Independent School Admissions Plus - Summer 2019

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Independent School






Summer 2019


Independent School


William Clarence Education Ltd Green Park House, 15 Stratton Street, Mayfair, London W1J 8LQ Tel: +44 (0)207 412 8988 EDITORIAL Editor Iris Jackson Editor-in-Chief Steve Spriggs PRODUCTION Design & Print Constructive Media ADVERTISING Sales Iris Jackson PUBLISHER William Clarence Education Ltd William Clarence Education is a leading UK education consultancy working with independent schools throughout the UK, and British international schools overseas. DISTRIBUTION Print and digital copies of Independent School Admissions Plus are distributed to named head teachers, principals, marketing and admissions leads in every independent school in the UK, plus British international schools overseas. The magazine is published twice a year. © William Clarence Education. No part of this magazine may be reproduced without the permission of the publisher. The information contained in Independent School Admissions Plus has been published in good faith and every effort has been made to ensure its accuracy. All liability for loss, disappointment, negligence or damage caused by reliance on the information contained within this publication is hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law. Front cover: Helpful pupils on Open Day at Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools, Edinburgh


The last twenty years have seen more change in independent education than the previous sixty put together. In most areas, schools are now immensely more professional in how they operate. First of all, directors of studies appeared – perhaps as a result of the birth of league tables – then deputy heads in charge of pastoral care, and finally directors of extra-curricular activities and sport. Surprisingly late in this process, directors and departments of marketing and admissions joined the teams and at last they are being recognised as key in the decision and policy-making process. This is essential, both in recruiting pupils from overseas, and also in ensuring that the school’s strengths are promoted closer to home. This magazine sets out to help schools consider the issues that can contribute to developing a coherent and effective system, which links marketing and admissions with fundraising, public relations, PTAs and alumni organisations. Thoughtful and provocative articles cover a wide range of topics, providing useful insights and examples of best practice. Congratulations to William Clarence Education for recognising the need for Independent School Admissions Plus. With increasing competition, rising expectations and financial, political and social pressures mounting on all independent schools, it is vital that there is a place where attention is paid to the crucial role that marketing and admissions departments have to play in making good schools even better – this magazine is that place. We hope you enjoy reading it, and we welcome your feedback. Please email us at with your thoughts and ideas

Hugh Monro

Chair, Editorial Advisory Board, Educational Consultant and previously Master, Wellington College

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EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Susan Barnhurst Academic Deputy Head at Wellingborough School and senior leader for a major UK examining board Dr Helen Wright Educational consultant, and former Head of St Mary’s Calne, President of the Girls’ Schools Association and Vice-Chair of the Independent Schools Council Dianne Barrett Inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate, advisor for safeguarding and compliance and former Head of Prospect House School Ian Hunt School board member in the UK and Middle East, leader of international educational projects and a regular contributor to the national press Hilary Moriarty Schools inspector, an educational journalist and former National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association Hugh Monro Board director and chair of governors for schools in the UK and Europe, assists in the design and launch of British schools overseas and previously Master, Wellington College Peter Tait Educational journalist, advisor, trainer and former Head of Sherborne Preparatory School

Contents 4

A day in The Shack


What do international parents want?

Andrew Fleck provides a fascinating insight into the admissions office at Sedbergh School

Understand the priorities and motivations of international parents and their children

13 14 18



Spotlight on Turkey


How times have changed


Putting digital in perspective

30 34

Tier 4 audits: Being prepared

Don’t miss the chance to showcase your prospectus

Time to shine

Three schools share their ideas on making the most of open days

It’s a win-win situation David Goodhew illustrates the rewards of implementing a bursary programme

Learn how to targeting the Turkish student market with our valuable insights

Appreciate how quickly schools marketing has evolved and share your thoughts

Digital has its place, but consider the value of a 360º marketing approach

Top tips to help you comply with UKVI requirements

Does your brand do you justice? Check out our guidance for revisiting your brand – it may be a case of fine-tuning

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Life in

THE SHACK Sedbergh is a thriving boarding school. Principal, Andrew Fleck shares their admissions and recruitment best practice and provides valuable insights for our readers

“You need to have your finger on the pulse at all times”


aced with increased competition in the UK and abroad, independent schools are working harder than ever to recruit pupils. When ISC published their 2018 stats that UK boarding numbers had fallen 57% in the last 20 years, you can only imagine the thoughts going through the minds of admissions and marketing departments around the United Kingdom. Sedbergh School is one of the few remaining proper ‘full boarding’ schools in the UK with over 550 pupils who stay 24/7. For a school in the north of England, Sedbergh is doing exceptionally well and has seen a continued increase in applications over the last six years. We

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believe this is, in large part, attributable to Sedbergh’s global reputation, effective marketing activity and efficient yet personalised admissions process. To further build on this success, Sedbergh is investing in its overseas partnerships and in September 2018 opened Rong Qiao Sedbergh School in China.

It’s about strong foundations

Many schools will talk about structure, discipline and a rigorous curriculum being the core principles that underpin daily life at an independent school. These principles don’t just apply to pupils and teaching staff, it is also evident within an admissions and

marketing department; a well-structured department with strong leadership, realistic expectations and a clear vision and strategy helps form the foundations of an effective team. Every school is different. But most schools promote the same USPs rather than focusing on what really makes their school stand out from the competition. It isn’t just about academic results, league tables, facilities and pastoral care – there is so much more. Articulating this difference can be challenging, but doing so will give those in the school community (pupils, staff, current future and past families, agents, feeder school heads and more) a clear understanding of the school’s ‘X’ factor.


We call it The Sedbergh Difference! Having this understanding running through the veins of the marketing and admissions team provides clarity and confidence.

Where does the action happen? Nestled in the heart of Sedbergh School, at the top of School Hill overlooking the Yorkshire Dales in the North of England, lies The Shack; defined by the Oxford dictionary as a roughly built hut or cabin. But the Sedbergh Shack isn’t just any old hut! Inside you’ll find the central operations team for admissions and marketing – a team on which all stakeholders depend to continue the school’s 494 years of existence. Sedbergh has a team of ten responsible for the marketing and admissions of the Prep, Senior and International Summer Schools. Reporting to Sedbergh School’s Principal, the admissions team comprises a senior school UK registrar, a senior school overseas registrar, a prep school registrar and two admissions assistants; the marketing team has grown recently and now boasts a senior school UK marketing manager, a prep school marketing manager, an international marketing manager, a social media and PR officer and a digital marketing manager. Each brings their own area of expertise, has their own area of responsibility with clear KPIs, and

contributes to the mutually supportive team that performs such a key role. The Shack is a friendly and efficient hub into which colleagues from the school common room and operational staff are warmly welcomed. Working in a marketing and admissions department is a 24/7 operation; when we aren’t dealing with enquiries, we are processing applications, organising tours, planning our next event, researching potential markets, writing press releases, launching campaigns, managing budgets and (occasionally!) making coffee. We are often asked what a typical day is like in The Shack, but every day is different! As a department we work very closely with regular communication and meetings to ensure all the team members have a clear understanding of each others’ workloads, of student availability and our many planned events. Without this, we wouldn’t be able to effectively implement our individual strategies and plans to meet the school’s overall targets. The best exponents of The Sedbergh Difference are our pupils – both past and present. Our Marketing Manager, Kirsty, is the key to orchestrating events – at Sedbergh School and Sedbergh Prep – that bring new families into contact with them. Be it an open day, a boarding experience weekend, a subject-specific masterclass, or

a team-based competition, Kirsty plans the detail, briefs the staff and pupils involved and markets it to interested families and defined target markets. Just as important as the experience itself is the follow-up to those who have participated – and this is where our seamless teamwork comes in ensuring a co-ordinated approach.

It’s not just UK social

We are fortunate to have social media and PR expertise within the team; with constant notifications and over 40 official social media pages to monitor there is never a dull moment. Matt is currently working on a new project which involves researching and developing social media pages on new international platforms including WeChat, VKontakte and Youku. Using country-specific social networking pages offers the potential to develop overseas brand awareness and tap into new markets. Remember though, to implement your social media strategy it is all about timing, understanding your audience and communicating with all school stakeholders including academics, parents and pupils. Don’t judge the success of your activity through page likes/ followers, it is all about engagement. 

Building strong relationships with overseas agents is a key task for admissions staff David Milner, Sedbergh’s International Marketing Manager is pictured ‘speed dating’ at a ST Alphe conference Summer 2019 I



Get stuck in!

“Our admissions success would not be possible without a great school producing confident, humble and resilient young people” When is your next holiday?

It always amuses the international marketing manager when academic staff wish him an enjoyable “holiday” as he jets off to his next recruitment destination. Next week David’s off to Malaga... it isn’t as glamorous as it sounds! With 50 ‘speed dating’ appointments with overseas agents and additional meetings at international schools, there’s barely even time to reply to emails and check in with colleagues back at The Shack. When David isn’t travelling, he spends his time designing adverts for the senior school, writing newsletters, creating videos, attending house meetings, skyping agents and at times taking WeChat calls during the early hours of the morning. You need to have your finger on the pulse at all times when it comes to working with overseas markets. When promoting your school abroad it is extremely important to understand your product, your USPs, and most importantly, your target audience. Since his arrival at Sedbergh in November 2017, David has immersed himself in the school, sitting in lessons, interviewing pupils and playing a key part as a house tutor every Thursday, enabling him to fully understand what life as a boarder is really like. Agents want transparency and honesty from school representatives, and this is key when trying to develop your international partnerships.

Turning interest into action

With a strong flow of enquiries arriving daily, Senior School Admissions is a busy room in The Shack. It goes without saying that a timely and warm response to all enquiries is critical. With calls and 6 I Summer 2019

emails coming in from families, feeder school head teachers and agents, it is key to think on your feet, have intel at your finger-tips and to work as a team. Building relationships, helping influencers understand our school and encouraging first-hand engagement are the first steps to success. Much emphasis is put on planning family visits to ensure a personalised, relevant experience. First impressions mean so much – our team greets visitors and then ensures every programme goes to plan. The proof is in the pudding though – the input of pupils and staff is invaluable. Following up on visits and carefully guiding each enquiry through a clear and structured admissions process further builds insight from both sides. The admissions team is also responsible for managing the scholarship process, liaising with the Bursary to support applications seeking finance, and working closely with the marketing team on events in school. The Registrar takes the time to visit feeder schools to understand what their pupils are looking for in a senior school; this can be a fun time to meet new families, talk to ongoing applicants, meet key staff in the schools, and of course catch up with peers. None of the success of Sedbergh School admissions would be possible without there being a great school producing confident, humble, resilient young people who have fulfilled their academic potential and more. There is nothing better than answering the phone and talking to an interested family about our pupils’ successes and how they are achieved.

At the Prep School, our marketing and admissions team are, in addition to their recruitment responsibilities, closely involved in the day-to-day life of the school – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. From setting up tasters and conducting tours, organising STEM outreach sessions in the robotics workshop and promoting activity mornings for Early Years children, through to getting out and about trying to capture what life is like at the school for social media, we love the variety and difference that every day brings. In the background we are also working through our marketing plan for the year to profile and promote the Prep School and engage our target audience within both our local day market and furtherafield boarding market. The Registrar deals with the day-to-day enquiries, as well as following up with prospective families who have shared an interest in the school and manages the administration of new enrolments. They work very closely with the Senior School and have the full support of the entire marketing team during the week and at weekend events.

What lies ahead?

With a level of uncertainty around Brexit and questions from European agents and families on how it will affect recruitment and admission processes, schools are working hard to prepare themselves for the unexpected. We are fully aware of the many challenges that marketing and admissions teams are facing around the country. We are lucky to have a strong team, but many of us at Sedbergh have experienced the one-man band setup with small budgets and big mountains to climb. The educational market is a challenge, but an exciting one it is, and the competition keeps us on our toes. Andrew Fleck is Principal of Sedbergh School, where he has been since 2010. He has overall responsibility for the School, Casterton Sedbergh Prep School and Rong Qiao Sedbergh School, China.

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lifetime in education teaches you many things, but one of the most important is that parents are essentially the same, wherever in the world they are... they want the best for their children. And the reason they are even considering sending their children to your school is because they think that it might offer them the best education and best life chances possible. What they mean by ‘the best possible’, however, varies from parent to parent, and the most savvy schools know now, better than ever before, that they have to take time to understand the specific motivations of every parent. Making assumptions in advance that the school knows best what each parent wants, or indeed what is right for each child, is out-dated in this world of personalised approaches and a focus on the development of the individual. Schools need to take time to understand children and their parents, and work out how best to respond to them and serve their needs.

The essentials

This said, there are broad themes underpinning parental choices of schools – parents generally want their children to be happy and enjoy school, which is why the children themselves have become so involved in the decision-making process. Moreover, most parents want their children to succeed academically (although, some care less about this than others). Most parents also value a well-rounded education which draws out individuality, and this is a message which is percolating worldwide, Hence the attraction of a ‘British education’, underpinned by liberal Western values and a belief in releasing the inner creativity of each child. Many parents see school as an opportunity for their children to build friendships and social networks, and for most parents, the choice of school is a practical solution to ensure the right balance (which varies from family to family) of having a good education but also spending at home, wherever that may be. 8 I Summer 2019

“International students have additional motivations” Important considerations

However, international parents who are thinking about choosing UK schools also commonly have a range of additional motivations or perspectives from those of UK-based parents. Admissions departments – and, indeed, all staff in school – will want to be attuned to these if they are keen to ‘capture’ these parents, and respond to the needs of each new student. Broadly, these additional motivations fall into three main categories: 1. Multi-linguists An intense desire (for non-native speakers of English) to ensure that their child is able to become fluent in English. English is undeniably the lingua franca of the world – and a mastery of English is an enormous advantage for students as they move into the world of work and have, therefore, global opportunities. English opens doors, and this is one of the prime reasons parents want to send their children to the UK. Rather than seeing the requirement to provide English language learning as a ‘necessary evil’, or an irritation, as the international student is ‘not good enough’ in English – a deficit model – schools need to rethink their approach if they are to attract international parents, who are becoming increasingly savvy about the needs of their children. International students are developing the ability to become bilingual, if not multi-lingual, and schools would do well to reflect on whether they admire and support this English language need as well as they could. Home students could, in fact, learn a lot from this multi-lingual, multi-cultural education – especially if they too want to have access to the same global opportunities later in life. 


What do INTERNATIONAL parents want? Selecting the right school is a complex process. Dr Helen Wright outlines the priorities for international students

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“Parents want to hear ambition regarding destinations post-18” 2. Life beyond school A highly developed desire for their child to gain entry into a well-regarded UK or US university. The stakes are often higher for parents of students who live and work in different cultures – they are making larger sacrifices in sending their children away to school (higher costs of travel, few chances to see their children and have family time), and they are often more acutely aware than many UK-based parents of the breadth of opportunity that lies beyond the borders of the UK. They know, too, that global quality matters, which is why they will often be attracted to well-known ‘names’ of schools; as far as higher education is concerned, there 10 I Summer 2019

are world-leading universities across the world, but many of these are clustered in the UK and US; this is a real attraction to international parents. This means, of course, that international parents want to hear ambition on the part of the school regarding destinations post-18. This can sit somewhat at odds with the British caution and realistic understanding that not all universities will be right for each child, and so schools have something to offer parents in this respect, spelling out the advantages of students making the right personal choice, and – even better – highlighting the successful careers to which their students go on to after university. International parents want to

be as certain as possible that the school will absolutely ensure that their child is successful in later life, and schools can shape this dialogue if they understand this and respond robustly and positively. Publishing data on university graduates and later career success of former students, of course, requires a well-developed alumni strategy and information-gathering processes in school... but successful admissions depend ultimately on the success of the school, and therefore on many aspects of the school being aligned. A challenge to admissions departments is to step up to the plate, and not to be afraid of helping to drive whole school strategy.


3. Safety matters A fundamental need for their child to be safe and secure. This is true of all parents, but the importance is heightened when there are so many extra elements involved for their children – distance from home (which often involves several legs of travel by themselves), different time zones (which can make communication with parents harder), and a longer time spent away from home (which can lead to loneliness). Also important, although not always as well-articulated, can be cultural differences, which can lead to isolation simply because the child does not feel understood, or does not know exactly what is expected (including speaking up – which is increasingly firmly embedded in British culture, but not necessarily in others). Schools pride themselves on keeping their children safe, of course, although – again, in that curious British way we have of not wanting to draw attention to things we do well, in case people start to think the opposite, schools perhaps do not always highlight sufficiently what a safe country the UK is, and how the schools protect their children from harm, both inside the school and beyond its gates. Guardianship is an important aspect of safeguarding outside term-time (and, indeed, when things go wrong during term), and while many schools have very clear guardianship policies, drawing on the best practice required by the national accrediting body for UK guardians, AEGIS (part of the BSA partnership, and supported by William Clarence Education), this can be a gap that schools need to plug (and do so swiftly, as a safeguarding issue outside school will rebound on the school itself). With strong guardianship protocols in place, robust safeguarding practices and every aspect of a student’s stay and travel in the UK carefully planned, schools can afford to shout much more loudly about how they keep their students safe, and turn it into a feature to attract international parents.

A relationship

All parents want to know how their child is faring at school, and schools which have excellent communication protocols with parents will want to highlight these; schools which don’t have these protocols will want to shape up – has your school, for example, set up regular progress calls to parents, with an interpreter? Does the head make a point of meeting with current parents as well as prospective parents when she or he travels? Are school reports offered with a translation? Does the school employ a trusted third party to find out from international parents what they really want from the school (bearing in mind that in many cultures – including still in the UK – direct criticism of institutions is not easy for parents)? Fundamentally, international parents want to feel wanted and cherished, and to feel confident that their children will be nurtured and given every chance, both at school and in the world beyond. For schools to bring these parents to them, they need to ensure that international students are truly valued in school; and many, many schools do not do this as well as they imagine. A good, hard, evaluative look at this, possibly with external eyes, can make an enormous difference to how schools operate, and will lay strong foundations for future success in attracting students. Then, of course, it all comes down to communication and messaging,

and extending the reach of the message – and nothing beats taking a critical look at what your marketing materials are actually communicating, from the perspective of an international parent and their needs. Taking time to step back and evaluate is always worth the investment of energy, as it can (and will) identify shifts in direction which will make all the difference to schools looking to attract international students. And finally – a message to admissions departments who worry about whether they can have the impact on whole school practices that is needed to make some of these shifts: be bold! After all, who else in the school has as clear a view as the admissions department of the school’s actual future students, their particular perspectives and their pressing needs?

Dr Helen Wright is an internationally recognised educationalist. She has been an energetic headmistress in UK girls’ schools, including the renowned St Mary’s Calne, President of the Girls’ Schools Association and Vice-Chair of the Independent Schools Council. She was Tatler’s ‘Best Head of a Public School’ in 2010-11.

Strong guardianship and safeguarding practices can be a selling point Summer 2019 I


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Independent School Prospectus of the Year Award Call for entries!

Independent School Admissions Plus is launching a new award for the best independent school prospectus published in the 2017-18 or 2018-19 academic years. Open to any independent school which is a member of an association which is itself a member of the ISC, entrants should submit two copies of their prospectus together with a maximum 400 word narrative which explains why their school deserves to win the award. The judges will include: • Steve Spriggs, Head of Education, William Clarence Education • Ian Hunt, Educational Consultant • Iris Jackson, Editor, Independent School Admissions Plus Award criteria The judges will be particularly interested in learning how the prospectus: • • • • •

communicates the key marketing messages and showcases the unique selling points of the school aligns to, and interprets, the school’s brand guidelines/ positioning sits within the school’s wider communications portfolio (including on-line) presents a compelling call to action for prospective parents demonstrates a creative partnership between the school and its design agency

Prize The winner will be announced in the autumn edition of Independent School Admissions Plus. The winning school will be awarded a specially commissioned trophy and one day’s free consultancy from William Clarence School Services.

How to enter Hard copy entries (including two copies of the prospectus, the entry narrative and the name and contact details for the staff member submitting the entry) should be sent to: Prospectus of the Year Award, Independent School Admissions Plus, William Clarence Education, Green Park House, 15 Stratton Street, London, W1J 8LQ. Please also email a digital copy of the entry narrative and contact details to For further information see Closing Date: 12 July 2019



SHINE Successful open days are a vital part of a school’s recruitment programme. Here Kate Bohdanowicz talks to three schools and shares their best practice

Canford, in Dorset, holds Open Days twice a year for families


hether they’re seen as the jewel in the crown of your school’s marketing or a run-of-the-mill addition to the academic calendar, open days are essential. They’re an opportunity to show off the school, impress parents and recruit the pupils that will keep the school thriving. An independent education is a huge commitment for parents and the sector is fiercely competitive. So how do you get it right? What makes a good open day stand out and what pitfalls should you avoid? 14 I Summer 2019

When it comes to the day itself, it’s not the jawdropping showpieces, fabulous facilities, Pulitzer-prize winning speeches and ever-smiling pupils that gauge the best feedback from parents and their children, but the attention to detail, the ambience, the care, the chance to make connections and get a sense of the school’s ethos. Whilst open days have an element of artificiality about them – you are, of course, putting your best foot forward – it is important that they’re a true reflection of day-to-day life at your school.


Your strongest asset

Current pupils are your strongest asset as they give an honest appraisal of the school and their experiences. ‘Some schools shy away from putting pupils in front of parents, or they script them or they’re reading a piece of poetry,’ says Sara Stockdale, Head of Communications at Surbiton High School in Surrey. ‘But letting pupils chat to parents shows they’re happy and enjoying the environment.’ Surbiton High hosts a question and answer session for parents and children with a panel of pupil ambassadors alongside staff. Pupils are usually very proud of their school but no-one is prepped and no answers are off limits. ‘They are usually asked about homework and we wouldn’t pre-empt that,’ she adds. ‘It’s important to be honest.’ Finding out a little about a prospective pupil prior to the day means you can match them with a guide with whom they share common ground. Maybe they attended the same prep school, are both sporty or come from forces families. Obviously, a day school pupil won’t be able to answer detailed residential questions

from a potential boarder and a sixth former won’t recall much about Year 7. Don’t waste parents’ time by sending them off with someone – anyone – just so they get a tour of the school. They’ll have specific questions relevant to their child, dependent on their age, stage, gender and extra-curricular interests. At Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools (ESMS), a family of girls’ and boys’ schools in Edinburgh, the newest arrivals to the senior schools take the parents round. ‘Given the open day is in late September and we start middle of August, they haven’t been at the school very long,’ says Principal Linda Moule. ‘They can talk about settling in and what measures have been put in place to help them integrate, which is an extremely important aspect for parents.’ Putting that faith in your pupils shines through. Parents want to see what kind of children the school produces. Obviously, they won’t know everything and might get some answers wrong, which is why it’s essential that sufficient members of staff from every part of the school – from the boarding houses to the bursaries’ department – are on hand to answer specifics.

When is best?

Running an open day on a weekday or Saturday depends on the school. For pupils at Clayesmore School in Dorset, which is 60% boarding, doors are thrown open on a Saturday morning, when they have lessons as usual. It means more families are available to attend. However, be mindful that you are eating into peoples’ weekend and very often less is more. ‘Our open days used to be longer but families would arrive after lessons had finished and it was pointless,’ says Louise Smith, Head of Marketing at Clayesmore. ‘Now we ensure they have a good tour and a speech from the head.’ ESMS’s Principal agrees. ‘You might go into one classroom, you don’t want to go into ten’ she says. ‘The open days are a flavour. People want to chat – they have questions and they are busy. Make sure your staff are aware of this too as some are exuberant and over-enthusiastic. Consider visitors’ schedules and what their requirements are.’ Visuals are helpful. A short film showcasing recent theatre productions or a day in the life of Year 7 gives parents a snapshot of daily life and helps them imagine their child in the school. 

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“Preparation is key, but be flexible too”

If you’re renowned for your chamber choir, by all means have it on show but don’t let that be the only aspect of the open day. Some schools have performances and others prefer to invite parents when the school is in session so they can see day-to-day life. ESMS have open days on a weekday for transition primary to secondary, and a Saturday for other stages, despite there being no lessons, just a games programme. Pupils will be seen working, although not necessarily in classes. ‘In Art we may have ‘draped’ life drawing so they can see them in a studio setting,’ says Mrs Moule. ‘We open the science labs and have experiments that engage the visitors.’ Children are given goggles and white coats and are even allowed to set fire to the school. ‘We set benches alight – in a controlled environment,’ she adds. ‘It’s exciting for the children.’ For most parents, your school will be one of many they’re visiting. Making it a dull-as-dishwater marketing session or packing families in like sardines so everyone trails round in a queue is an instant turnoff. In Edinburgh, schools check that, as far as possible, open days aren’t clashing with others nearby. Working together means parents don’t have to choose between them or rush off halfway through. ‘There’s a degree of competition but we’re also promoting the sector’ adds Mrs Moule. Preparation is key but be prepared to throw plans out of the window. Tours that follow a prescriptive route whether it is relevant to the parent or not, will make them feel anything but special. They might not want to see a boarding house if they don’t plan to board. They might fancy wandering into a music room instead. Flexibility is essential. If you can’t meet parents’ needs now, how can you meet their child’s needs later on?

It’s the finer detail

Science experiments engage visitors on open days at Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools 16 I Summer 2019

The open day experience begins long before the families arrive at the door. How the communication is handled by the admissions department is crucial and it’s important they feel there is a real person at the end of the email or phone. ‘Their child is very precious to them


and independent education is a huge investment so this warrants time to deal with their enquiries,’ says Ms Stockdale from Surbiton High. ‘We constantly get good feedback on the communication from the admissions team. When we send out communications we review them every single time. We think about it from a parents’ perspective. I ask, what would be my concerns, my issues? We understand this is a difficult process and we try and help parents to make it less stressful for them.’ Putting on the parental hat is a good way of viewing the open day from a different perspective and putting yourself in the shoes of the parents, many of whom won’t have set foot in a school for decades. Dr Helen Wright is a former headteacher who has been involved in many open days on a professional level and can also recall the effect an exceptional open day had on her when she attended with her daughter: ‘It was the attention to detail, the warmth and the engagement,’ she says. ‘The students were prepared. It wasn’t haphazard. It was really well organised. It showed that they cared.’ Look at what stayed with you when you attended as a parent and bring that to your planning. Parents need to know they’ve made the right decision in letting your school care for and guide their child so a warm welcome is essential. At ESMS they moved greeting to a larger room so they weren’t meeting parents on the doorstep. ‘We greet them in a space that’s bright and colourful and not too sterile,’ says Mrs Moule. ‘They can see evidence of the children’s work and children are around. There are refreshments. They have music to listen to as we have a choir singing.’ Don’t just speak to the parents but engage with the child. Ask them questions, gauge their interest so they feel they matter. Decisions are not made in isolation, and older children especially will have a say in their choice of school. No matter how old your school is or traditional its reputation, the open day is not a fixed template that should be carried from one year to another. ‘It’s an evolving beast and we often discuss how we can make it better,’ says Ms Smith from

Clayesmore. If staff are being asked the same questions regularly, consider covering them in a presentation, film or speech as they’re obviously not being addressed in enough detail. It’s important to be aware of outside influences too. ‘Parental requirements change, questions change, the economic and political climates change,’ says Mrs Moule. ‘You need to make sure you’re addressing what parents are looking for.’

Kate Bohdanowicz has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing mainly for national newspapers. She is also a qualified teacher.

TOP TIPS for a successful open day DO


1. Prepare. Read up about the children and parents before they arrive. Make them feel unique and not just a cog in the machine.

1. Book in too many parents. And don’t treat them as a homogeneous group so that there is no time for individual questions. Remember, some will bring younger siblings and babies too.

2. Only put pupils in front of parents if they want to be there. Shy children may struggle to speak in front of a number of adults and this will make for an awkward meeting. 3. Put yourselves in parents’ shoes. Before the day, take the tour they will and consider their experience. What will they see, smell and hear? 4. Be welcoming. Offering families a coffee and pastry or having a roaring fire on a cold wet day will make them feel relaxed. 5. Reflect and review after each open day. What could you do differently? Comment cards for parents are a good way of getting honest feedback.

2. Script pupil ambassadors. Children are usually proud of their school and this will come across but if you have them gushing about everything from the size of the breakfast sausages to the colour of the curtains, it will look false. 3. Only spruce up the places you think are on show. A savvy parent (or child) will veer off and look in other areas such as pupil toilets or less-used areas of the grounds as that attention to detail – or lack of – speaks volumes. 4. Make the event too long. Do you need a full day or is a morning sufficient? Parents are busy, they have lots of open days and children can get bored. A busy three hours can be more effective than six hours with lots of waiting around. 5. Start clearing up around lingerers when the open day officially ends. It’s rude. Expect the session to run over and prepare staff for that. Summer 2019 I



It’s a

WIN-WIN situation Scholarships and bursaries are not just the right thing to do. David Goodhew highlights the advantages and discusses the best way to ensure success for all

‘I cannot put into words my gratitude and no action could repay the debt I owe you for genuinely changing the course of my life and allowing a simple boy, a secondgeneration immigrant, raised by a single mother from a humble background to enjoy an experience worthy of kings. I will never forget what you have done for my family and I am running out of words to describe how appreciative I am for everything you have done for me.’ [letter from a bursary recipient at Latymer Upper School]

18 I Summer 2019


here are many reasons to consider implementing a bursary programme at your school. First and foremost, it is the right thing to do – no charity should exclude the poor, and many of our schools were originally founded to educate children from poor backgrounds. Secondly, independent schools are often accused of being ‘engines of privilege’, yet the OECD’s latest report on social mobility shows that ‘Where disadvantaged students attend advantaged schools, they score 77 points higher, or the equivalent of 2.5 years of schooling’. Bursaries can be a way to ‘flip’ the advantages of independent schooling to close the attainment gap, and give pupils from all backgrounds access to academic excellence, high quality sport, music or drama, and the vital ‘soft skills’ and confidence that are key to success in later life. Thirdly, partial bursaries (50% awards for example) can help to alleviate the issue of affordability.

A diverse pupil body pays off

Contrary to popular mythology around ‘gold-plated swimming pools topped up by freshly-milked unicorn tears’, independent school fee increases have risen higher than inflation over the last decade for the same reason that state school costs have – namely staff costs (in particular National Insurance and pension contributions). This poses a problem in that some very wealthy parents can still easily afford the most expensive fees, and so fee freezes or cuts are effectively giving discounts to families who don’t need it. Means-tested partial awards can allow fees to become affordable again for those middle-income families who risk being ‘priced out’ of independent schools. And, a more diverse pupil body can be an important differentiator and recruiter for prospective families, as the slide opposite from a parent survey at Latymer Upper shows.


REASONS FOR THE BURSARIES PROGRAMME It is important to give children access to a high quality education irrespective of their parents’ means



4 11



5 3 1

I value the social mix these bursaries provide 63




It is a vital part of the ethos of Latymer 57

I think the bursaries programme enhances the reputation of the school as a centre of academic excellence


Agree Strongly


Not Sure

Funding a programme

So, how do you go about building a bursary programme, especially if (like us) you don’t have the luxury of a significant founding endowment or a friendly city corporation or livery company? Clearly, funding will need to be secured, typically from one of the following sources: a percentage of fee-income, cumulative donations from groups of parents and alumni; and sponsorship of individual bursaries by individual parents or alumni. This is mainly the province of a school’s development office. From the outset, however, it is important that governors, senior leaders, donors and the admissions team have clarity, and are in agreement, about the criteria being used to select bursary candidates.

Finding suitable candidates

As admissions professionals, the immediate concern is to ensure a pipeline of suitable candidates. This requires initiative, effort and patience, as all the marketing activity in the world can still fail to reach families from non-traditional backgrounds. I know of heads who have spent time at local supermarkets or hired a room at the local football club in order to reach the right families. Although my own school is oversubscribed by ten to one at 11+, we have been advertising on the back of buses (successfully) to raise awareness of our




6 1

Disagree Strongly

bursary programme. This year over 400 of our 1,400 applicants were for bursary places. One excellent way in is via partnership activity with feeder primary schools: Year 5 and 6 teachers can be powerful advocates for the best interests of their pupils, and enjoy the trust and confidence of families. As is so often the case, word of mouth recommendation is invaluable in persuading families to apply.

Helping the process

Once a family has been encouraged to apply, they may need help to navigate an admissions process that is far more complex than the local education authority system. Being prepared to offer advice by phone, or help to complete forms in person, can go a long way to keeping families in the pipeline. Likewise, our families appreciate that we do our own means-testing and home visits, rather than outsourcing the job to an impersonal third party. This helps us to build relationships early on. Many schools offer past paper practice, or even training sessions, to all applicants to help ‘level the playing field’ and ensure that bursary candidates can compete fairly with their more privileged (and often tutored) peers. It is important that anyone involved in assessing applications, and especially interviewing, has received training in unconscious bias and that decisions are made with appropriate regard to context.

For example, if we are assessing entrance exam results for a candidate from a primary school in ‘special measures’ that hasn’t had a permanent Maths teacher for four years, this is relevant contextual information! It is not just the children who will be feeling anxious throughout this process – parents will also need a lot of support and reassurance. They may well be worried about not ‘fitting in’ or not being able to afford ‘extras’. Again, being prepared to offer support via phone or in person goes a long way, as well as thinking through issues in advance. For example, at Latymer we ensure all our bursary families are able to attend school social events free of charge, and there is a fund to support all children with the cost of school trips, uniform and music lessons for example. If all goes well, and the applicant is offered a place and a bursary, this is not necessarily the end of the process. The family may be holding offers from a grammar school or another independent school, and so you may still need to persuade them that you are the right school for their son or daughter. In practice, however, we find that the conversion rate for bursary offers is very high, and is certainly higher than that for fee-payers in some parts of the country.

The final reward

Working in schools is deeply rewarding, but few things can compare with the opportunity to transform a young person’s life-chances. As an admissions professional, helping a bursary candidate gain access to your school can be one of the best parts of a job that is so vital, yet regularly underappreciated. David Goodhew, Head of Latymer Upper School, launched the Inspiring Minds campaign in 2017 which aims to raise £40m to offer one in four pupils a means-tested bursary by 2024. Last year he was a finalist in the ‘social mobility champion’ category of the UK Social Mobility Awards. Summer 2019 I




TURKEY Recruiting students from different cultures requires a tailored approach. Oya Christie-Miller provides some fascinating facts and advice


acing a country beset by economic crisis, political instability, and a failing education system, wealthy Turkish families are increasingly looking abroad in order to give their children a strong start in life. While the number of Turkish students studying at UK independent schools is much lower than that of the top contenders China, Hong Kong, USA and Russia, the challenging environment in Turkey is fuelling a higher demand for independent secondary education abroad and could raise student levels to that of Thailand or even Nigeria.

20 I Summer 2019


The Independent Schools Council (ISC) does not currently collect or publish Turkey-specific data in its annual census, but school counsellors and professionals working in the industry can attest to an increase in enquiries. This interest is thanks in part to the socalled ‘Ankara Agreement’, a business visa arrangement between Turkey and the UK. This makes the UK a relatively attractive and easy destination to wealthier Turkish families looking to relocate. Since the country suffered a failed coup d’état in 2016, the number of Turks applying for visas under the Ankara Agreement has more than doubled to 7,607 last year.1 While a weakening currency and economic recession may make the UK an increasingly costly option for many in Turkey, there is still a substantial pool of families with diversified investments abroad who are shielded from these headwinds enough to be able to consider UK independent schools as an option. In order to capture this increased demand independent schools should understand the Turkish education system, the profile of an average Turkish applicant, and the issues concerning Turkish parents; and tailor their message so as to reach prospective Turkish families.

Turkish education system

Since 2009, the academic performance of Turkish 15-year-olds has fallen sharply, according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).2 From 2012 to 2015, the country has dropped from 44th to 49th place in mathematics, from 43rd to 52nd place in science and from 41st to 50th in reading, coming in second to last among OECD countries.3 4 These poor attainment levels are accompanied by low public investment and high private spending on secondary education.5

These numbers paint a depressing picture, but it is worth remembering that students applying to UK independent schools will likely have studied at the top 20 to 25 private schools in Turkey, which have an excellent track record in preparing students for UK and US universities, as well as for higher education institutions elsewhere. The success of these private schools is reflected in recent changes to the entry requirement policies of UK universities. Until recently, UK universities commonly did not regard the Turkish high school diploma as a sufficient qualification for direct entry to undergraduate study and demanded additional qualifications such as the US’s SATs or AP tests. Since a few years ago, they have started to grant exceptions to students coming from the top private schools. Unlike UK independent schools, which generally offer either A-level or International Baccalaureate, Turkish schools follow a range of different curricula, with which UK independent schools looking to recruit Turkish students should become familiar. Turkish students enter secondary education in their 9th school year and finish in their 12th year. The secondary school they attend (both state and private) is determined by a combination of their academic results in years 6 to 8, as well as their scores in the TEOG (Transition from Primary to Secondary Education) exam which covers the following six subjects: Turkish, mathematics, science, religious culture and ethics, the history of the Turkish Republic, and a foreign language. Most private secondary schools offer both the standard Turkish secondary school curriculum and a more international curriculum designed for students who wish to apply to universities abroad. 

BBC Turkish. OECD Pisa Report 2015. 3 Turkish Minute. 4 The Guardian. 5 OECD, Turkey: Overview of the Education System (EAG 2018). 1 2

Summer 2019 I



The Turkish secondary school curriculum combines compulsory courses in Turkish language, Turkish literature and Turkish history, with further courses that depend on four available tracks: Turkish language and mathematics; science; social sciences; and foreign languages. The international curricula that are more commonly offered are the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP). There are also several non-English language focused schools with strong educational traditions that date from the period of the Ottoman Empire – such as the German School, the Austrian School, the Italian School, and several French schools – which offer a wide range of electives inspired by the national curricula of their respective main languages. This variety makes it harder for UK independent schools to accurately assess Turkish applicants and requires familiarity and good relationships with the students’ schools of origin.

Turkish student profile

At the risk of generalising, one can say that the average Turkish applicant to a UK independent school will most likely perform better in maths and sciences than in languages and social sciences. This reflects the fact that Turkish culture tends to place a much stronger emphasis on applied subjects such as business, engineering, and medicine – and the core sciences underlying them – than on the arts. Indeed, academically promising children are likely to be encouraged in this direction by their parents. While girls might be permitted some level of interest in languages, social sciences, art and design,

22 I Summer 2019

both boys and girls come under intensive familial pressure to perform well in maths and sciences. The English language levels of the Turkish applicant pool will vary significantly, due to different levels of support at school and outside, and it is therefore difficult to determine that of the average applicant. It would be fair to assume that the average Turkish student will require some level of ESL support to succeed at a UK independent school. Almost certainly, a Turkish student will fare less well than most UK students in critical thinking, reading and writing skills as these are not emphasised at all in the education system and lose out to rote learning and drilling. It is therefore even more important for a UK independent school to offer additional support in those areas than in ESL. The average student at a Turkish private school will be used to getting substantial extra tutoring to support his or her success. Turkish students start working with private tutors in primary education and rely on them to get into a good secondary school as well as a good university. This reflects the fact that much of what is covered in the classroom does not correlate with what the student needs to know in order to succeed in entrance exams or gain entrance to an overseas university, and means that a Turkish student might have to go through an initial cultural adjustment in the UK to start paying attention and engaging in the classroom. Learning that actually takes place in the school classroom environment, and for which the student will be responsible in exams, will necessitate different learning and study skills.

Parental concerns

Turkish parents see a UK independent school education as a potential ticket to the UK and international universities, and ultimately to improved international career prospects for their children. It is important to keep in mind, however, that many of the schools that applicants will be applying from will have comparable track records in placing students in such universities. Therefore, parents will expect to get good additional value in return for their substantial investment in a UK independent education. To put this into better context, most applicants will come from day schools in cities such as Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, which cost between £8,000 and £12,000 per annum (or a few boarding schools which cost from £13,000 to £17,000 per annum), which is about half to a third of a UK independent school education. Parents spend on average about £5,000 to £7,000, each year on additional tutoring, which still does not make up the difference between Turkish and UK school fees. The additional value they expect to get for their children will consist in studying away from the political, economic and social turmoil in Turkey, as well as gaining a social network in the UK and internationally. It is also important to consider that Turkish parents are interested not just in UK universities, but also in US, Canadian and other international English-language universities, with the emphasis being on US universities. This means they will expect a good track record and strong support in the overseas university application process.


Because of the emphasis placed by US universities on extracurricular activities, Turkish parents will look for a wealth of extracurricular options and the freedom to pursue any number of them. And due to the cultural emphasis on applied university subjects such as engineering, business and medicine, Turkish parents will also expect UK schools to support their children especially in gaining access to related university courses. Finally, a lot of Turkish students in private education grow up relatively sheltered in gated communities in major cities, and Turkish parents might be concerned about the safety of their children once away from home. There is a perception among Turkish parents that students at UK boarding schools are more likely to be exposed to illicit drugs, and they will want reassurance that the school has a handle on the issue.

Reaching and working with Turkish applicants

There are several ways, some of which are alluded to above, in which UK schools can tailor their message in order to reach prospective Turkish parents. Most importantly, they will want to know that the UK school is familiar with the curriculum of their child’s school, or is at least familiar with the overall private school system and is willing to evaluate the school within that context. They will also want to know that they are getting a good return on their investment in the form of: •• strong additional educational support that goes beyond SEN support (to replace the tutoring the students currently receive) •• competitive academic and extracurricular preparation for both UK and overseas universities, especially the US •• a good alumni network •• a safe, drug-free environment.

“There’s a perception that students are more likely to be exposed to drugs” The parents will expect the UK school to quantify these services in their marketing material as much as possible, so that they can draw a clear comparison between them and the services the students are getting in their current educational arrangements. Turkish parents and students are likely to consider the treatment they get during the application process as an indicator of the personal attention the UK school will give them once the student enrols, and will expect the school administration to communicate regularly during the process. Personal contact and attention ranks much higher as a value than following procedure, and as such, a successful recruiting strategy will likely involve assigning a key person to the family, with whom the family can communicate regularly and from whom they can receive updates. Schools that follow these suggestions will be better placed to capture the growing demand from Turkey, which should continue to expand in the next few years because of – or perhaps in spite of – the political and economic turmoil the country is currently experiencing.

Oya ChristieMiller is the US College Admissions Consultant at William Clarence Education. Oya holds a BA from Yale University, and an MA from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey. She is a former Yale alumna interviewer and a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley. Summer 2019 I


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HAVE CHANGED Hilary Moriarty gives a personal perspective on the way in which schools marketing has evolved over the years


ometimes you live through revolutionary times without even noticing. Then one day you wake up, and the world is different. I’m thinking in particular of the world of schools’ marketing.

Selling on merit

I remember a time when it was rare for an independent school to employ anyone with a particular brief labelled ‘Marketing’. There was a fairly pervasive notion that a good school would sell itself on its own merits. Parents would like what they saw

and heard about a school and its pupils, almost literally on a personal basis – smartly dressed students behaving well on the streets, occasional articles in the local press when a student was selected for a county or national team, Oxbridge entrants smiling in the local paper. Happy pictures of certificates being waved on Results Days. And for the many independent day schools – the school was there, around the corner, within reach. Why go elsewhere? ‘Go elsewhere’ is of course exactly what independent boarding schools hoped parents would do. Sometimes a very long

way elsewhere. I write as someone who lived in South Wales and sent a son to boarding school in Lancashire. I don’t recall any advertisement for the school, but they had stayed in touch with my husband because he was an old boy. Indeed, former pupils have long been fair game, if not for their sons and daughters to join the school, then for contributions to the school’s continuing prosperity in a very demanding market. Apart from academic results, schools need to build and renovate to present a fine twenty-first century face to today’s 

“A good school would sell itself on its own merits” Summer 2019 I



discerning parents. Many an ‘old boy’ or ‘old girl’ will have contributed to the schools’ fund raising as a matter of course and even conscience – giving something back to a school which had served them well. And here’s something of a crossover – all that fund raising – is it marketing or development? Actually, it’s both. And each contribute to the most vital job of all, recruiting pupils so that the school is pleasantly ‘full’, whatever its intended size. It has pupils today who will do very well academically and in many other areas of endeavour – sport and drama and music and more – making the school desirable to others tomorrow.

“Great headteachers are not necessarily excellent salespeople” Transitional times

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when independent schools – in their lofty way – did not have a marketing manager or director or department. Indeed, I can remember tales of real antagonism towards the very idea of a school employing a professional marketer, as if employing a professional for the job were to acknowledge a school needed ‘a salesperson’. In some ways, the idea of ‘selling’ a school needed to be ‘sold’ both to wary headteachers – ‘What do you mean I need a marketing officer? Are you saying I’m not good enough?’ – and to money-conscious governors – ‘How much? And give up a valuable teaching space to provide an office?’ In the early days, in a ‘needs must’ kind of way, quite unlikely but very willing people were drawn in to ‘marketing’. Little regard was given to their professional expertise with more interest in who they were – a housemaster’s wife with time on her hands, a governor’s wife. Even I, in my deputy head days, took an interest in marketing in 26 I Summer 2019

a school which was – I thought – behind the curve in publicising its strengths and considerable history. While I was trying to interest the local press in the school’s goings-on, a revolution was occurring in university education which created, among other ‘new’ things, degrees in marketing. The real McCoy. An academic course which would offer employers in any field trained and experienced marketing experts, offering the employer a skill set, vision and strategic experience which enables the education specialist to do her/his job full-time. At its simplest, it boils down to, ‘You make it, I’ll flog it…’ as a would-be schools marketing professional with a background in soap and detergents once cheerfully informed me.

Bridging the gap

One of the spurs to schools investing in professional marketers is the growth in overseas boarders. Out there, a very long way away, there are parents hungry for a British education for their children, and are unable to potter round the rolling English countryside having a quick look at three or four schools whose prospectuses and web presence they have liked. Regular exhibitions for schools are held in locations such as Hong Kong and mainland China, in Russia, Germany and Africa. Increasingly, schools work with agents and companies such as William Clarence, the ‘brokers’ between parents and schools, helping to ensure a placement is the right one for both the child and the school, whatever initial language or cultural difficulties there may be. For some headteachers, the arrival of the professional was a blessed relief. The notion of boosting boarding numbers by attending a schools’ fair in Hong Kong, for instance, was a complete anathema to some heads. No matter how rich – in all senses – such a source of excellent, bright, hard-working and musical pupils might be, it was very public ‘selling’. And great headteachers are not necessarily excellent salespeople. Overheard from an august lady at a headteachers’ conference, ‘I would not be seen lifting my skirts in the streets of Hong Kong!’ OK, that’s one way to look at it… but parents three thousand

miles away are not necessarily education experts and they do need to know if yours will be the right school for their child. The marketing professional bridges the gap. Our schools may have a long and much-respected history; today’s marketing team is about ensuring that they also have a bright future. And the most forward-looking schools have embraced the notion that marketing professionals in various shapes and forms are vital contributors to the school’s success. A director of marketing is a senior position on the school’s leadership team, enabling the academics to get on with their daily, classroom, exam room, extra-mural, sporting, musical and magical business. If the final responsibility for recruiting the right number of the best pupils for an independent school rests with the Head, she or he will be all the more successful for the support and advice of a cracking marketing department, headed by a marketing professional, who might well say, ‘Give me the story, I will tell it. I’m a recruiter too – watch me.’

In this publication, you have a platform to tell us more: who are you, how did you get here, what makes the job worth doing and how do you know you’re doing it well? If this has looked like an article, it’s actually an invitation: we would love to hear your story. Email us at Hilary Moriarty has thirteen years’ experience as head or deputy in independent UK schools and eight years as National Director of the Boarding Schools’ Association. She is a schools inspector and an educational journalist.

Introductory Reader Offer William Clarence Education, publisher of Independent School Admissions Plus, invites readers working in student recruitment to join a

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The Importance of an Admissions Dashboard in School Marketing hosted by Nathalie Sinyard at 2pm on Tuesday, 11 June 2019 Tracking and reporting on the key metrics underpinning every school’s student recruitment activities is critical to both insightful business planning and effective resource allocation within an admissions team. This webinar looks at how the raw numbers generated by every admissions system should be analysed and presented to provide a vital management tool.

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Summer 2019 I



“I am a champion of the personal touch”


DIGITAL IN PERSPECTIVE We all recognise the value of digital marketing in today’s competitive arena. However, Philippa Scudds recommends it should not eclipse a wider spectrum of marketing activity


ast week I was contacted by at least half a dozen salespeople championing the merits of digital advertising. It’s very easy to get bamboozled by the jargon – PPC, MPUs, click-throughs, granular, wraps, banners, canvas – not to mention the impressive ‘impressions stats’. Apparently you can reach 10,000 customers in a matter of hours through a home page newspaper banner ad, for a fraction of the price of a one-off half page in the print version. Sounds a no-brainer. But is it? Who are these potential ‘customers’? Do they have a genuine interest in independent schools? Are they the target demographic? It’s all too easy to feel, particularly with advertising, that digital is simply where you ‘need to be’ to keep up with your rivals, rather than an informed strategic budgetary decision. Education marketing has changed beyond all recognition since the millennium. When I started working in the industry in 2002 it wasn’t really taken seriously, but now you can even take a diploma

28 I Summer 2019

in it. In a similar vein, in the past schools relied heavily on word-of-mouth for their marketing, and parents tended to choose schools with which they had a family link or were within reach geographically. There was far less research done by parents and, therefore, in some ways pupil recruitment was a much simpler process. The arrival of the internet was a real game changer for schools marketers. Almost inconceivable now, but in the early 2000s virtually no schools had a website, and if they had been enlightened enough to develop one, it was very basic. Fastforward 19 years and you would be hard pressed to find a school where digital did not feature heavily within the remit.

A positive but not a panacea

On the whole digital has been a real positive. Websites have enabled families to research a much broader range of education options for their children online, which in turn has allowed them to make more informed choices. It’s also been helpful to the increasing number of

‘first-time buyers’ who may not be familiar with the way independent schools operate. You can give a much more up-to-date and interactive introduction to your school through the power of the web. Social media has taken this a stage further, with parents able to see instantly what’s happening at the school. It’s enabled schools to provide real-time updates, alongside increased insights through image and video and as a result has brought more engagement with prospective, current and former parents and pupils as well as those associated with your school in the wider community. It’s easier to track marketing results too, through tools such as Google Analytics – always helpful when writing that effectiveness report for the governors. My concern is that it’s all too easy to think that digital is the panacea for all marketing departments, and will instantly lead to increased interest, admissions registrations and larger rolls. While there’s no doubt it’s now a central strand of what we all do (there is noticeable angst in the


marketing department if the app stops working or the website goes down!), it’s important to take a step back now and then, think about your product and your customer, and which of the plethora of digital initiatives will enhance your marketing, and which will not. Choosing a school is one of, if not, the most important, personal and instinctdriven decisions a parent will make. It’s not taken at the touch of a button, and I am a champion of the personal touch. However engaging your website is, however many likes you get on your Facebook page, however many videos are viewed on your YouTube channel, these are the hooks, the background. The quality of a visit, from the personal greeting on arrival, to the firm handshake of the head, to the pupils who look you in the eye as they talk excitedly about their school experiences – these are priceless contributors to marketing and admissions. Get them wrong, and your digital marketing initiatives suddenly seem rather insignificant in the overall picture.

The P word

Digital versus print – it’s about maintaining a balance

I also remain a believer that there is a place for print. There is something you can convey about a school in terms of the quality of the product which is just not the same online. The feel of the paper, the striking photography, the style of the font – they create a lasting impression. Not forgetting that they are something tangible to be taken away and perused long after the visit, and which sit on a coffee table in full view of friends. The power of that reach to a target audience is something not to be underestimated when balancing off the cost between print material and digital spend. An iPad just doesn’t have quite the same impact. At Canford we’ve just launched a new printed prospectus – although it’s available online too – alongside other key pieces of information and independent reviews such as the Good Schools Guide.

We have already received a lot of very positive feedback. Until we feel the appetite is no longer there, we will continue to offer it. That said, design needs to remain dynamic, both online and in print. We’ve been quite innovative over the years in this respect in our marketing at Canford. We’ve pushed the boundaries a bit and really spent time thinking outside the box and looking to the corporate world for innovative ideas rather than simply within, what can sometimes be, a rather insular world of schools marketing. I think we’ve appreciated a shift in the market and produced literature which is clear and transparent, for a new generation of parents who want to see at-a-glance the value and demonstrable outcomes for their child in return for parting with large sums of money in fees. Similarly, our website menu is quite unusual among schools, with three distinct entry points, yet we believe much clearer and simpler for the visitor. Our digital marketing work led to two nominations, one regional and one national, for the high quality of our communications. To be shortlisted alongside EE and Talk Talk was quite a heady moment for the Canford marketing team! There is no doubt that digital in all its forms has become a highly-effective tool in the schools marketer’s box, and it’s certainly here to stay. Be selective and make it work for you, so it improves the impression of your school, attracts the right target audience, and enhances your strategic marketing plan – but doesn’t control it. Philippa Scudds has over 25 years’ experience working in marketing and communications in the City and within education. She is currently Director of Marketing and Communications at Canford; a communications consultant (Cathcart Communications; and a regular writer and speaker on marketing issues within the industry. Summer 2019 I




BEING PREPARED Compliance with Tier 4 sponsorship is vital for international student recruitment. Nathalie Sinyard provides some sound advice for keeping on track


n connection with your sponsor licence I would like to complete a compliance visit to your premises... I will require access to your systems and files.” This is an email that will make any Tier 4 sponsor apprehensive, not least because of the administrative headache on the near horizon. But Tier 4 audits are an essential part of remaining open to international students, and demonstrating compliance is recognised as being of critical importance. Fortunately, being prepared in advance can make the experience much smoother and can also provide a good opportunity to take stock of current practices.

“it is essential that all relevant staff have quality training on immigration matters”

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It is absolutely essential that sufficient resource is allocated to this area, in the same way that a school would provide the resources necessary to ensure full compliance with OFSTED, or equivalent requirements. This includes providing quality training to all staff involved, not just those in admissions. The Home Office places significant trust on schools when it grants a sponsor licence and its expectations are high. Essentially, the Home Office has outsourced part of its role in monitoring immigration compliance to those schools that choose to apply for a sponsor licence, but they retain a duty to ensure that sponsors discharge their responsibilities – which is does largely through audits. Despite the voluminous and often onerous regulations, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) frequently state that they do not wish to dictate how schools and other institutions operate, recognising that significant differences exist within the sector and one process might work well for one school and be entirely inappropriate for another. However, they do expect processes to be consistent with Tier 4 requirements, support immigration control, and demonstrate clearly that this is being achieved. Thorough preparation includes: •• having fully documented policies readily available and checked against the latest requirements; •• staff well-trained both in UKVI rules and in your own procedures; •• and regular checks that these are working well to deliver the right outcomes. The focus for all schools is on delivering a high-quality education along with a duty of care to all students, and to ensure the quality of school life for families. So, of course, best practice will reflect this and it is not solely driven by the requirement to comply with UK immigration legislation.

Audit expectations

The surest way of reducing the tension associated with a possible UKVI audit is to know what is in store and what is expected. A UKVI audit is a practical

challenge and so having a detailed plan for its logistics will help the exercise run smoothly. Audits may be announced, in which case you will have a few days, weeks or possibly even months to prepare. Or, the school may be subject to an unannounced audit and you will only know it is happening when the team from UKVI arrive on your premises. If you are informed in advance, and key staff are going to be unavoidably absent on the dates given, it may be possible to negotiate a little and agree a mutually convenient alternative date. Audits can last anything from one day up to a full week. However, if any issues are identified during the initial audit then it is most likely that UKVI will return for an unannounced follow-up audit. Where an audit is announced you will be informed which student files UKVI plan to review, and be given a list of their Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) numbers. These will usually reflect your current students, in addition to files that relate to previous reports submitted, such as refusals or student withdrawals (not simply CAS you have assigned during the past 12 months). Sometimes you will only receive part of the selected list in advance of the audit, and then are given an additional list of CAS numbers when the auditors arrive. With unannounced visits of course, you will only be informed of the files required when the UKVI team turn up at your institution.

Be prepared

Whatever way the audit takes place, if you can answer the questions below, you are well on the way to being ready for being prepared. 1. Staff •• Who are the key staff who will take the lead in the audit? They need to be able to discuss your policies and processes with confidence, including recruitment and admissions processes, enrolment, attendance and any ongoing monitoring and reporting duties.

•• If these staff are not available on the day, for whatever reason (particularly if an unannounced audit occurs), have you identified who should take this role on? •• Do reception staff know who to contact if UKVI staff turn up to carry out an unannounced audit? •• Will there be enough staff to assist the inspectors in finding files, printing and so on, bearing in mind this could take them away from normal duties for potentially several days. •• Do the staff who are carrying out any printing have a check-list to hand to ensure that they print out all the required documents? 2. Documentation •• Do you have written school policies and procedures which can be handed to UKVI? •• If you do, will the information on student files show these policies are being consistently implemented? •• Do you plan to present student records electronically? Remember, you will need to provide a complete file for each CAS (including all documents used to assess the applicant prior to assigning a CAS), attendance records, exam results, documents to support mitigating circumstances, current contact details as well as historical contact details. It is also good practice to have a copy of the CAS available for each student so that UKVI can clearly see what qualifications have been used to assess them. •• Do you have information relating to any reports you have submitted via the SMS, as well as a screen shot from the SMS to evidence when the necessary report was submitted? •• Do you have all relevant email communications in students’ files? 3. Logistics •• Where will you host UKVI representatives while they meet with staff and review files? •• Will they have use of sufficient computers if the files are to be presented electronically? 

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•• If the files are to be presented as hard copies, are these already printed and checked, or would they need to be printed off on the day of an unannounced visit? •• If they need to be printed, who will do this as admissions staff are likely to be engaged with the visitors? •• Do your systems allow you to search by CAS number? This is the information which will be provided to you by UKVI.

Staff training

Audits place heavy demands on school staff. Therefore, it is essential that all relevant staff have quality training on immigration matters. This should not be limited to those who are seen as the ‘immigration experts’ and deal with international students on a day-to-day basis. If high standards in Tier 4 matters are to be achieved and maintained, they must be supported by senior staff and others who also having a good understanding of this area. Suggested key areas for training include: •• Tier 4 basics: admissions practices including assessing applicants and assigning a CAS •• compliant marketing and recruitment •• working with international agents and managing risk •• preparing for an audit •• developing systems and processes that are compliant, efficient and effective.

Working with UKVI

Maintaining an open dialogue with UKVI can be extremely beneficial. It is an opportunity to raise concerns with them directly; advise of any changes or developments in the school that fall outside the reporting requirements; ask for assistance interpreting the guidance; or simply to ask for additional background on a prospective applicant prior to assigning a CAS. However, channels currently available for schools to communicate with UKVI are not particularly straightforward. If you have opted to become a Premium Sponsor then take advantage of the named Premium Account Manager (PAM). However, even this service can be quite varied depending on the experience and knowledge of the PAM. Schools who are not a Premium Sponsor, or are not yet eligible to do so are even more limited in their options. They are restricted to using the Educators Helpdesk, which is a generic email contact provided in the sponsor guidance, or making use of the various sector bodies. Nathalie Sinyard is an education consultant specialising in immigration and admissions. Prior to this she was Admissions Quality Assurance Manager (Europe) for Cognita Schools, and Director of Admissions at New Hall.

TAKE-AWAYS UKVI’s Visa Communications Toolkit provides information about visa options and services, as well as helping to answer visa related enquiries. Schools can register and download materials from the GREAT Britain campaign asset library ( • All staff should have at least an awareness of Tier 4, with a widespread group having a basic understanding of the requirements to support those who have more in-depth, specialised knowledge. It is not something that one person or even one team should be responsible for in isolation. • Staff should have relevant and regular training. The Immigration Rules and sponsor guidance usually change at least four times a year, so staff need to keep themselves up-to-date with the latest requirements. (This training could be arranged with another school in the area which would also provide an opportunity to network and share best practice.) • Document all school policies rigorously. This helps to add clarity even where the Immigration Rules and Tier 4 guidance might appear ambiguous. Ensure that all staff and students have access to these policies, understand how to apply them, and how to show that they are applying them. • Ensure policies are correctly implemented by conducting your own internal audits to review their outputs. Are the expected outputs being achieved and demonstrated by the evidence? • Have a written plan prepared for a UKVI audit. Relevant staff should know who is responsible for each aspect before, during and following an audit. All schools should plan how to deal with the logistics of an audit, whether announced or not, and test fully how this plan will be implemented.

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Compliance throughout the student journey: recruitment to completion Policies and procedures for UKVI requirements £250 + VAT per delegate Audit process and tips to make it easier Includes comprehensive reference material How do UKVI auditors work? Lunch and refreshments What does a good record look like? Interesting content and delivery We run regular workshops at our Gatwick offices. Visit for more information. We pride ourselves on demystifying the immigration jargon. We also deliver in-house training. Contact: 01293 889691



“there is a world of difference between repositioning and revitalisation”

34 I Summer 2019


DOES YOUR BRAND do you justice? Peter Young guides you through the brand review process and provides some top tips along the way


he contribution marketing and communications make to the success of a school and its brand is well-appreciated. The marketing and development function is frequently represented at the top table of school management structures. As with every brand, when a school takes the first tentative steps to reviewing what it stands for and how it is projected externally, there are some golden rules to follow. If you have an idle moment, Google ‘worst branding disasters’ and see how professionals from British Airways, to Coca Cola sometimes can get it wrong.

Repositioning vs revitalisation

The first step is recognising that there is a world of difference between repositioning and revitalisation. Very few schools will ever need to attempt the former as it requires a completely new proposition for something that exists already. Therefore, unless all around you is failing and the brand you presently have is regarded so negatively as to be terminally damaging, you will not be repositioning. Much more likely, the branding is sound but looks tired and worn. It may no longer reflect the school as it is today and

needs to be freshened up, given a better coherence across materials and a more marked and obvious personality to draw out the attributes of the school. Literally, a revitalisation to provide new energy. Even this approach must be taken with caution. Many school brands that revitalise end up with brand manifestations which appear discordant with their personality. This can happen when the quest for modernity and change trumps all other thinking, replacing what has been with something completely different for the sake of it. This can lead to all the attributes of the past being eclipsed by great graphic design and colourful templates that no longer belong to the school brand. A dangerous, damaging and expensive way to fail.


Start by assembling the team who will set the budget, liaise with external suppliers, keep the school management informed, execute the outputs and deliver the end result. The head of this team should not only have relevant experience – the head of marketing and communications, for instance – but also the power to take executive decisions. Build a team of no

more than four, to include a governor. Working with admissions, this team will be able to provide a profile of the target audience as well as an insight into expectations. It’s also important to keep stakeholders informed, so plan your internal communications. Decide who to involve – senior management team, governors, and perhaps head of the parent teacher body. Explain the process, the expected timeline and what the end result is intended to provide.


It’s helpful from the outset to gain an understanding from staff, current pupils and their parents on the views they hold regarding the current brand profile of the school. A simple email questionnaire – Survey Monkey provides an easy-to-apply, customisable survey platform – can be circulated asking for input. Keep the survey short and specifically about one aspect of the branding review, for example, how would you describe the personality of our school? The survey is for evaluating current perceptions, not to provide the solution. Brands gain distinction and memorability by applying unique attributes. 

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All schools will have something to draw from their history, an approach to the way they integrate with today’s values or are special in one way or another. Parade and be proud of this. Don’t try to invent a personality to suit your story; it’s better and more credible to illuminate and build on what exists. Make sure that what you evolve can be supported by provenance, rather than innovation. Research your creative suppliers too and invite at least two agencies to present their ideas and costings. At this stage the most important element is a brief. Try to contain this to no more than two pages. Be concise about what the present brand position is, why it needs to be reviewed, what you wish to achieve, what the outputs are (branding, website, prospectus), schedule and budget. It is against this brief that all proposals can then be judged.


Adopting a strapline or slogan should be considered with caution. It is easy to slip a statement alongside your brand that can appear trite and banal. Similarly, unless there is reason for a motif, a historical context for example, don’t force it upon a logo. Some schools believe a digital prospectus and website are the most important sales and communications instruments – a recent example was a leading independent school that, temporarily, did away entirely with a printed prospectus. The reality is digital does not trump print. The two serve different purposes and need to co-exist.

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When it comes to design, avoid the pitfalls of smiling, staged happy faces and library images. They are creatively lazy, won’t distinguish your school from any other and are visually dull. Budget for professional photography, it’s well-worth the outlay, and can be used in your own collateral as well as editorially in magazines to further endorse your brand.


Whatever refresh a school decides upon it must be applied universally. Budget will need to be set aside for possible new signage, stationery, uniforms and every aspect of school life that is visible. Before the work is complete, start planning your external communications. A school does not have to be seen everywhere, just in the right places and ready to leap into a conversation when necessary. Make sure someone in your school is conversant with social media and how to engage with it. Finally, organise a launch and invite the local press.

Peter Young is a school governor and Chairman of the Business Marketing Awards; a non-executive with start-up and established businesses; and a former board member of multinational marketing communication companies.

TOP TIPS • Build a team, centered on a project master • Keep the team as small as possible • Get governors and staff to ‘buy in’ to the project • Identify the scope and reach of the task • Understand and describe your target market, both domestic and overseas, boarding and day pupils • Allocate a sensible budget • Identify key points of distinction, be true to yourself • Write a brief, no more than two pages, and have it signed off. • Get professional support for design and photography • Make sure there is consistency across all collateral • Avoid jargon in copy and stock images, don’t appear to be something you are not • Present the results to all staff • Invite in the editor of the local papers and radio; and explain the story behind the initiative • Revitalisation does not mean reinvention – keep close to your own distinctive values and ethos

Making social media work for schools Shareable for schools is a dedicated social media and content marketing tool developed specifically for the needs of independent schools. Allowing you to manage your social networks, schedule posts, engage with your audience, and measure ROI from our all-in-one social dashboard. Our highly experienced team can also advise on, or look after, all aspects of social media strategy to ensure you maximise your investment and get the most out of your social channels. 020 3900 1919

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