Protecting your roll by promoting your school

Written by: Imogen Rowley | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Following research showing the hardships faced by rural and isolated primary schools, Imogen Rowley offers further advice on promoting your school to increase your pupil roll

Research into the challenges faced by schools in rural communities has found that one of the biggest hurdles is the low number of pupils on roll. With their communities tending to be smaller and more dispersed, 42 per cent of rural headteachers who responded to The Key’s survey said their school is undersubscribed.

With core funding for schools determined on a per-pupil basis, rural schools that are beset by low pupil numbers, as well as wider socio-economic and infrastructural challenges, are finding the demands on their budget aren’t covered by their funding.

However, one village school in Suffolk has worked to steadily double its roll to become stable again, increasing from 21 to 44 pupils. Snape Primary School in rural Suffolk implemented a number of promotional tactics, which could work in other schools facing similar challenges. While these tactics may seem simple, collectively they have made a difference for Snape.

Make sure new-comers know about your school

Any families moving to your area need to know that your school is a great option for their children. The first place any prospective resident will check is local property listings, so make sure that property sites that also show information about local schools, like Rightmove, show the correct details about your school and showcase your positives.

Similarly, you could consider leaving promotional materials or leaflets in estate agents, or other community facilities or busy places – such as GP practices, post offices or church hall noticeboards.

Remember that your school website is like your shop window – having found your name online or on a leaflet, people will instinctively go to your website to learn more about you, so make sure it is always up-to-date. You might want to consider creating a dedicated “prospective parents” section on your website. It is a user-friendly way to highlight the information that families need to know, and allows you to draw their attention to the school’s best features.

Meet your community’s needs

Research what other schools in your community offer, speak to parents and look for any needs that aren’t already being met or are in short supply in your area. Could you plug a gap and offer something to incentivise parents to choose your school over others?

A couple of years ago, Snape Primary School only took pupils up to year 4. When the local authority reviewed the provision in the area, the school predicted that it would lose pupils whose parents would prefer a consistent primary school experience for them. As such, it expanded to take pupils up to year 6, showing ambition and confidence in its viability for the future.

Of course, if adding a pre-school or other extended service is not viable for you, make sure to build good relationships with neighbouring nurseries and pre-schools, to open up pipelines of new pupils. You could consider open days once a term for pre-school children and their parents, for example, to provide an opportunity to meet staff, see the facilities and consider whether the school is right for them.

Get more people through your doors

No amount of marketing, leafleting or reading Ofsted reports will beat the connection that parents will feel when they visit your school and begin to imagine their child there. This is especially important where you have preconceptions to counter, such as a poor Ofsted inspection or a negative piece of publicity.

Look at your events calendar and pick a “main” event per term that you can encourage the whole community to attend. Snape runs a summer fair that anyone can enjoy, not just those connected to the school. To make it a success, the organisers have approached local businesses to secure enticing raffle prizes (like vouchers for a three-course meal at the local pub) and sold raffle tickets door-to-door and in pubs and community centres.

Host and participate in community volunteer events

If hosting your own events is tricky, try approaching local community groups and see if there are any ways in which pupils or staff could get involved in their activities.

For example, Snape Primary School’s pupils worked with the community gardening group to help plant bulbs around the village. It worked perfectly – not only was it fun and educational, but it offered a great publicity opportunity with the local parish magazine and helped to build a relationship with the community gardeners that has led to other opportunities later down the line.

Promote yourselves constantly

Get your school’s name out there to as many parents as you can. If you don’t shout about your achievements and selling points, people won’t know why they should consider your school over others. To help spread the word, think of ways to get mentioned in the local press.

Make a list of local media outlets, and note down the best contact at each one – usually the news or education desk. Map out a calendar of planned activities throughout the school year that will be good news stories for you (or do this on a termly basis), and tell your press contacts about them near the time, or invite them to attend.

Snape Primary School has been featured in the East Anglia Daily Times numerous times, with stories including the bulb-planting event mentioned above.

  • Imogen Rowley is a content producer at The Key, which provides leadership and management support to schools. For more information about the challenges for rural schools, download the full research report from The Key at https://thekeysupport.com/rural-schools-report


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