Your school open day is one of the most important events in the school calendar.
It provides an excellent opportunity for you to showcase what your school does best … from showing off your amazing classrooms and facilities, to offering advice and answering prospective parents’ questions, to touting your school’s academic accomplishments, and enabling your senior students to act as guides and talk about your school with pride and enthusiasm.
Even if your school is currently oversubscribed, you can use your open day to establish your school as the go-to school in the local catchment area. However…
- How do you ensure your school stands out in the autumn open day season (and at other times of the school year)?
- How do you entice prospective parents to come and visit your school over others in the area?
- And, once you have them through your doors how do you ensure that they eventually choose your school over other schools?
With so much to organise, and often so little time to do it in, it’s easy to overlook smaller details. The small details make a big difference. It is important, therefore, that you plan.
There are various things that you can do to make sure that your next open day is a great success. Have a look at the following tips:
1) Think about your key message and your unique selling points (USP) before you do any planning
Have a think about what you are hoping to communicate to prospective parents and children (after all, the children have to like what a school has to offer as well). This should focus on your USP – what makes you stand out from other schools in your catchment area – and what measures you are taking to meet your stakeholders’ requirements.
2) Begin early and assign a task force of staff who will be responsible for creating the event
This task force should consist of a mixture of staff with a variety of skills sets: from teachers and staff who know the students, their individual stories and how best to represent them; to creative marketing staff, who will be able to get your ideas across; to people who are great with logistics and details.
3) Do a recce of the school and grounds and look at your school through the eyes of your visitors
Does anywhere need a lick of paint for example? You should check to make sure lights work and replace any bulbs etc. Check the approach to the school, particularly any external signage and make sure the grounds are tidy and clean. In addition, pay attention to the ambiance of the school – when visitors first walk in, what will they hear or smell for example. How warm is the school?
4) Don’t forget the parking!
Make sure you have steps in place to ensure that parking goes smoothly on the night. Make sure you have made adequate parking arrangements with stewards on hand to point people in the right direction. There is nothing more off-putting than not being able to park easily at an open day.
5) Do some research on the achievements of your students and showcase their stories
Parents will make a choice about which school to send their children to based on whether they think their children will be happy there and whether they will do well and achieve great things. You could use case studies and personal interaction with current students to get the message across.
Some schools use a mixture of posters and videos, and presentations and it is quite commonplace for students to put on small dance, drama or music performances on the night. Think outside of the box and be innovative as one school did – It placed cardboard cut-outs of previous students around the school, which had their individual stories attached to them!
6) Ensure your advertising shows prospective parents and students why they should attend YOUR event
Make sure your advert points out why your school is different, that it outlines your school’s USP – use brief story examples from the above point as evidence. In addition, use the advert to outline alternative dates that parents can look over the school, if they can’t make a specific event.
7) It is important that your school does not rely on adverts alone
Share your event on social media, use targeted direct mail, and place posters around the area and at community meeting places and parents’ business premises. It is also beneficial to visit feeder schools to talk about your school to prospective students.
8) Order prospectuses or other marketing material well in advance
Remember to check your stock levels of marketing material including prospectuses and take into account the order times and production timeframes of third-party printing providers. Professional printing takes time and you don’t want to miss your deadline.
9) In addition to students and teachers, use other stakeholders on the night
Ask school governors to do a presentation about their roles in the school or to chat more informally about the strengths and benefits of your school. School PTAs are often under-utilised and they can do other things in addition to selling uniform to parents or providing refreshments at the open day. They know the school well, so give them the opportunity to chat to prospective parents or perhaps give a presentation on their thoughts about the school.
10) Brief everyone thoroughly before the open day
You wouldn’t expect a commercial exhibitor to approach an event without being properly briefed! Make sure that all teachers, students, and parents are armed in advance with information and copies of brochures. Make sure that they are aware of the school’s strengths and who prospective parents can approach for information and answers to questions at the event.
11) Make the open day a more interactive and involved experience for visitors
The more you can make the event interesting and different, the better the experience for visitors, so don’t just take them on a tour of the school and present to them – let them have a go at something creative … perhaps something they can make to take home, show them science experiments in the lab, and provide music and dance for them to watch as they walk about the school.
12) Following on from the previous point, don’t make the open day too formal!
You will obviously have a timetable that you need to follow on the night, perhaps with a couple of scheduled talks by the head and arranged tours, but try and provide a more relaxed atmosphere by showing videos on a timed loop for example, and allowing the head time to talk to prospective parents and students as well.
13) Do a dummy run – walking the planned route for example
Get into the heads of the parents and students by anticipating what they might like to see and in what order. Plan a route to make it easier for them. Make sure you and your guides walk the planned route ahead of the event and that the route will take your visitors to the right people and places. Remember you don’t have to show the whole school to everyone … try and focus on key areas that will show your school in the best light.
14) Personalise your open day
If you have advance information about a parent who is interested in a particular subject or a particular area of the school, make sure you direct them there at the beginning. Similarly, if a student from a particular ethnic group is attending the open day, try and match them with similar current students.
15) Ensure that all questions are answered and dealt with
If a visitor asks a teacher, student or parent a difficult question, which they can’t immediately answer, make sure that the visitor is passed on to someone who can help them, or alternatively take their details and make sure the query is followed up.
What do you do once the open day is over?
- Make sure you know who attended on the night, by asking people to fill in a feedback form so you can cross reference their details against people you were expecting to attend
- Contact people that didn’t make it and invite them to another event or for a personal tour
- Obtain feedback from teachers and students
- Share the information about your open day to those people that couldn’t make it –using social media, blog posts, uploading videos of the event onto your website or creating a newsletter
- A couple of days after the open day, email people about the event and include pictures, stories etc. In addition, take the opportunity to invite them to other events such as sporting fixtures or concerts or to attend a personal tour of the school during school hours. You could also attach a personal note to parents from whoever gave them a tour of the school
- Ascertain what was successful about the open day as soon as possible, by inviting a sample of participants from the school to share what they thought was good and what needed improvement.
Good luck with your next open day, and we hope that you have found the above tips useful!
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