safety in the school. Close relationships between staff and children will extend beyond the head as the intimacy of a small staff and pupil group creates a sense of shared purpose, understanding and individualism.

Rural schools often play a key role in the local community. As a small school you need to involve others in offering a full and high quality offer to your pupils. The school is also likely to be embedded in the life and history of the locality – a centre for community activities, a shared experience for families – past and present – and a link between groups, local initiatives and events. Often this means parents, teachers and children know each other and are part of a close and interactive community. Schools will know where their pupils come from and where they are likely to go so meaningful links between nursery and primary schools can be crucial; Joint projects and themes, shared information days and events, case histories showing how children have made the transition and maintained a connection.

An understanding and equipped design company can support you in determining what level to aim for…

It’s likely your school is already great in the ways mentioned and many more, some unique to your small school. Yet many small schools find themselves struggling to survive and need to attract more pupils or risk closure. Despite plenty of information supporting high quality education in smaller schools it is hard to feel confident about the future when the picture is of falling numbers or closures. Allocating expenditure to publicity may seem a luxury when there’s a library to furnish, a playground to resource or a school trip to finance. Your strategy, therefore, needs to be based on a clear expectation of returns from whatever you invest in marketing. An understanding and equipped design company can support you in determining what level to aim for – from a fully populated advertising portfolio to only the basics – from aiming at the recruitment of five new families next intake day to a complex algorithm that measures clicks on your site and directly markets those showing an interest.

Whatever you choose, be sure to drop by the post office to put a card in the window (announcing the new website), ignore the ‘Gifts for Teacher’ display (don’t spoil the surprise – one more of those Best Teacher mugs could be just what you need) and say hello to parents you pass on the way – your friendly smile may be a clincher!

We are school communication & design experts

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]

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