For the past five years, I have spent much of June cloistered away in my attic office reading the entries received by Independent School Parent magazine for the Independent Schools of the Year (ISOTY) awards.
Whilst I confess to feeling a little resentful sometimes about missing the good weather, I enjoy these weeks tied to my desk because of the insights I gain into the amazing work independent schools are doing.
“We all like to be recognised at being good at what we do.”
Most of us like receiving an award. I’m sure many of you will have just sat through the annual prize-giving ceremonies and witnessed students – and their parents – bursting with pride when a particular achievement is recognised. I still have the leather-bound copy of Oliver Twist I received for the 2nd Form History Prize in 1973.
Well, schools are no different. We all like to be recognised at being good at what we do and – if we are honest – to be able to boast to our peers about what we have achieved. I have visited a number of winning schools to present them with their trophies and, in every school, I have been struck by the huge enthusiasm with which their success is being celebrated. Copies of the winners’ rosette feature in the school marketing literature, decorate the doors at the main entrance and become part of the school signature in every email they send.
“A good anecdote is akin to someone opening the school door and inviting us in.”
And why not? At a time when the role, purpose and value of independent schools is being questioned, school awards (and there are other brands available) provide an opportunity to throw a spotlight on the areas of school life we should celebrate.
Customers take notice of awards, and prospective parents are no different. Of course it’s impressive if a school has been judged “best in class” amongst UK boarding schools or been celebrated for the excellence of its student well-being programme.
With 23 categories this year, ISOTY provides schools with the opportunity to share their stories about almost every aspect of school life, from environmental advocacy to social mobility. Schools of all shapes and sizes enter the awards – and win. And the Independent School Parent portfolio of titles ensures that these stories are showcased far and wide.
Read the criteria
I’m often asked by individual schools if I think it’s “alright” if they send in an entry for x or y award and my answer is almost invariably “yes”. Our judges love to hear about the myriad schools which make up the independent sector – so please don’t be bashful. But please, please do look carefully at the criteria for each award and tell us why you excel in the areas of activity we ask about. Stuck in my attic, I sometimes groan when I read an entry into which time and love has been invested but which has somehow missed the mark.
And please do share some anecdotes which provide a flavour of the student experience you offer. A good anecdote is akin to someone opening the school door and inviting us in.
The award season opens with the autumn term. If you win, well done; if you don’t, try again next year. The marketing dividend is indisputable.