Make parents feel like they are “missing out” when they read your comms

Last week I received a lovely, laminated postcard style invitation to attend an Open Morning at a local prep school. I have received these 2-3 times a year since registering interest some 3-4 years ago. There’s a lovely image on the front and details about when and where the next events are. It definitely “ticks a box” as a regular piece of communications but I couldn’t help but think that the school is seriously missing a trick and could make this piece of their marketing collateral much better and probably get a higher return on investment from it.

By looking at the data they took from me, the school should be able to work out that my children are now both school aged and probably at a very good state primary school. Which means we would need to be pretty unhappy with how things are going to want to move them somewhere else and start paying fees. Why do parents move their children? Well, from those I talk to the major reasons seem to be:

  • Desire for more co-curricular activities – 30 mins of sport a day rather than once or twice a week with specialist coaches; music with qualified music teachers and drama and performance opportunities for all, not just as an after-school club.
  • Wraparound care – working parents can find the limited before and after school care options in some state schools impacts hugely on their lives. Selecting an independent school with early drop off and an attractive after school programme removes the need for childminders and ferrying around to after school clubs and activities. A lot of independent schools also run holiday courses now too.
  • Smaller classes. As children get older, some parents feel they are getting lost in larger infant and junior classes. Although class size must not exceed 30 in YR-Y2 they can then increase to 33 or 34 and not always with a teaching assistant in the classroom.
  • Preparation for 11+ and 13+. Primary schools do not prepare children for entry to selective independent schools, so if they can, some parents move earlier to take advantage of the advice and support a prep school can give in the build up to senior school entry.

There are of course many other reasons but by focussing on these in your comms to parents on your database with 5-6 year olds with a view to 7+ entry might persuade disillusioned parents to come and have another look. Ask a current parent who made the switch to  give you a quote or testimonial; do some research to see how you compare on time spent on sport for example and focus on how you support each child.

Schools need to “push buttons” with the messages they give out in their comms and create a meaningful and emotive call to action when targeting parents who decided to educate their children elsewhere. Using the same approach for all won’t reap you the same benefits as a more targeted and personalised campaign. If you are going to spend money keeping in touch with parents, make sure you are telling them something they might want, or need, to hear. Give them FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and they will come calling…..

Tatler’s Guide to State Schools. What does it mean for the independent sector?

Tatler have just published their third annual guide to the top State Schools, with the promise to readers that the best education needn’t be the most expensive…. except for the fact you will pay a property premium, possibly of 130%, to be able to afford a house close enough to guarantee a place at one of the schools they feature.

Given most Tatler readers are probably more comfortable with the private sector, should independent schools be worried about their target parents flirting with the maintained sector?

Yes, I think they should. The magazine have obviously identified a demand among readers for state education and whilst media reports about the Guide suggest buying a house in catchment for one of these schools could cost the same as privately educating one child, it is considerably cheaper than educating two or three children and one that is more likely to give you a guaranteed (and faster) return on your investment. And with fees at independent schools rising faster than earnings for many years now, parents deciding to go down this route will certainly not find themselves alone.

Many of the schools included in Tatler’s Guide are in affluent places, often those targeted by Londoners tired of the City and looking to capitalise on the equity in their small house and garden to buy a larger and much more suitable property in the sticks. Or, for those that want to stay in the capital, saving on fees means freeing up cash to extend, enjoy more holidays or move to one of the more desirable parts of London.

What does it mean for independent schools competing with those state schools that have merited entry to Tatler’s Guide? In short, they need to work harder at convincing parents that their fees are worth it. Not just smaller classes (at my children’s primary – one of those listed – they spend much of their time being taught in small groups) but the extras – the music, drama, arts and sports that these schools often overlook. This is where at primary level, in particular, the differences lie. All these state primaries do very well in reading, writing and mathematics but they lack specialist teaching, space and resources to offer anything close to their prep school counterparts in co-curricular activities. Why ferry your child around to after school activities when they can do the same, and more, at school?

Most pre-preps and preps have now also go the wraparound care sorted, and holiday activities and clubs, things sought after and badly needed by working parents and not always on offer at state schools. Cost of nanny vs school fees?

People are much more cautious with their cash these days and rightly so. There is certainly an increasing number of parents wanting to put their money into their property and are prepared to take a gamble on often unfamiliar state school territory. For some, it is completely the right decision. For others, a few years in and maybe the grass isn’t greener – opportunities for 7+ recruitment are there (particularly in places where primary provision is still split between infants and juniors) but often not capitalised on.

The Tatler State Schools Guide is not going to go away, in fact I expect it will only get bigger and more comprehensive. In this climate, Independent schools need to be as aware of their state competition as their private counterparts and find a way to convince parents that are able to pay to do so.