Your school open day: Are you standing out for the right reasons?
Your school open is a great opportunity to give parents a sense of what it is like to be part of your school community. But many open days follow a similar formula and, of course, we know that parents attend more than one. They want to know what options are available to identify the best school for their child.
We looked into what makes a great open day and what can disappoint, by listening to some parents’ experiences. Read on for reminders to make your next open day a unique and great experience that shows your school at its best:
What do you want parents to think, feel and do when they leave?
Be clear on the one message you want to get across to parents and their children but also how you want them to think and feel about your school. What will they say about your school that makes you stand out from others? Where are you innovative and where do you excel? How are you demonstrating that you are living your vision (without just reciting it)? Ideally, of course, you want parents to talk to others positively about your school and apply to your school (if it is a good fit for their child).
Involve teachers, non-teaching staff and students in planning the open day.
Ask them for ideas so it is co-created with their full support. Allow plenty of time for this planning. Develop a whole school theme and approach that can be carried through from how you promote the event to the initial headteacher welcome to the classroom activities so there is a clear flow and team working together to deliver the same message to parents and children.
The open day opportunity starts well before the day.
You will clearly promote the event and you can use different ways to do this, such as using stories in your promotional material (on your website, in social media etc.) as mentioned in the next section. But how about sending those who sign up to attend the day a short (1-2 minutes) video with some of the children saying how much they are looking forward to meeting the parents and their children. These simple things can really make you stand out.
Limit numbers for open days so it doesn’t feel too busy. This was something that parents clearly find less positive.
Ensure everyone is fully prepared.
Take time to brief all school staff and students who will be involved in the day. Ensure they know exactly what they are doing and how to answer questions. Provide a simple one-page briefing document with helpful information about where the tours go, some history of the school and key facts.
Avoid making the day too formal though. Parents already feel that open days aren’t the ‘real’ school so the more you can do to make them feel relaxed, the better the outcome. Some parents talked about wanting to be left to tour the school feeling ‘unhampered’.
The big opening.
Don’t load people up with paper as soon as they get there. Give them something to read or watch if they are waiting for a talk or similar but don’t overload them. Instead consider following up after the event with links to online materials and a thank you message.
If you have a welcome talk at the start, then minimise the time that the headteacher and other senior teachers speak. Headteachers should particularly spend time reviewing and rehearsing their welcome talk. We had parents talk about how some headteachers were uninspiring and verbose and this clearly left a negative impression. Ensure school leaders are as engaging and inspiring as possible, thinking about the needs of their audience and not just what they want to say. Use personal stories and remember there are children in the audience so make it inspiring and interactive for them too. Focus more time on involving your school’s students or even current parents with them talking about their experience of your school.
The grand tour.
It’s great to have students take prospective parents and children around the school but obviously choose the right children. Clearly disengaged, bored and very quiet children can’t give a great experience and it’s unfair to put them in that position. And even the role model pupils need to be well informed. Ensure they can answer questions confidently. This is something we heard a couple of times from parents.
Show how great the teaching is.
One of the biggest areas for concern was the poor in classroom experience. Parents noted that the classrooms and teachers were uninspiring and no effort seemed to have been made to demonstrate their innovative ideas and skills. Make sure there are things for children to do, practical and fun things that showcase your teaching ability. Or have actual lessons running that that the children can join in with, with science experiments or math’s quizzes. Clearly you want children to be asking their parents if they can go to your school over any other school.
Ask attendees how it went and keep in touch.
Send a short email message after the event to thank parents and children for attending. Ask them to complete an electronic version (through something like Survey Monkey) that directly links back to what you wanted the event to achieve. Also ask those staff and students who were involved for their feedback. Develop a short report that highlights what you should improve for next time and share it with the school leadership team. Take the time to thank those people who were mentioned as being great advocates for the school.
Follow-up further with a message two weeks later linking parents to a video from the Open Day – with highlights from classrooms and with children talking about what it was like to show parents around. Ideally you would have some parents and children talk about their experience of visiting the open day but this can sometimes be tricky to arrange. You can also promote this video on your website and in social media. Ask school staff and existing parents to also share the video with their friends and family so you can extend your reach even further.
The important thing is to keep reinforcing what your school stands for, its ethos and how it stands out from the rest.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more ideas to improve your school communication so your school and students succeed.