More often than not, publicity around Education in the media is less than positive. This coupled with the fact that competition between schools is increasing, has created an environment in which schools and academies must market themselves effectively. If the approach is strategic, there are clear benefits to a school above and beyond counteracting negativity.
Developing a strong school brand, especially if it is formulated in conjunction with all stakeholders, fosters a sense of belonging and supports the development of a cohesive and motivated community. The importance of this is apparent when you consider that an average secondary school has a ‘team’ (including pupils and employees) in excess of 1000 while a medium-sized business would have less than 250 employees.
The traditional vehicle for school communication is the prospectus. Historically this was the go-to document to share pertinent and important information with parents. However, the format and style of this is evolving. The most powerful, impactful prospectuses combine stunning photography with concise, well-chosen text to create a document that is more a public declaration of a schools’ values and ethos than an information depository.
Great things happen in every school every day. Savvy schools see the need to continually spread this positive message. If the prospectus can be thought of as a public declaration of the school’s intent: a 3-year plan; a mission statement, then a termly magazine is the equivalent to a progress report. It is a vehicle to share success and celebrate the great and varied achievements of the school, an opportunity for the community to share their story.
As in all sectors, increased digitalisation is also a driver for change. More than ever, schools are considering how they present themselves and communicate online and through other digital channels. A statutory source of information for Ofsted is a school’s website and schools are also exploring communicating with parents through texts and social media. As the ways we consume information shifts, so the pressure for schools to reflect this in their marketing increases.
Innovative Headteachers are also strategically looking at the school environment as a key factor in the motivation and engagement of pupils and staff. In the 2012 report, “Getting to Good”, Ofsted notes that in schools moving to good: “The physical environment was improved…improving the environment for learning for teachers and pupils…reinforced they were valued.”
Words&Pictures have worked with schools across the country, pioneering the concept of wall art, to transform learning environments. Wall art combines stunning professional designs – either photographic or illustrative – with innovative materials, enabling all areas of a school to be enhanced. The scope and scale varies greatly from atriums and entrance vestibules to school halls and corridors, and works as effectively in clinical new builds as architecturally challenged Victorian buildings.
Sara Pecheur, Headteacher of Wheeler’s Lane Primary School in Birmingham, describes her decision to work with Words&Picture on an extensive wall art project in her school that transformed key areas: “We invested in wall art because we wanted to improve our school environment so it celebrated the different learning opportunities available for our children. Words&Pictures was able to provide a practical solution for using difficult, empty walls that couldn’t be used for displays.” This focus on the school environment is also demonstrated at St. Wilfrid’s RC College in South Tyneside, where significant investment, both financially and creatively, has gone into transforming the school dining hall. Students now have a lunchtime experience that is mature and pleasant; dining in an environment where wall art has been used to reinforce the school’s ethos and values. The Headteacher of the school, Brendan Tapping, explains the reason for making this investment: “At St Wilfrid’s we aspire to be a “world-class” institution. Our inspirational signage supports us in working towards achieving this goal by immersing our staff and students in an environment which is attractive and motivational.”
With limited budgets schools cannot, of course, do everything at once. Leadership teams, therefore, should take the time to reflect on their priorities: which stakeholders they are engaging with effectively and which they are failing to reach. This audit should be the basis for action. By reflecting on and measuring the current effectiveness of their communications, schools will be able to ensure that the marketing channels into which they invest give defined returns on investment. Whether this is an increase in student numbers, improved staff morale, better parental engagement or enhanced pupil attitudes to learning.