The trend for international schools opening up around the world is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, the 2018 Global Report on The International Schools Market by ISC Research counts a total of 9,605 English-medium international schools worldwide. This represents a year-over-year increase of 6.3% and contributes to a compound annual growth rate of nearly 6% over the last five years – ICEF Monitor, 2019.
In such a densely populated space, competition between schools is hotting up, while parents have the luxury of choice when deciding where to place their child. Although competition is healthy for raising standards overall, it presents challenges for admissions and retention.
The shift puts power firmly in the hands of paying parents, seeking the best return on their investment. I recently spoke with a high-performing BIS in China that was experiencing a near crisis in retentions due to children being moved to the AIS across the road. The school couldn’t fathom why this was happening at such a rate, afterall their standards were higher, outcomes better and co-curricular life richer. It turned out that it was just easy for parents to make the switch and that despite having the better offer overall, their lack of engagement and relationship with parents meant they weren’t sticky enough to withstand a convenient alternative.
How can edtech help?
On its own, edtech is simply a purchase and an acquisition. To face competitive challenges head-on, a school needs to be thinking ahead about the areas in which a point of difference can be found. In the example of the BIS in China, it took their retention rate to plummet before an evaluation of their offer was made. A study of their competition and greater attention to their parent community could have prevented the disruption of children being moved around.
Identifying the areas that need most attention enables the creation of a digital strategy. Once the vision and a measure of ‘what good looks like’ is agreed, shopping around for the right edtech solution becomes clearer.
All areas of learning quality, wider student development, culture, partnerships and evidence of further education success are crucial to bolstering a school’s brand and securing admissions, but parental engagement has to underpin all of that activity and demonstrably so. It probably sounds like a lot of plates to spin but with a well-constructed digital strategy in place and the right edtech solution, it can be fully supported.
Parental engagement in 6 steps
Your digital strategy for parental engagement could be divided into 6 clear areas:
1. Ease of access
Parents all have busy lives to lead, so understanding how to present information to them in a way which is convenient and easy to digest will ensure they can consume school data as and when they need it.
2. Personalised communication
Enabling parents to access teachers, tutors and SLT in a variety of ways tells them the school cares on an individual level and helps support connections with other parents using facilities such as, online meetings, messaging and parent forums - alongside traditional methods such as open days.
3. Evidence of child’s progress
With a return on investment in the mind of most paying parents, having the ability to demonstrate their child’s progress to them is a great way to support such conversations. Getting to an open evening only to discover a child’s attainment isn’t where it should be will naturally be a cause of concern. If progress can be tracked continuously, any gaps in knowledge or slippage in a child’s quality of work will be quickly identified by school and parent, which prepares both parties for necessary action.
4. Student work and achievements
School-life is about so much more than just academic results and parents should have the opportunity to experience their child’s development overall. This is particularly important for boarders, so news can still reach home. Sharing this with parents is a great way for them to feel connected.
5. Pastoral support
Most schools offer fantastic pastoral support, but it never hurts to reinforce this regularly with your parent community. It will provide reassurance that their child’s mental and physical health is in good hands.
6. Understanding academic and co-curricular offer
It is natural for parents to demand the very best for their child. Sharing details of the academic and co-curricular opportunities at the school will ensure they know which direction to push in. Without this understanding a parent may believe that there is more on offer at another school, just because they communicate it better. Providing clarity should prevent your parents from looking elsewhere.
Ultimately, being great at what you do is no good if people don’t know about it, feel it and benefit from it. Using the 6 parental engagement steps, your actions will not go unnoticed and informed parents are always happier ones (even in bad news situations).
The right edtech can support all of the actions above, driven by a clear digital strategy with the goal to increase admissions and improve retention. The great thing about technology is that it can also help you to measure your actions, so you can focus on the areas which need most work in your school and offset competition.
We’re in a climate of change that dictates schools need to be savvy in areas beyond educational provision, the challenge is to look critically at yourself and work a plan that communicates everything you do to create well-rounded human beings.
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