Building the pathway to inclusion

Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist, Texthelp

Building the pathway to inclusion

If there’s one thing we can say with confidence this year, it’s that education has become increasingly dependent on technology for teaching and learning. As learning evolves, we are finding new ways to engage, motivate, assess and teach students. We’ve jumped headfirst into tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in live video lessons and discovering the power of polls and analytics. We’ve struggled too – from the repetitive cry of ‘unmute’ through reducing distractions to figuring out how best to support differentiation when technology is an increasing portion of learning time. But, no matter how the ‘where’ of learning occurs in the coming months and years, we know that technology will continue to become increasingly central to all that we do. Why? Because with all the challenges we can see the upsides. We see new opportunities for engagement and for helping our students express their learning. It’s about the balance of putting teaching and learning first and skillfully using technology to underpin solid pedagogical strategies.

There’s a second thing though. The diversity of the students we teach stays the same – everyone with a differing approach to learning, and many requiring additional help and support to ensure that they continue to receive equity of access and stay included. For most students, as teachers, we only ever see the tip of the iceberg – the 10% of everything that contributes to our students being who they are. We don’t see the impact or challenges of home life, challenges around language or their mental health and wellbeing, and this is never more apparent than when students learn remotely.

Consider individual needs – statistics show that on average, around 5% of our class is identified and supported as being Dyslexic, yet the stark reality is that on average 17% of all students struggle with Dyslexia. The move to technology can not and must not forget this, and it behoves us as educators to ensure that the tools and supports that were in place inside our classrooms continue to be planned for and provided, wherever learning occurs. We need to rethink our notion of diversity and we need to start to redefine what it means to be inclusive, and how technology can reach and support every student.

Diversity stretches across language, culture, ethnicity and individual needs. It must, though, also include respect of the fact that research shows us that our students have an almost infinite path to learning. It’s their very differences that make them unique. Technology is inherently flexible, and when used well can and does support students in enabling a personalised, tailored approach to learning that can support this uniqueness. We all need to make a start, but how?

As, always, it starts with learning. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework is based upon the simple tenet of universal design – it’s aim is to make learning accessible to all by recognising that each and every student is unique and the learning community they are in is truly diverse. It seeks to encourage the provision of pathways for educators to adopt basic, practical approaches to designing learning from the outset, by focusing on designing learning for the margins and not the centre-ground of the student experience. In doing so, it postulates that we can reach every learner in an almost endless variety of ways that are personal to them.

We can start to embrace UDL by rethinking how we approach learning. Instead of objectives, we can focus on goals. Why? Think of it like skiing. Head to the top of any slope and there is one simple goal – get to the bottom. Every slope has its map providing alternate routes to reach that goal – at various levels of challenge and difficulty. As a skier, you take the route that works best for you or choose to stretch and challenge yourself with the more difficult path to your goal than the last time you tried. If we move to goal-orientated strategies, we open up the paths to our diverse learners to reach their goal in a multitude of ways.

The key then is to create these paths, and this can be achieved in many ways – not least of which today is through the effective application and use of technology tools. Once integrated into learning design and technology platforms, these tools can be used by everyone to ensure content, knowledge, expression and understanding is available in countless, unique ways across digital platforms and devices. As an example, tools like text-to-speech provides students with specific needs a way to support comprehension and understanding but also support high achieving students to prepare for effective answering for exams. Simple forms provide a quick way to monitor progress and understanding or provide fast, effective feedback for every student. Providing the right range of technology tools delivers multiple paths to engagement and expression, and in turn, expands accessibility for all students.

To embrace the opportunity before us, we have to be more deliberate, more flexible, provide more opportunities and take more risks. We need to endeavour to remove more barriers by shifting our focus to providing the widest range of tools and paths to learning if we are to support every student.

The technology journey ahead will give us the ability to innovate, to engage with and to support students like never before. If we embrace it, the result is that every learning experience can be representative of, and tailored to, the individual.

The goal is inclusive education, wherever learning occurs. It’s time to build the pathways to achieve it.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? Please share your thoughts below.



Resident Education Technology Strategist at Texthelp, Patrick is a passionate educator, and an accomplished international speaker, panellist, blogger and contributor across a wide range of media. His content is engaging, inspiring and motivating – focused on how technology can make a real and meaningful impact on teaching and learning for all. An Apple Education Mentor and Google Certified Educator, Patrick received the UK Digital Leader 100 award and was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the University of Ulster (School of Education) in 2016. His specialisms include literacy, inclusion, assessment educational vision, leadership, and change management.

The anguish of admissions

Jules Murray, Training and Development Consultant, Spider on the Wall Ltd.

The anguish of admissions

Her anxiety levels at an all-time high are evidenced in her lack of sleep, the worry lines etched on her face and the way she holds her neck when she talks. She has four children and finds little comfort in any of their 2020 milestones. Tom, just 4 weeks in at Leeds University, experiencing none of the longed-for Fresher fun and games. Denied his first proper taste of independence and freedom, the time to blow off steam, and learn more about his course, campus, and clubs. Now confined to a cell-size room, no face-to-face interaction just sporadic online lectures.

Tom’s twin brother, Jack, denied his 6th form leaving parties. His travelling gap year now a pile of unthumbed Lonely Planet guides. The cruel chants of ‘You didn’t earn those A grades – you were given them!” Jack now sleepwalking his way through the endless days desperately searching for where he fits in.

Harriet, 13. Diagnosed dyspraxia, attending the prestigious, international school. What of her continuation of learning if campuses must close again? How will this impact the school fees? What provision will be provided if she is to learn remotely and what of the online safeguarding procedures?

Lastly, there’s little Poppy, so desperate to catch her siblings up in every aspect of her life and now contained and confused and directed daily to behave against her natural tactile instincts. To obey the endless handwashing and follow the arrows on the floor which mark the way – the safe way! Her childhood slipping away this year along with her zest for team sports, girlie hugs, and sociable impact.

What lessons can we learn from this parent’s anguish?

Admission’s Managers it is time to look through a new lens at your value proposition and your customer journey map and adapt it: to give parents the confidence they crave in your safeguarding ability, to show clarity and efficiency in your communications, and to demonstrate understanding and empathy to parents’ individual, situational needs.

It is no longer enough to respond to an email enquiry with a generic, automated template which lists the necessary documents which must be submitted, urgently, attested, and in triplicate! You must extend a deeper level of empathy and understanding to address the emotional needs of the parent and guide them through, with reassurance and virtual hand-holding every step of the way. Addressing the parent’s anxiety about the disruption to their child’s education and the on-campus safety procedures, and having clear responses and evidence to show them, is of paramount importance if you are to maintain their loyalty.

It is time to focus on the extraordinary customer service elements of your school’s offerings and ensure those parent relationships are nurtured like never before. Going the extra mile to maximise the (non) touchpoints of every customer journey is now an essential part of your school experience.

A smile behind a face mask is still a smile in the eyes. A warm and welcome greeting without a handshake is still a warm and welcome greeting with open body language. An instruction to ‘follow the arrows on the floor’ can be delivered in the tone of a friendly, reassuring guide.

How far will your school go to leave no stone unturned? To enhance your school’s ability to maximise enrolment opportunities. A family’s decision on which school to choose will most definitely be weighted by the emotional and personal impact of the encounters and the memories that you leave them.

Join Jules on 19 November for her webinar, School Admissions: Making a performance of it. LEARN MORE


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.



Jules Murray is greatly in demand for her experience in dramatically enhancing a school’s ability to maximise their enrolment opportunities. She has a proven track record of making an immediate impact on schools’ recruitment numbers. She provides valuable insights into 2020 challenges, she advises on simple practical, strategies designed to improve the Customer Journey and ultimately maximise new student recruitment. The result of which is seen in greatly improved conversion ratios and enhanced and empowered recruitment performance.

Jules Murray is a global training and development consultant. She is greatly in demand for her experience in dramatically enhancing a school’s ability to maximise enrolment opportunities.

Learn more about Spider on the Wall

Connect with Jules on LinkedIn: LEARN MORE


Is your school assessment approach effective and efficient in promoting learning?

Jamie Scott, Evidence Based Education

Is your school assessment approach effective and efficient in promoting learning?

How do you know?


There are, arguably, three key pillars of education management: pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. For too long, the third of these has been both under- and misused; the potential for assessment to be a powerful learning process, as well as an accurate barometer of learning itself, is often not realized. Assessment is inextricable from teaching, and the quality of the latter is – in many ways – dependent on the quality of information derived from the former. Great assessment, the type that helps improve teaching and learning, is not a single entity, but it leads to a single point: a meaningful decision which has positive consequences for students’ learning. It is purposeful, manageable, efficient and effective. Great assessment is lean and valuable. It is used thoughtfully to achieve specific aims, ones for which it is better suited than any other tool or strategy a teacher has at their disposal.


Every school has their assessment policy and framework, but is it fit for purpose? Schools use assessment daily, and it can be difficult to stop, step back and review our approach to ensure it is fit for the purpose intended. So, in the spirit of reflection and self-evaluation, here are five questions to ask of your school assessment framework to help determine its efficiency and effectiveness.


  1. Are we using assessment to measure important aspects of the curriculum?

Assessment, pedagogy and curriculum are inextricably linked and, when the best of these are brought together well, they form the backbone of effective teaching and learning. When assessment is sharply focused on the curriculum, and used as a tool of good pedagogy, teachers can maximise its value to improve the responsiveness of their teaching. After all, how can we know what to teach tomorrow, if we do not know what has been understood today? Effective assessment needs to relate to the curriculum ‘map’, strategically challenging pupils to recall and strengthen the right pieces of learning, understanding and skill.


  1. Do our assessments measure the things we intend them to measure? Are they fit for purpose?

Form should always follow function in assessment. We must know what we want to measure and why in order to select the right tool to achieve our purpose. An assessment that is ideal to measure progress might be a poor choice for identifying strengths and weaknesses to inform, plan or adapt your next lesson. To assess better, we need to be explicit about purpose:


  • The construct: What is the specific knowledge, skill or understanding that we intend to assess?
  • The end use: What do we want to do – the interpretation, the decision or action – with the information generated by the assessment process?
  • The best tool: What is the most appropriate, effective and efficient way to assess in this instance?


  1. Are we assessing learning or performance of short-term memory?

What is learning and does every teacher and school share the same understanding? Let’s define learning as both the long-term retention of knowledge, understanding and skill, as well as the ability to transfer these to novel contexts. As such, teaching needs to address and promote learning which is retained and transferable, and assessment needs to be designed to gauge students’ long-term retention and transfer to novel contexts. Does your schools’ assessment approach allow you to reliably demonstrate student knowledge and understanding at the point of initial assessment, and that they able to retrieve that knowledge and understanding 6 weeks later, 6 months later, or a year later?


  1. How can we be sure that progress is, in fact, real progress and not just measurement error?

Measuring progress reliably is difficult. All forms of educational measurement contain a degree of error and so assessment is less precise than often it is perceived to be – whether that be national tests, classroom quizzes or teacher observation. It is a complex and time-consuming exercise to create an assessment that is sufficiently sensitive to be able to reliably measure progress in a relatively short space of time, so teachers need to understand error in their assessment measurements to make accurate judgements about the needs and progress of pupils.


  1. Are you using assessment to create learning, not just record the residue of it?

Assessments or tests have traditionally been used to measure learning. However, a constantly growing body of research demonstrates that high-quality tests (think recaps, quizzes and termly tests rather than just past papers) are better learning opportunities than repeated study/revision.  One example of such research is Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological science, 17(3), 249-255. The research evidence indicates that the act of responding to questions thoughtfully strengthens a student’s learning; practice testing using well-crafted questions can actually promote learning, making assessment into more than simply a tool for recording data about learning.


Evidence Based Education are the creators of the Queen’s Award Winning Assessment Lead Programme, Assessment Essentials and the new Science of Learning Programme. Trusted by schools around the world, they provide engaging teacher professional development and school improvement services, to improve learner outcomes worldwide and for good.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.




Jamie Scott, Director of Partnerships & External Relations
Evidence Based Education



Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown

Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education


Understanding the social and emotional impact of lockdown


A few weeks into the coronavirus crisis, health experts and psychologists were warning that a tidal wave of mental illness could overwhelm children post-lockdown because of the problems they had stored up during it.


Those fears understandably persist, as the disruption to school life in some schools continues well beyond the time initially envisaged. The fears have, however, been tempered by more recent studies, including a survey of 10,000 parents and children by psychologists at the University of Oxford, which painted a much more nuanced picture.


Parents of children under the age of 11 largely agreed that they had noticed an increase in stress and behavioural problems in their children as lockdown went on. But parents of teenagers tended to report that on average their children’s behaviour and emotional wellbeing had continued much as before and they hadn’t noticed any deterioration.


Indeed, some parents – including those with children who had special educational needs or pre-existing mental health issues – said that their offspring’s emotional behaviour had tended to improve during lockdown.


Schools are rightly concerned about their students’ wellbeing after such a long absence. But the Oxford study reveals not only children’s fragility, but also their resilience. Some will have found the experience an ordeal – but many won’t. The challenge is to identify the students most in need of support and apply the right strategies.


Shining a light on student wellbeing


Some schools benefitted from having a clear picture of their students’ wellbeing before they went into lockdown. At Garden International School (GIS) in Kuala Lumpur, Michael Browning, then Head of Year 7, was in the middle of a year-long project to support students that they had identified as fragile learners using data from the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey.


The survey is a psychometric assessment that measures student attitudes across nine factors that are proven to be significantly linked to educational goals, such as a child’s perceived learning capability and their response to curriculum demands. The scores are accompanied by a series of practical interventions aligned to each of the factors to support schools in responding to their findings. These interventions have been updated this year to provide guidance to support students returning to school after a prolonged absence.


Because a significant number of the GIS fragile learner group were EAL students who had a significant verbal deficit, Michael worked closely with the Head of EAL as well as the school counsellors to devise a programme that supported students’ literacy as well as identifying and managing emotions.


At the end of term 2, things were going well; the school measured an increase in attainment and progress across the year group, and the level of increase was higher for the fragile learner group.


As the school went into lockdown the programme had to be adapted, with lots of emphasis on celebrating success and recognition of effort. As Michael explained: “As head of year, tracking the more vulnerable students has become more challenging during this period of online learning – but equally more important than ever!”


The data for the end of term 3 showed another increase in attainment and progress levels for the fragile learners. Despite the challenges faced during lockdown, the project has shown that using attitudinal data to target certain groups works.


Michael explains: “The project has given me a way to use the data in a smart way – shining a light on students who might otherwise get missed.” PASS has also made it clear that we don’t need to go away and suddenly re-learn how to teach or work with students – it’s reassured me that a lot of what we do in class is already going to be helping the students, but it’s prompting you as a teacher to be aware and to use these strategies consistently.”


Understanding attitudes as students returned to school


At Jumeira Baccalaureate School in Dubai, the Head of Secondary, Erika Elkady, was apprehensive about students’ social and emotional wellbeing as they returned to school after the long lockdown:

“Had they been able to process the ‘new normal’ which we as adults were still trying to come to terms with? How would our teenagers respond to be back in school after such a long time?”


To get the answers, the school carried out a PASS survey in the second week of the school year.


“The data gave us a wealth of information,” Erika explains. “We learned that our phase 3 students’ attitudes in all nine factors are now more positive than when we started to conduct regular PASS surveys in 2017.


“Our phase 4 data on the other hand shows a slight dip in students’ perceived learning capability and confidence in learning, which is not unsurprising as the lockdown and the uncertainty about exams in May 2021 will cause some anxiety in our seniors.


“Overall, the data is comforting as we learned that our students’ overall wellbeing is much better than we had hoped for. Moreover, we also know now who needs extra attention as we have been able to flag a number of students.”


So, while it may be obvious that different students will react in different ways to any challenge, including those set by coronavirus, having a way to identify and weight each group or individual’s feelings allows schools to prioritise and calibrate their response.


Erika Elkady and Michael Browning will be speaking about the social and emotional impact of lockdown on students at GL Education’s online Global Assessment Conference in November.


Find out more and register for free here.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.



Crispin Chatterton, Director of Education, GL Education



Shaping Your Appeal: Brand Identity

Ben Weston-Conway
Global Marketing Manager, Interactive Schools


Shaping Your Appeal:
Brand Identity


Brand is the most misunderstood element of modern marketing. While many organisations can boast a harmonious colour palette and fancy logo, few are able to effectively define and communicate their core values in a way that ensures a meaningful connection with their audiences.


Take a moment to think about all the schools you’ve ever worked in. They’re all unique, right? But it’s incredibly likely those schools marketed themselves using the same messages: educating the whole child, stimulating intellectual curiosity and developing a global perspective.


Sadly, many school marketers excuse themselves from developing a unique and emotive brand identity because of a similarity in product offer. Independent schools usually offer variations on a theme of three main objectives: fantastic academic outcomes, great pastoral care, and an exciting extra-curricular offer. However it’s this very fact that requires schools to craft a brand narrative that transcends aims and goals, and instead focuses on unique, intangible qualities.


Some Headteachers would refute the fact that their school’s brand isn’t strongly established with the argument “but everybody knows about us and we’re over-subscribed every year”. While this may be true, complacency always leads to stagnation and disregarding the need for an identity that looks beyond enrolment numbers creates a huge opportunity for your competitors to develop a superior brand proposition.


Understand your market

When thinking about your brand, an understanding of audiences is critical – only then can you craft a narrative that resonates with their values. Are your parents aspirational, eager for their child to reach the top? Are they sending their children to you because generations of their family have been educated at the school? Do you focus on building resilience and instilling a sense of adventure that appeals to them? Or is it simpler than that; because you’re located on the daily commute or have a great arts programme and their child loves drama?


You might not know the answer to these questions but getting hold of the data will be helpful as you start to determine what you stand for. This will provide structure for your school’s strategic vision and ensures your brand identity withstands the test of time.


Get Real

Independent Schools are exclusive… there, we said it! Whilst many of your schools will have life-changing bursary programmes and inspiring cross-sector partnerships, which should be applauded and celebrated, the reality is that independent schools offer a superior product that is desired by many and available to only a few. This is the hallmark of luxury, and this should be reflected in the brand experience you offer. From the moment prospective families enquire, independent schools must deliver an exceptional, coherent brand experience.


While academic results and university destinations might have some influence on a prospective family’s decision, history tells us that people buy brands because of the emotional connection they feel to them. Why else would parents pay for something that they can get for free if the end product – an education – is the same? We all know it’s not quite that simple, but when you strip it down to the bare bones, parents are paying for a premium product and service, like shopping at Waitrose or flying business class.


While some families might have been educated privately for generations and see it as ‘just the done thing’, many parents will be scrimping and saving all the spare cash they have in order to give their children the very best start in life. Both, rightly, expect to be treated as a valued customer.


Live and breathe it

Now that we’ve determined that brand is really about values and purpose, start to think about how to bring it to life. This needs to be driven by the Head and fed down to your teaching staff. The marketing team can help to shape messaging and implementation, but it’s teachers who are best placed to champion exciting initiatives for your school community.


Once those initiatives start to chime with your audiences’ values, then you can be confident of enhanced brand affinity, a rising reputation and the admissions email pinging – and that’s exactly where you want to be!



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.



Ben Weston-Conway is a CIM qualified marketer and the Global Marketing Manager for Interactive Schools.


@intSchools is a global creative marketing & communications agency #InspiringSchools – delivering measurable stakeholder engagement & brand stories for the world’s leading schools.

Interactive Schools is an established and well-respected global company, with a start-up culture. Always innovating new (and better) ways to improve school communications – we incubate new tech ideas that actually makes a difference to schools.

Interactive Schools believe that every school is unique, and want to help tell their #SchoolStories. Interactive Schools differentiate, by creating bespoke, immersive & Beautiful #SchoolWebsites, Creative #SchoolMarketing, Engaged #SocialMedia and Effective #ParentComms.



The Power of Personal Profile

Ben Weston-Conway
Global Marketing Manager, Interactive Schools




Thought Leadership

Thought leadership has become a pillar of almost every organisation’s communications strategy. As marketing paradigms shift from an outbound (disrupting prospects through advertising) to inbound approach (nurturing audiences by building value and emotional connections), the need to educate and inspire stakeholders is critical for developing customer relationships, building brand equity and generating demand.


Whilst companies in many industries struggle to find credible senior staff to engage in public-facing activities, schools are fortunate to be littered with experienced, engaged leaders who have a real understanding of the challenges facing young people and the education sector as a whole.


A Symbiotic Relationship

There’s a symbiotic relationship between a school and its Head, as both rely on each other to increase brand awareness and enhance reputation. The school relies heavily on the visibility, passion and drive of its leader, but you will benefit from the reputation of your school to give your opinions credibility – especially when engaging with the media. When you consider that up to 70% of people attribute the reputation of an organisation to its leader, this can start to feel like a lot of pressure.


In the independent education sector, I would argue the figure is much higher; there’s a reason that prospective families sprint down the corridors in time for your open day speech and the most popular page on 99% of school websites is the Head’s welcome! But how do you start to build a thought leadership profile that works for you and your school?


Firstly, it’s important to think about what your audiences are looking for. You might have a PhD in biochemistry, but it’s highly unlikely that prospective parents will be too interested in reading your enzymology thesis. However, they could be concerned about the rise of influencer culture on their children’s mental health because it’s relevant to them and shows that you think outside the box. Perhaps your skills lie in curriculum design or pedagogical innovation, which might lead you to talk about embedding technology into the classroom or scrutinising the role of examinations.


In short, you need to find your niche. You don’t want to become the ‘jack-of-all-trades’ who finds a way to spin everything happening in the world to a promotional gig for your school. That’s not authentic and audiences will see right through it, so find an area that you can speak about with authority and make it your own.


Your school must be able to benefit from your specialisms and interests too otherwise your burgeoning profile may start to seem like a vanity project, so considering what’s in their interests is vital. For example, you might’ve spent your life working in girls’ day schools and have developed a real affinity for single-sex education and the importance of children going home to their parents at 4pm, but if you’re now leading a co-ed boarding school then continuing to champion single-sex classrooms isn’t going to do your school any favours.


It’s unlikely that you’re completely against co-ed boarding or you wouldn’t have taken the job, but you’re likely to have some biases that are difficult to shift. Not only will this make your content inauthentic it might also make you feel uncomfortable, which is likely to make you resent engaging in thought leadership activity in the future. This is why finding and honing your niche is key, as it provides parameters to what topics you will and won’t discuss (which might upset your comms team, but hold firm!), and allows you to confidently employ your expertise within the context of your own school.


Choose Your Channel

Having topics you want to shout about is just the first step, finding appropriate outlets ensures that your time, energy and, for some of you, sanity aren’t wasted! This is where you have to take control. A good comms team should present their ideas to you in the early days, this will help you to know their strength and for them to understand how you work and what will/won’t interest you. They’ll undoubtedly tell you writing an article for the school blog or recording a video interview is the best way to go, but there are three things to consider before deciding on an outlet:


  • Who are you communicating with?
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • How comfortable do you feel?


Whilst the first two questions might appear obvious, our experience tells us that schools often make a real mess of these decisions. Whilst convention says that ‘videos belong on YouTube’ or ‘articles live in blogs’, this might not necessarily be the place where your desired audience is spending their time and could result in the content you’ve created being wasted and lost.


Your marketing and communications team should know who the audience on each channel is (if they don’t, then you have a problem that should be looked at – pronto!), so take their views into account, but remember that your name will be associated with this work for a long time. This is exactly why you have to be comfortable with your content, where it’s being shared and in what form. You have to really own thought leadership activity. You’ll be constantly surprised at how often and for how long people will discuss your articles with you, so scrutinise the pros and cons of each channel prior to distribution and ensure that what you’re discussing accurately reflects your own views.


Meaningful Impact

Although there are many variables to consider when engaging in thought leadership activity, it has the potential to have a huge impact on your school. Not only can it help to drive admissions demand, but it creates excitement in your work and enhances brand affinity. Your current parents know their children are in safe hands, staff feel like the school is going places and your alumni feel a sense of pride in the school that was once theirs.


That sounds like a pretty good impact to me.



What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.



Ben Weston-Conway is a CIM qualified marketer and the Global Marketing Manager for Interactive Schools.


@intSchools is a global creative marketing & communications agency #InspiringSchools – delivering measurable stakeholder engagement & brand stories for the world’s leading schools.

Interactive Schools is an established and well-respected global company, with a start-up culture. Always innovating new (and better) ways to improve school communications – we incubate new tech ideas that actually makes a difference to schools.

Interactive Schools believe that every school is unique, and want to help tell their #SchoolStories. Interactive Schools differentiate, by creating bespoke, immersive & Beautiful #SchoolWebsites, Creative #SchoolMarketing, Engaged #SocialMedia and Effective #ParentComms.


ECIS MEMBER SCHOOL IMAGE: International School of Düsseldorf

The Parent Expectations of a New Normal in Admissions


The challenge globally 


Schools internationally have seen significant changes as a result of COVID-19’s effect on families around the world.


Firstly, the switch to online learning and virtual engagement within a school’s existing community was the primary concern, but then schools realised that all their other processes had to change to fit in with their aims of student recruitment. Their other processes needed to be modernised to better support families responding virtually or remotely.


What are parents expecting next from a school? How does it give schools a competitive edge?


Manual admissions processes are very reliant on being responsive to the enquiries and applications that come in. Qualifying and verifying the validity of each, only to then ask parents to complete the next set of instructions and return them, typically before a deadline. In these cases, data needs to be processed, responses need to be verified and then sent to the parents. The pace of the admissions process is very reliant on the time between email exchanges, with data entry in between. Therefore engagement with parents is very limited and the time spent dealing with parents is limited to completing administrative steps for the majority of registrants. For some admissions teams, this is the status quo and it is a reactive workflow between them and the parents.


Where does engagement take place? When do meaningful discussions happen?


School visits were the norm and Open Days were a sacred event in a school’s calendar. Typically they were in a similar format every year to meet the school’s aims and objectives in engaging with prospective parents. They responded with the switch to virtual tours and making these events a virtual “experience” for families. We have heard and seen a number of exciting and fantastic developments on the traditional formula.


However, these interactions are still limited to only those that are able to book on for some form of tour (in person, virtual or a blend). So if a school is not able to support their processes with the usual ways of creating parent engagement and effective customer service then their recruitment is likely going to be affected.


Data, Planning and the New Expectations


So what are some schools doing differently?


Some of the recent changes we have seen:


  • International schools have had to manage the difficulties of forecasting during COVID-19 this academic year. To deal with this a number of schools took a more empathetic and parent-centric approach by using an “unsure” response in their re-enrolment forms. They could then go on to ask parents for an approximate timeline. This already can mean such a big deal to a parent. Offering some flexibility while also gathering all the necessary information and approximate timings was able to provide some clarity, as opposed to only having a binary yes or no response.


  • At the American International School of Bucharest, they found that being aware of their parent’s situations and keeping in touch with them regularly was key to the process. This then gave them the ability to have as much necessary information as possible to gauge and report often on with a range of scenarios from a minimum, to a medium and a maximum.


  • The team at Kingston Grammar School, in the UK, found that the switch to an online admissions system allowed the skill-set of the admissions team to evolve based on how they are responding to the situation to suit the new norm. This could be being a ‘producer’ of school marketing content, or in creating engaging family experiences, such as a virtual school fair with live videos, recorded talks and students participating in a virtual scavenger hunt with sticker books posted in advance to their home addresses.


  • The team at Lincoln Community School, for example, used feedback surveys to help steer improvements in their online learning for their current families. The benefit being net improvements to their distance learning format but also to parents allowing them to be engaged stakeholders in the advancement of the school’s processes. This will also set the expectations for any future changes and demonstrate credibility that the school can meet the next challenges


  • Another example is the team at the American Embassy School, of New Delhi, collecting Net Promoter Scores, measuring engagement within their own school community. While this particular case was not implemented as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, it also allows the team to track engagement within their community for the future.


  • Some schools have simply shifted their tours to personal Zoom discussions that can be booked much more frequently, with a colleague walking around the school on a virtual tour.


A New Normal


Schools are already recreating and modernising their admissions process online, enabling them to gather more data and engage in new ways. Data entry, document submissions and key steps are being completed by parents allowing for the customer to take part fully with the process, be nurtured through their own ‘personalised admissions portal’ and complete items at their own pace. Admissions teams are then reallocating time to pursue personal interactions with parents, have oversight of their entire admissions pipeline and be able to proactively identify ways to improve student recruitment. Monitoring the relationship with parents and having data supports a school in monitoring engagement.


Schools have then seen other positive changes to the parent experience, that are not as obvious.


There is no post or ‘email processing lag’ with online processes, meaning that admissions teams are setting better expectations and are in a stronger position to say the responsibility is on the parent’s to submit documents/forms by the deadline. It removes the age-old excuse of blaming the ’UK Royal Mail’, or “It’s in the post…” and how does a dog eat an online form and prevent it from being submitted…


Ultimately parents are responsible for being able to complete steps at a time of their choosing and their next steps or forms can be waiting for them in their parent account well in advance of the deadline. Meanwhile, communication to parents is centralised onto a student’s profile, providing further layers of support to busy admissions teams.


Schools have also seen that the parent journey has shifted. With parents accessing their own admissions dashboard they can work autonomously. They are not waiting for someone to process their data or respond to their email confirming receipt. There is a green tick showing completion, and from our own experience in admissions, generally, the majority of parents just want to get the necessary steps completed. Schools are encouraging them to complete the steps proactively. Making it easy and most importantly, making the process transparent and digestible for them. Which has streamlined their experience.


Parents recognise that they are responsible, and school teams support them with any help they need, communicate with them and provide ways for parents to engage with their prospective school in an organic way. This is where the responses are able to be more meaningful and better connections are made with prospective parents in the admissions process, leading to a potential increase in conversion and reconversion.


Therefore, setting new expectations and creating new processes during the admissions journey reflects positively on a school. Where parents are given even more confidence that the school can respond to changes beyond their control. Meanwhile, schools are gathering any and all data they need to prepare for their ‘Plan A, B to Z’ action plans as they work towards their own admissions timeframes. Responding with agility requires planning and for effective planning, you need good data and an effective, transparent communication strategy.


With those you can identify trends, keep abreast of changes and react accordingly in the face of future uncertainty and parents will engage positively and be reassured that the school can respond with aplomb.


The Future


So school processes are already different from last year’s. In the future, how are admissions teams going to respond to the next set of challenges affecting us?


COVID-19 has been such a dynamic situation with schools and families being affected internationally in so many ways. However, from an admissions point of view, this is probably one of the most exciting times for admissions teams as there is precedence to show that creative new ideas in the admissions process are having tangible positive results on student recruitment and in engaging with prospective parents.


What schools are doing is demonstrating their aims of advancement for the betterment of their community, into and throughout their time in the school. Taking time establishing your parent’s expectations of your admissions process and reviewing methods of managing relationships, with data to support those decisions. With adequate planning and the relevant information, this is an excellent opportunity to reimagine processes and focus on what is important: the parent’s customer journey. Improving on these processes allows your team to respond back to any new challenges that present themselves in the future.

Featured image (OpenApply case study/ECIS Member School): Istanbul International Community School


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your thoughts below.



From MacKenzie Hovermale, OpenApply Director

In 2013, we launched OpenApply to support international schools in their transition from paper to provide an integrated, seamless online admissions & enrolment system.

Our mission was two-fold: firstly to build out a comprehensive, flexible and feature-rich system extending our experience in serving over a thousand international schools with ManageBac, and secondly to fill a professional development gap by publishing the International Admissions Bulletin and organising conferences around the world for admissions officers to share best practices and enhance collaboration.

This approach of Systems + Professional Development best reflects our long-term commitment to serving the needs of international schools.