For any organisation an open day is an excellent opportunity to show the world what you have to offer.
For schools, whether free, state or independent, engaging and informative websites, brochures and marketing materials are all important. Exam result tables, inspection reports and leagues tables give parents key information. However this will only be part of their decision making process. For parents, and more importantly prospective pupils, an open day or morning really gives a taste of what’s it like to study at your school.
When planning your event it's crucial to have a clear vision of what it is you want to achieve and what it is you want to do at your open day. What are your long terms goals? You may want to attract more pupils but, in addition, does the school want to raise its profile in the local community or is there a particular project you’d like to showcase? Keeping a view to your long term strategic plans and a clear set of objectives will enable you to be clearer in your event messaging.
Engage all stakeholders to help shape your day
You may hold open days on a regular basis or have always had the same formula to your events. But by getting all your stakeholders involved they will can help provide new creative and practical ideas that add to the success of your open day.
Pupils are very good at giving honest, and imaginative views on life in school! Their prospective peer group will want to know about all the social elements of what the school has to offer; something that perhaps staff and teachers may not always fully appreciate! Ask them what they think prospective pupils will want to see.
Parent’s feedback is important in shaping the day – ask them what they’d like to see if they were visiting a new school or why they choose your establishment for their child. PTA's have the finger on the pulse of parent's view and can talk about wider school community activities.
Staff, not just teaching staff, but classroom assistants school nurses and catering staff can give practical ideas on how to highlight different elements of the school. Different departments within the school will want to show off their subjects and you can use this to build a well-planned and interesting programme of events for visitors.
Develop ‘good stories’ to show visitors how you make a difference
Story telling is a really effective tool that engages both potential parents and pupils and can help convey your school’s message to a wider audience. Rather than using dry facts and figures in your marketing and PR materials you will find it easier to focus your messaging if you use well structured ‘stories’ or case studies. You can use each ‘story’ to write your press releases when working with the local media to promote the open day.
A wide variety of promotional material
The key to any successful open day is great publicity and marketing. Using a well thought out combination of different media and content you can create a buzz and get, not only current families, but the wider community and potential pupils or parents talking about your event. Put together a plan that includes all the different channels that your target audience will use: advertising in local media, email, social media, Enewsletters, posters and flyers or even car bumper stickers! Ensure that you school website is up to date and use this to sign up visitors in advance.
If you have gathered feedback from previous events use this to identify how people get to know about your open day or ask current parents where they would go to find out about new schools. Parents will often help distribute leaflets, display posters or advertising banners helping you reach a wider audience.
Get all your stakeholders to help
Once your open day has a timetable you need to identify what tasks people can help with. It's likely that teachers and pupils will already be tasked with subject demonstrations in the classroom, but parents, staff and pupils can take on ambassador roles. Invite current parents to chat to guests informally over tea or coffee, sharing their experiences and impressions of the school. Your PTA may want to help with practical aspects of the day but could also talk to families about how they can get involved with social and fundraising events. You may have members of the school’s alumni who are also willing to come to talk, either informally or more formally, about their time at the school and what they have gone on to achieve.
First impressions matter as prospective pupils and their parents will be visiting your school to see if they like the atmosphere, location and staff. Ensure that you brief everyone, including talking about what the schools’ key messages are and how they can play an important part in making the day a success.
For staff and parents, and older pupils this could be a written pack and for younger pupils who are taking ambassador roles may be a pictorial check list.
Having spoken to prospective parents and pupils make sure you follow up while the memories of the open day are still fresh.
Hopefully you will have captured their contact details with a registration desk as they arrived. This information can then be added to your database so that you can send, either by email or post, information such as how to book a ‘taster day’ for their child or what the next steps are for admissions.
Don’t forget to thank all those you helped in making your open day successful, including the school’s local community and neighbours.