From a marketing perspective, it’s important to share your ethos and what your school has to offer to prospective parents and pupils. Open days are obviously a great way of doing this, but how can you make sure that yours gives parents the information they need to make informed choices? What should be included so that parents feel supported and keen to be part of your school community?
Mums and dads will be reassured by being able to meet the headteacher, early years staff, governors, and most importantly, existing parents. Stepping inside the school gates doesn’t always conjure up happy memories for everyone; the benefit of having other parents there to help meet and greet and be on hand to give advice or answer questions shouldn’t be underestimated.
If you don’t already, ask your PTA committee, Parent Council or other school volunteers to lend a hand. Your PTA chair could even say a few words at the open day or at ‘new parent’ welcome meetings about the work they do and the different ways in which parents can become more involved with the school, Walking tours through your school will obviously be popular, since they allow parents to see your pupils and staff interacting in the settings where they spend most of their time.
Some older pupils can potentially have a role in guiding these tours, if you feel it’s appropriate. Prospective parents and children will probably be glad to hear about about the pupils’ experiences first hand (and what they really think of the school dinners)!
Whether it’s informally or from listening to a speech, parents love hearing what headteachers have to say during open events. They’re a golden opportunity for heads to set out in a compelling and engaging way what they hold dear, their ambitions for the school, what the school can offer to families and what families’ expectations should be.
Complementing that can be details of the school’s latest Ofsted inspection, attainment figures and improvement plans. It’s helpful if parents can take a prospectus away with them to review later, since the experience of an open day can sometimes be a little overwhelming.
Explain the school’s policies and their likely impact on children and families. Whether it’s in relation to homework, uniform, absences or behaviour, your school policies will have a big impact on parents. Make sure these are simply written, available for parents to view and offer to answer any specific questions they have about them.
It’s also worth considering the specific needs of those families in your local community. If it’s culturally diverse or has challenging levels of deprivation, for example, consider how you might be able to support parents who are perhaps unaware of what they can do to help their child. Highlight what your school can do to support parents in developing the skills they need to support their child’s development. Ensure your would-be parents can see that the school is ready to recognise and respond to the needs of those they serve.
Michelle Doyle Wildman is acting CEO of Parentkind, formerly PTA UK