Some year ago, I took a rugby team from my state grammar school in Kent to play a friendly fixture against a really well known rugby playing independent school in South London.
These were boys who had not been playing rugby very long, almost exclusively against other local comprehensive schools and, truth be told, they weren’t very good.
Nonetheless, we went, and had an amazing day. We were treated with respect and kindness throughout and whilst the game was somewhat one-sided the experience was one I would imagine stayed with those boys for many years. Certainly it motivated them to continue to play, to develop and in time they became a really strong team.
The thing that sticks with me the most though, looking back through the haze of a decade past, is the sense of awe and wonder on the boys’ faces as we drove up the main driveway and onto the school grounds. This continued into the changing rooms, onto the field, into the refectory afterwards and right until we got back on the bus to return to Kent. They were amazed and inspired by the buildings, the sporting facilities and the whole experience.
As international schools in today’s modern, globalised and ultra-competitive world, we have to achieve this same sense of inspiration every time we think about recruitment strategies and admissions.
“The grammar school boys were amazed and inspired by the buildings, the sporting facilities and the whole experience.”
In a geographically restricted area there is a finite number of potential students for any school and maximising the percentage that choose your school is key to ongoing success. This will never be more apparent and important than in the next couple of years as we leave the restrictions of Covid behind. Every time we meet a new family or pupil we need to engage and inspire them to choose our school over their other options.
But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
Marketing departments have been doing this as long as international schools have been operating. The difference is that today, with smaller markets and more competition, marketing has become so much more important and schools must look to any and all avenues to achieve that sense of inspiration.
Sport has always played an important part in this process. Independent schools in the UK and the US have long used the success of their teams, squads, clubs and athletes to showcase their offer. Bursaries and scholarships are used to attract sporting children who can further enhance the reputation of a school’s programme and the cycle continues.
“The perception of what ‘outstanding’ sporting provision actually is has changed.”
This has been adopted by international schools like so many other aspects of British or American curricula and now school sports programmes are used by marketing departments everywhere in the world.
What is different today however, is the perception of what “outstanding” sporting provision actually is. Schools are not just required to compete with each other but to ensure service levels match those of organisations outside of the industry. Sport needs to be more than just the provision of excellence for those at the pinnacle of the triangle.
Prospective parents expect more today. Having a championship winning basketball team looks great, but what are we offering to all our pupils? It’s no longer enough to cater for the few, but for all, and this is where those really great schools have succeeded.
“Are you offering development for all and support for every level? What are the pathways for pupils to progress, regardless of their ability?”
Marketing your programme as a whole is vital, making sure that the inclusive nature of sport shines through. Does your PE curriculum filter into your ECA sporting programme? Are you offering development for all and support for every level? What are the pathways for pupils to progress, regardless of their ability?
How do you identify, nurture and celebrate success in every pupil? In a world where wellbeing, positivity and holistic education is everywhere, how does your sporting programme link to these key aspects of pastoral provision?
Facilities are great but what really matters is what happens on them or in them. Access to competition is fantastic but what about those pupils who don’t get on the bus?
Fancy kit or equipment is standard these days but what do you provide to the pupils who just want to play for fun? For every “sporty” child that enters your cohort, there will be many more who want to play, but perhaps not at the top level. Do you explicitly cater for these pupils and how well do you sell that in your marketing?
“Fancy kit or equipment is standard these days but what do you provide to the pupils who just want to play for fun?”
I would argue that alongside performing arts, excursions and activities and obviously academics, sport at all levels is the biggest draw for schools. In my experience here in Al Ain, the provision of sport at all levels has been of key importance to the parents of the pupils who have joined us.
Sport is seen as a cornerstone of a “traditional” British education and as such all our parents want their children catered for. If we are to effectively use sport as a an effective marketing tool, we need to make sure we provide culturally appropriate provision for all, not just for those “sporty” pupils