I first started working with independent schools in 2005, when I moved back to Reading from Royal Holloway, University of London and joined Queen Anne’s School in Caversham. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to be associated with several schools in this area, including The Abbey, Reading School, Padworth College, Hemdean House and St Joseph’s College.
When asked about my professional work with schools, I would say that no two projects have been the same, but the underlying principles for achieving success remain constant. Everything is about building the right reputation and getting the word out – creating and communicating strengths that benefit pupils and parents – and, most importantly, encapsulate the specific personality of each school. Every school is different, they are not interchangeable, and as I see it my job is to bring out what makes them different and communicate that to the people who need to hear about it.
QUEEN ANNE’S SCHOOL
The challenge presented at Queen Anne’s was to update the school and strengthen its reputation and increase boarding and day admissions, during a time when many all-girls schools were facing decline. During my five years there, and under new headship of Julia Harrington from 2006, we revised all marketing communications to have sharper focus and stronger messaging. Completely rebranding the school’s image, creating new prospectuses and a new website, revising and improving events, increasing coverage of press coverage and editorials, and designing new advertising campaigns to build the school’s reputation as an educational environment where girls have a ‘can-do’ attitude that leads them to success.
During my five years at Queen Anne’s, Julia and I developed a very close working relationship and have continued to keep in touch. When the time came to depart, she thanked me for being the “only person who really understood her vision” and, in response, I thank her for giving me the opportunity to help her to realise that vision. It was definitely worth the effort and the school has gone from strength to strength under her leadership.
ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE
I joined St Joseph’s in January 2012, initially to cover maternity leave for one year, and was retained as a marketing consultant for five years to help strengthen their reputation and increase admissions as a co-ed 3-18 college. Following a decade of declining numbers and the threat of closure, it was essential for St Joseph’s to develop marketing initiatives to reverse negative perceptions and increase pupil recruitment.
Working closely with the CEO, David Truslove, and new headmaster, Andy Colpus, from September 2012, we reviewed every aspect of the school’s marketing and communications, creating stronger messaging and updating their identity. New designs were created for all promotional materials, advertising, events, prospectuses and website, as well as uniforms and physical presentation of the school. Having gone through a period of investment and change-management, the school needed to communicate the positive impact of change taking place. The answer to this came with the creation of an advertising campaign, “Things are happening at St Joseph’s”, which was integral to the school’s upturn, and marked 2013 as a take-off point for growth.
Admissions increased by 60% over five years. The college went on to win the Independent School of the Year 2015 and the Education Business Award for Outstanding Progress 2016. And the “Things are happening” campaign was shortlisted as a finalist for the TES Independent School Marketing & Communications Initiative of the Year.
The turnaround of St Joseph’s is an amazing success story, which has been celebrated by pupils, parents and staff alike, and much of it resulted from the presence of a really strong team. David, Andy and myself worked extremely closely together, and enjoyed a free-thinking environment where each of us could put forward any idea that came to mind – no matter how ridiculous it might seem! We thought hard, worked hard and laughed hard – all the way to the independent schools’ most prestigious awards ceremony.
I’ve highlighted some details about these two schools as I worked with each of them for five years apiece. But not all my work with schools has stretched over a long period. At the The Abbey School I carried out a communications review and ‘mystery shopping’ experience of two open days to gain first hand experience from the viewpoint of prospective parents. I created a marketing communications plan for Hemdean House, including designs for a new advertising campaign, following the closure of their senior school in 2017. I worked with the ex-Principal, Linde Meluish, at Padworth College on several projects: suggesting ideas to encourage the recruitment of day pupils, assisting with interviews for a new marketing & admissions officer, and creating a communications platform for alumni. I’ve also been working with Reading School since 2013, to update their brand communications and design a new prospectus.
READING SCHOOL PROSPECTUS
As mentioned, I began working with Reading School in 2013 to create a completely new prospectus that would ‘modernise’ their branding, conveying the school’s forward-thinking and excellent academic achievement, without losing the importance of its long tradition.
With revised hues of the school colours, simple, uncluttered aesthetics, updated text and new photography, the finished combination worked beautifully, meeting all the requirements. We continue to update the prospectus every two years to keep the content and images fresh, and it has often been praised by outsiders for its print quality and the strong image it conveys for the school. It remains one of my favourite prospectuses.
ST JOSEPH’S COLLEGE PROSPECTUSES
As part of a review of all aspects of marketing and communications at St Joseph’s College, we redesigned the prospectuses for the señior school and prep school, followed by the design of a new website.
The senior and prep prospectuses were completely revised to more accurately reflect and promote the College brand, rewriting copy and commissioning new photography.
Working with a number of independent schools to successfully help them to improve sixth form retention and recruitment, I have learned how important it is to communicate with this age group in a way that they can relate to and trust.
The sixth form brochure featured was created for St Joseph’s College to supplement A Level curriculum information, and students were consulted for feedback on its design and content.
The brochure was deliberately designed in a less formal in style, to stand out from the school’s main prospectuses and A Level syllabus information – having a younger feel and more limited text. Its purpose works effectively to convey the key benefits of joining or remaining in the sixth form, combining practical and useful information about the facilities, teaching, learning and university entrance, with lots of student quotes and photos.