How are you going to present your school for Sixth Form recruitment? Have you thought of using a traditional marketing approach to promote your school?
Students in years 10 and 11 are aware that they have options and are keen to exercise their right to choose. Students don’t make their choices in isolation, parents also have an influence and need to be targeted and engaged by schools’ sixth forms. And all schools state, independent and FE colleges are now competing against each other.
The schools that are most successful in recruiting for sixth form are those who are listening to students and parents, addressing concerns and aspirations head on, and responding to what students really want.
Look through many sixth form brochures, the school often leads on academic achievement being the reason their sixth form was chosen, then read the comments from the sixth formers themselves – how many mention academic achievement as the reason they chose or enjoy their particular sixth form. There’s often a big disconnect.
So, how to promote your sixth form to students and parents? The first step is to work out how you are different to other schools – and market yourself on your strengths. This is where traditional market research comes into its own:
Who are your competitors?
Look through their marketing material (websites, brochures, adverts) – what are they promoting as their strengths? Is it academic progress, their facilities, pastoral support, extra-curricular activity or something else?
Are any of them marketing themselves really well; is there anything you can learn from them?
Do you have any different strengths to your competitors that you can focus on, or if you have similar strengths what would you say to prospective parents to convince them that your school is better?
Talk to Your Students
Carry out focus groups and interviews early and encourage honesty. Ask them to suggest a ‘top five’ of what they’d like to see in your Sixth Form and find out how they are researching alternatives. Is there a particular media influencing their choices, some schools are levering social media, online blogs, videos from sixth formers. You can use the same media to recruit students from other schools.
Ask your existing sixth formers why they chose your sixth form – use these reasons in all of your marketing material – appeal to what the students are looking for. It may not be what you think!
Listen to parents.
Why not run a focus group to find out what parents really think of your Sixth Form and other alternatives. What are their concerns and what do they value? Don’t just talk to parents of existing sixth formers, invite parents of students lower down the school, and if you can, talk to some parents who sent students to other schools – why did they do this?
Use your sixth formers to sell the benefits of your Sixth Form
Link your Y10 and Y11 students to Sixth Formers and let them see what it’s really like to be in a Sixth Form. This could be lesson shadowing, teambuilding events, joint sporting events or even some joint assemblies. Develop case studies of your best Sixth Formers for use in wider media. Have you thought of setting up a blog where a few selected Sixth Formers can talk of their experiences?
Keep communicating. Not just Sixth Form results, talk about the innovations you are making and the facilities on offer, the enrichment activities, trips and successes. Keep a steady drip feed of information about sixth form, through your prospectus, advertising, your website, PR, emails, and don’t forget social media (really important for talking to students!).
Make your Open Evening memorable
Review your key messages: What are you looking to communicate to prospective parents and students – focus on your strengths, what makes you different from other schools and the innovations you are making to meet stakeholder needs. Address the drivers identified in your focus groups.
Use student achievements and stories in as many ways as possible: Parents choose schools because they believe their children will thrive and succeed there. You need to show how students like their children have done this, through case studies and personal interaction. You can present case studies as videos, as posters, or as presentations from the students themselves.
Why should people attend your event? It’s easy to place an advert or poster that just announces an event. Instead, any advertising material needs to say why your school is different and back it up with evidence. And for those who can’t make it – let them know where they can find further information or how to arrange a visit.
Publicise your event. Use your whole stakeholder network to publicise your event – you could put posters in parents’ businesses and community meeting places, local shops, and share what the event will look like on social media.
Use other stakeholders: School governors could talk about the school and their role in it. The PTA can do more than make tea! Let them talk privately to prospective parents or ask some to present on how they have found the school.
Give great briefs: Everyone involved – teachers, students and parents involved should have copies of the information to be given out on the evening in advance, know the strengths of the schools and who to talk to if there are any difficult questions.
Be different. How many events follow the same pattern – speeches, tours, goodbye? Why not show a video? Instead of presenting to your visitors, have a ‘Question Time’ Event, where the visitors ask questions to a panel – this could be made up of SLT and or your current sixth formers.
Walk in your visitors’ shoes: What does a parent or student want to see? Make sure you and your guides walk the route they will be taking, do you see the right messages and the right people? Focus on the bits that make the difference!
Make sure you know who attended: Get everyone to fill in a feedback form and capture their details. Contact those you were expecting who didn’t make it and invite them for a personal tour or let them know where they can find more information. Ask students for feedback too. Follow up with a thank you to all of those who did attend with a letter or email.
Share the Open Day: it’s a great way to reinforce your messages and to communicate to those who couldn’t make it. Video parts of the evening for your website, ask student guides and visitors and parents to write a blog for your website and your newsletter, or create an open evening newsletter or e-zine around the event. Tweet feedback or comments, post pictures on Instagram or Facebook.
Improve for the future: As soon as possible, get a sample of those involved together to find out what was good and what needed improving!