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Bucking the trend: Navigating Admissions Challenges to ensure Independent Schools continue to thrive

Bucking the trend: Navigating Admissions Challenges to ensure Independent Schools continue to thrive

Bucking the trend: Navigating Admissions Challenges to ensure Independent Schools continue to thrive Susan Hogan, Director of Admissions, Canford School

The latest ISC census report has brought to light a concerning apparent trend for independent schools: a noticeable decline in registrations, indicating the significant challenges the sector continues to face, both domestically and internationally. The landscape is fraught with complexities, from the political uncertainties surrounding a potential Labour government with the impending addition of VAT on school fees to the economic ramifications of the post-COVID era affecting families’ ability to afford private education. Added to these are the global tensions contributing to an atmosphere of uncertainty, affecting international student mobility. In such a turbulent environment, independent schools must be proactive and strategic to mitigate risks and continue to attract families that resonate with their educational ethos.

In light of these challenges, independent schools need to adopt a multifaceted approach to recruitment initiatives to remain competitive and appealing to prospective families.

Marketing – demonstrating the value

With fees now approaching, and in some cases exceeding, £50,000 per annum for full boarding, parents need to see the value of the outcomes of their investment in private education. 

1. Highlighting Pupil Experience:  Illustrate the unique value independent schools offer through concrete examples of the impact the provision has in terms of outcomes for pupils both at school and for their professional and personal development thereafter. Success stories, alumni achievements, and testimonials can powerfully convey the benefits of the education provided.

2. Engaging Events:  Offer various opportunities for families to engage with the school. Open events, private tours, and workshops can provide personal insights into the school environment and its offerings.

3. Digital Presence: Utilise the school’s website to share detailed information, virtual tours, and interactive content to reach families who may not be able to visit in person. Authenticity and transparency in communication build trust and appeal.

Admissions: A personalised approach

Gone are the days of a standard approach across all Admissions enquiries.  As with best practice across all customer service, every family should be considered individually with a response tailored to their individual circumstances and requirements.

1. Individual Attention: Each enquiry should be handled with a personal touch, focusing on the child's specific interests and needs. This caring approach ensures families feel valued and understood.

2. Prompt Follow-up:  Ensure that there is timely follow-up at each stage of the recruitment process.  This illustrates to prospective families that the school is attentive and committed to their child's education.

3. Revisit Opportunities: Offer registered families the chance to revisit the school, reinforcing their decision and providing further reassurance.

Canford's success story

Canford’s approach to recruitment has proven successful, with enrolment at the highest in the school’s 100-year history, with waiting lists and a robust pipeline of enquiries and registrations for both boarding and day places. This success, however, is not a reason for complacency. Continuous improvement and adaptation are key to maintaining and building upon this success.  It is crucial for schools to continuously evolve to ensure they are meeting the needs of current and future pupils.  Canford’s new Sixth Form College development, set to open in 2025/26, exemplifies this forward-thinking approach. The College Concept and the bespoke facilities currently under construction will provide a range of dynamic experiences and opportunities for Canfordians in their critical final two years including a ‘Futures’ programme and a transitional environment that prepares pupils in much more relevant and effective manner for professional and personal life beyond school.

In conclusion

Independent schools must navigate a complex array of challenges to sustain and grow their pupil populations. By demonstrating the value of their education, personalising the admissions process, and continually evolving their offerings, schools can attract and retain families who seek the best educational experiences for their children. In doing so, they can not only counter the trend of declining registrations but also position themselves as resilient and forward-thinking institutions in an ever-changing world.