Cas Carter: Schools are not great marketers

Choosing a school is one of the most important parenting tasks.
MARION VAN DIJK/STUFF

Choosing a school is one of the most important parenting tasks.

OPINION: Anyone who has a child will know that everyone has an opinion about parenting.

Advice, often unwanted, flows forth and is usually conflicting: you must demand feed, no it should be scheduled; let your baby cry, no pick it up. Co-ed school kids are more rounded, single sex achieve more.

So conflicted was I by the advice about preschool education that my daughter went to four different preschools - each of which would have been singly adequate for her.

By the time it got to high school, I was determined we'd make our decision on fact and solid professional advice.

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But, while we are all constantly bombarded with endless messages on what to eat, drive, wear and where to holiday, there is surprisingly little information to help choose a school.

Schools could be much smarter at promoting themselves, says Cas Carter.
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Schools could be much smarter at promoting themselves, says Cas Carter.

We used to simply go to the local school but, at a School Trustees Conference in Dunedin in the weekend, we talked about the choices: public or private, religious or non secular, kura kaupapa, correspondence, home schooling, online learning and even unschooling.

Nowadays, parents are often prepared to move suburbs or even cities to get the best education for their little darlings.

Despite all of that, public schools make very little effort to market themselves and private schools tend to focus on academic performance which, interestingly, is not always a key motivator in school choice.

It seems odd that while most businesses invest heavily in talking to their market, aside from a brochure and an annual open day, there is a void from our schools.

But that could all change if we look at what's happening overseas.

Visit the UK and you could see some of their rather unsophisticated state school billboards like: "Looking for a new school -phone us?; "We've still got places in years 12 and 13"; "Education - for people who matter by people who care" and the truly awful "markedly and rapidly improved".

In the US, local government is contributing to school marketing campaigns to encourage families to their regions.

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Online there is a growing number of sites showing schools how to market themselves and improve their public image.

A lot of this is in response to league tables, where schools are forced to promote themselves or be judged based on their ranking and someone else's criteria.

It's curious that here in New Zealand school marketing hasn't really taken off. Of course, some have more than enough students but all schools know the importance of developing a good reputation and that usually requires consistent PR and marketing.

Scandals we've seen recently such as teacher-student affairs, social media misdemeanours and alcohol abuse can impact a school's reputation for years.

In contrast, regularly communicating a school's goals, objectives and achievements will build a reputation.

Choosing where our children are educated is probably one of the biggest decisions parents make, and schools don't help.

Many of their websites are more functional than promotional, they're largely absent from social media and they're still printing last-century-style brochures.

Not all schools are the same, just like our children. You have to dig to find a school's strategy or their point of difference.

Is it wrong for a school to promote its differences so we can find the best match for our kids?

Parents need more than a retrospective ERO report or the views of friends and colleagues, which are undoubtedly biased with a small dose of snobbery thrown in.

After numerous internal cartwheels, I turned my back on the opinions of many and asked my kids what school they wanted to go to.

They chose the local one. It's turned out to be pretty good.

- Cas Carter is a marketing and communications specialist.

 - Stuff

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