Hosting an effective and engaging open day

Written by: Victoria Miller | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Many schools hold open days in order to attract and engage with potential new parents. Victoria Miller offers 15 tips for holding an authentic and successful open day

Open days provide the ideal opportunity to connect parents and prospective pupils with your school. Ultimately, open days should be a lightbulb moment for a parent, where they feel that the school will match their social, inspirational and academic needs.

Why intentional and ambient stimuli matters

Open days are a mixture of intentional and ambient stimuli. The intentional stimuli is all the activity your school does pre, during and post the open day to showcase the school.

The ambient stimuli is the subtleties that a family might pick up on – the slight frown of a student when asked about bullying, a lack of passion in the teachers, the slightly shambolic organisation of the events, or the quiet academic and content seriousness of the pupils, the happy pupils in the art room, the general feeling of the school lunchtime, and whether it looks inclusive and friendly, etc.

A parent may not even process these ambient signals consciously but they will be a definitive aspect of their decision-making.

That’s where authenticity comes into play. Families are looking for a genuine match. They don’t want to experience buyer’s remorse. Most parents are realistic and know that their child will go through ups and downs with any school that they choose, but they want to be able to see exactly what they’ll be getting rather than a false presentation.

With this in mind, open days present the ideal opportunity for schools to reflect. Is there are culture of bullying? Are we genuinely working on improving academic performance without resulting in teacher or pupil exhaustion? What does the lunchtime feel like as an objective observer? How are we encouraging and supporting each subject area? Do our teachers like coming to work? Do our public and private faces match? If not, is there a need for fundamental or incremental change?

If a prospective family is incredibly impressed by a school but after attending the school discovers that the open day was a façade then there will be fallout. If a school is genuinely focused on consistent progression and reform, noting that no school is ever perfect, then an open day will naturally have the energy and drive to connect with visitors. So here are my 15 tips for authenticity and connection.

Pre-open day

  • Establish a relationship: The point where people become interested in your open day and your school is the point where you should be starting to establish a relationship. This is a considerate and attractive dialogue between you and the person. As soon as they connect with you provide them with an incentive to connect more, whether it be via email (which is the most direct but shouldn’t be overused) or social media such as Facebook. Express to them the value of connecting – they will see student stories, get the inside information on innovations, whatever you can think of to make them feel as though you will look after the relationship with care.
  • Work on your brand and key selling points: You can make an impact with families by brainstorming your brand and key selling points and drip-feeding these through via your channels. You can do this by focusing on one element and really exploring it so that your audience has a better understanding of your school.
  • Consider having a theme: Having a theme for your open day may help bring your messages together and present a more uniform and interesting day than leading with a generic offering. Think about a theme that is broad-reaching, such as “Inspired Lives” or “Innovation Factory”.
  • Tell the stories: Start telling the stories of your student success, interesting developments, innovations, how you handle bullying, any additional activities, features of your teachers and their thoughts on teaching. People respond extremely well to a story told with authenticity and verve. See if you can encourage your students to start telling their stories – their voices will be more powerful than anything that’s overly constructed. Make sure these stories are real and authentic and ensure the students are comfortable with being featured.
  • Be inclusive: Academic success is very important, but also ensure you factor in other forms of success, such as giving back to the community, artistic projects, cultural inclusiveness, social opportunities and students that have prevailed despite significant challenges, etc. Focusing on these demonstrates that the school is focused on looking after each child and not just on academic achievement to the detriment of everything else.
  • Emphasis on enrichment: Workshop and communicate how your school enriches its pupils’ lives either in the classroom or during additional activities. Enrichment strategies often help a school to stand out from the rest and particularly inspire feelings of excitement from parents and prospective students.
  • Get staff and pupils involved: Before approaching staff and pupils, think about how you can make the open day as enjoyable for them as for your visitors. Focus on inspiration and enjoyment rather than presenting an image. If there’s something that was really popular in previous open days work out why that worked and how you can replicate this. Even a highly academic school can exhibit professional warmth and enjoyment. Brainstorm ideas with teachers and pupils so they are more engaged and actively contributing and make sure they feel comfortable with their roles.
  • Walk through the day: Events are more successful if all elements are accounted for. Make sure you walk through the day with staff during pre-event meetings to identify any gaps. If staff or students are not feeling comfortable with something then pre-event meetings are the appropriate times they can work this through so their issues are not being processed on the day in front of your visitors.
  • Show visitors the detail ahead of time: Make sure the visitors get a complete heads up on what’s happening, where and when. Produce online or printed events calendars. You may even consider investing time in creating an app. Give families the chance to plan out their day. Also produce some FAQs for the day.
  • Registration: If you can start to collect registrations online you have a greater capacity to connect pre and post-event, and the registration could link to calendar/event apps etc.

The open day itself

  • Make live broadcasts: Use technology to make live broadcasts during the event so that anyone who cannot make the day is included. Make sure these live feeds are pre-planned and professional.
  • Be on hand: Make sure that there are people on hand to address any issues that come up during the day.
  • Gather feedback on ambient and intentional stimuli: Prime your tour guides and others who come into contact with the parents and children to gather their impressions of the school and if possible allow them to record this privately via a technological application. Ask parents and children to record their feedback and their contact details but make sure that the method of providing feedback is quick and easy. Consider providing an incentive for this (something that has scholastic merit).

Post-open day

  • Provide platforms for further feedback and engagement: Utilise social media to keep telling stories and inviting comment. If you managed to gather emails send your visitors a high-quality professional email post the event thanking them for attending and providing a succinct explanation as to what they can do to enrol. Have the support staff on hand to answer further enquiries as this is the point where more specific questions may be asked.
  • Reflect on the public vs private face and make changes for next year: If the open day didn’t quite work then reflect on the feedback and start a dialogue with your staff and students to understand why this happened. Use this experience as a positive opportunity for self-reflection and take action on the factors that may have created a not so favourable impression for visitors. It is vital to recognise that any open day will always be about finding a match, so if you receive unhelpful feedback that’s not applicable then this doesn’t need to be factored into your reflections.

  • Victoria Miller is director of, a new initiative that provides a platform for UK educational providers to list their open days and create a profile that parents and students can access. Visit

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