Three essential marketing activities for your school and how to use them

Schools are in an increasingly competitive environment and it is often the responsibility of staff who are non-marketers to promote schools to prospective families. Emily Richards explores three effective channels

Author details

Emily Richards is the Founder and Director of The Stickman Consultancy, offering insight-led expert marketing, communications and admissions support and training for schools....

N.B. This article focuses on channels for primary/ junior schools, although many of the tips and advice in sections 1 and 3 are applicable to secondary schools too.

School marketing plays a crucial role in boosting your school’s profile and positively impacting pupil applications. However, choosing where to focus your marketing efforts can be daunting and knowing how to generate results from your endeavours even more so.

Use the mantra: less is more.

Keep it simple. Focus on fewer marketing activities and do them well. Three essential ones for primary schools are:

  1. word of mouth
  2. nursery liaison
  3. get visible in your community.

1. Word of mouth

Word of mouth is the number one marketing channel at many schools, with parents hearing about a school on the ‘friends and family grapevine’. It is the most trusted source of information about a school in the eyes of prospective parents.

In this way, current parents hold the potential to be great ambassadors for a school and their positivity should be harnessed. This can be done in several ways.

Ask parents to refer a friend

New starter families (e.g. Reception or Year 7 parents) are a good place to start. They are excited about joining your school and are likely to be enthusiastic about spreading the word.

Take a personal approach; check in with them about their initial experience at your school. Ask them whether they know a family at their former nursery, a neighbour or family member who would be interested in the school and whether they’d be happy inviting them to do a school visit.

Ask parents to share flyers

Create a promotional flyer, for example inviting prospective parents to an open event, and send it home in book bags or via email with a note asking parents to pass it on to someone who might be interested in attending.

Create parent ambassadors

Identify five to 10 of your school’s biggest advocates and invite them to be parent ambassadors, supporting your school in various ways such as the following.

  • Parent testimonial videos: film parents talking about what they like about the school and what they feel it has done for their child. Use the videos across the school’s website, social media, in promotional flyers, newsletter, admissions information etc.
  • Speak to prospective families: invite parent ambassadors along to open events. Prospective families will appreciate the opportunity to get first-hand feedback about the school and will trust these parents’ opinions.

2. Nursery liaison

Create a structured programme of engagement with the key nurseries in your catchment area.

If your school has its own nursery, make it clear to other nurseries that you are not interested in poaching their early years children and that your focus is Reception entry.

Be selective which nurseries you approach. It’s better to build stronger relationships with a handful of nurseries than sporadically engaging with a larger number.

Arrange a date for a meeting with the nursery manager. Your Early Years or Reception staff are the ideal people for this meeting.

The main thing is to make it clear what the school can offer the nursery. The nursery manager will be interested in things that will benefit the nursery children’s experience and/or that strengthens their engagement with parents. Make this your focus rather than a recruitment campaign for your school.


Remain compliant with the GDPR and make it clear that you are contacting the nursery because your school has previously had children from them or that you understand their parents may consider your school for their children – this is classed as legitimate interest.

Involve your pupils

  • Pupil helpers: offer regular support, such as Year 6 pupils visiting the nursery to read stories or help with craft activities.
  • Past nursery pupils: ask pupils who attended the nursery to write about what they liked and how this has helped them at school. Pass these on to the nursery to use in their newsletters or pin on a board for parents to see. It’s great PR for them so they should be happy to help!

Events at the nursery

  • Piggyback existing nursery events e.g. the school choir singing carols at the nursery’s Christmas party (ideally when nursery parents are present).
  • Parent workshops: offer to run workshops at the nursery that will be useful to nursery parents such as ‘Starting Primary School – 5 ways to prepare your child’.
  • Invite staff, children and parents to attend an event at your school e.g. an author visit, a concert or performance, an opportunity to use your outside space or facilities, or for parents to attend a relevant seminar such as ‘How technology is used in teaching and learning at XYZ school’.
  • Consider hosting pre-school activity providers at your school such as ‘Baby Brahms’ classes at the weekends or during school holidays.
  • Always ensure nursery children or parents take a branded ‘goodie’ home with them, for example a postcard to colour in, a sticker, a balloon or a pencil.

3. Get visible!

Many schools struggle with standing out in their catchment area, yet there are lots of ways of achieving this. 

Use your school premises

Don’t be a hidden gem – use signage on your school premises and boundaries so that families know you are there. ‘A-boards’ and vinyl banners are great, low cost options. 

Ensure your website is tip top

Your website is one of the first places that prospective parents will go to understand more about your school. Ensure that it communicates clearly how your school is unique, that information is accurate and that there are strong calls to action such as an invitation to register for an open event or to book a school visit.

Reach high volumes of people with a leaflet distribution

Use a specialist company to distribute leaflets through letterboxes of targeted households. This is an effective way of reaching high volumes of people at a reasonable cost.

Have a presence in high footfall venues

Posters, flyers, banners and even a personal presence from time to time at supermarkets, libraries, town centres, shopping centres and sports clubs will help build awareness of your school within your catchment area.

The Stickman Consultancy has lots of other ideas. 

All these things involve a bit of time and effort but are affordable, simple and effective marketing for your school.

Last Updated: 
16 Mar 2020