The key to attracting and retaining students

Esther Clark, Director of Marketing, Wey Education plc.

Attracting and retaining students and of course teachers, is the natural goal of all schools. However, for international schools the fluid nature of their audience means that achieving this can be a constant challenge. So, what are some schools doing to make their offering more attractive to new families and convert their student population from fluid to solid? Esther Clark, Director of Marketing at Wey Education, provider of the online school InterHigh, explains how Wey Education works in partnership with schools to help them achieve their goals.


Mobility, rather than stability, is often the norm for students in international schools. Generally linked to their parents’ careers, a proportion of the school population does not remain long enough to benefit from an uninterrupted educational experience. Naturally most schools believe this is beyond their control but for the schools we work with, this doesn’t have to be the case.


InterHigh is the UK’s leading online school. Since it opened in 2005, we have taught more than 10,000 pupils, currently with around 3,000 pupils in the school community. Between 40-60 per cent of pupils are ‘international’ whether that means they study outside of UK or are non-UK citizens resident in the UK.

Lessons are delivered in live, interactive classrooms by professionally qualified British teachers. We offer a full British curriculum; as pupils move through the school, they can study a full range of IGCSE and A Level courses. In 2018, our fully qualified, subject specialist teachers helped our learners achieve a 98 per cent pass rate at English GCSE and 73% achieving levels 9-4 across all subjects.



What makes us different from traditional schools is that our teaching is flexible, accessible and online. Some students are full time while others are only with us for a few months or join us just to study one specific subject – which brings me to the explanation of how working with us benefits international schools.


Attracting new students

By their very nature, families looking for the best school for their children come with certain criteria: a British curriculum delivered by British teachers, with the highest quality standards and pass marks in a broad range of subjects.


It is this last requirement, namely the broad range of subjects, that many international schools may struggle to support. Children coming from overseas to a new school often come with an expectation to continue to study subjects from their previous school. This could include IGCSE curriculum areas such as accounting or any number of languages from Arabic to Malay. The flexibility of InterHigh means that if an international school doesn’t have a teacher in place to offer any area of the curriculum, the students may be able to ‘attend’ InterHigh remotely, just for this subject. Offering this flexibility and breadth of subjects is a highly attractive option to many families. By working with us it enables the school to show that it can off a broader range of subjects. InterHigh, in essence, becomes a powerful extension to a school and their learning offer.


The other issue that international schools face is the natural flow of students arriving and leaving each year, but this doesn’t have to be the case.


Let’s take student and table tennis champion Anna Hursey as an example. As the youngest athlete in the history of any sport to compete in the Commonwealth Games, Anna’s training schedule makes her education increasingly complex. Anna used to study at Cardiff High School in Wales, a mixed comprehensive school in the UK. It was a brilliant school and she did well, but as the pressure of her training impacted on her schooling, this started to impact her academically. She therefore left her school to join InterHigh which allowed her to continue with her education whilst developing her table tennis career. Wherever she was in the world, she was able to progress with her education alongside her training. However, this didn’t have to be a permanent shift. An alternative option for Anna would have been to stay at Cardiff High School when she was in the UK and simply continue her GCSE studies with InterHigh when she was training overseas and needed that level of flexibility.


“I graduated InterHigh this past summer, getting A-levels in German, French, Literature and English. I am so amazed with how everything has turned out, but I am also very, very happy. My 14-year-old self would not recognise me today. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for home-schooling me and to InterHigh, for showing me what a gift education is and believing in me. Thank you InterHigh for changing my life.” Amy Lally, alumni, InterHigh


Another example is year 10 French student Adrien. Because of his father’s business, and his mother working between Australia and France, Adrien constantly moves between the two countries. Despite being happy with the education he could receive in Sydney the same couldn’t be said when he returned to spend time in France. Living right near the French Swiss border, the best teachers often get jobs in the Swiss schools which pay two to three times higher salaries. Therefore, the schools near Adrien didn’t offer the standard of education his family expected, and they also wanted Adrien to maintain his education in English.


So, during his time in France InterHigh became Adrien’s favoured option. “I love the freedom that InterHigh offers where you can balance lesson time with self-study. I have four, 40-minute lessons a day with plenty of homework that I can do at any time that suits me. With international flights likely to be limited for the foreseeable future, I feel lucky to have a constant stable education that I love.”


When asked if he finds learning at home lonely, Adrien explains, “No! It gives me the freedom to work around going out and seeing my friends, attending boxing classes and the theatre.”


Whether families need that flexibility because their child is a young actor, model, athlete or entrepreneur or if they want to study a subject not offered by their local school, InterHigh welcomes working with international schools to fill long or short-term requirements. We can support schools with a blended alternative or find the right resource to fill the needs of a future looking school especially as schools seek out and re-evaluate their online offering and teaching solution.



If we can find an upside amongst all the outcomes of Covid, it is the fact that there has been a huge swell of appreciation of the benefits of online learning and remote work. With Covid likely to disrupt schooling for some time to come, our teachers who are highly experienced at teaching virtually and delivering the highest quality, stable education, are an attractive option for schools, families, students and teachers.

To discuss a partnership with Wey Education in more detail, please visit:


Esther Clark is Marketing Director at Wey Education Plc. She is also an author and contributor to Forbes, America Economia and the World Economic Forum (WEF). Esther is a Peter Drucker Global Challenge winner and executive leader who promotes and practices human centered management and integrated thinking.

Creating Authentic Marketing Messages and a Value Proposition to Build School Enrolment.

Dr Stephen Holmes B Ed, MBA, M Ed Admin, PhD (School Marketing and Reputation)


Creating Authentic Marketing Messages and a Value Proposition to Build School Enrolment.


For so many international schools, the economic reverberations of the world health crisis have rapidly translated to a confronting enrolment and marketing challenge for Boards, owners and leadership teams.

In many ways, it has put centre stage something that was already a building problem for so many schools – weaknesses in the authenticity and impact of their marketing and marketing messages. While there has been increased recognition of the potential importance of marketing in schools, they still find it difficult to define and communicate points of difference in compelling and cogent ways to audiences. A precondition to build enrolment is an authentic, cogent and compelling identity driven by marketing messaging that impacts.

A quick search of international school websites continues to suggest that creating authentic, differentiated marketing messages is beyond most schools. Straplines and slogans on websites (i.e. integrated into brand schemes), have become commonplace to try and convey a distinctive school identity. In general, they are illusionary, and expensive. Despite improvements in the public ‘look and feel’ of schools, a systemic weakness in schools is the continued lack of influence and impact of marketing messages on parent choice and the authenticity (originality) of marketing messages. Hence so many schools have weak value propositions (USPs). We live in a world of fake news, rejection of logic, illusion and instantaneous sharing. Marketing messaging of reputable institutions like schools surely has to take all of that into account and do better!

And it’s not just problems with the actual marketing messages, schools typically have far too many messages – they tend to be too inclusive and say something about almost everything in the hope that something will connect.

A narrow and deep set of messages explained in terms of actual benefit to the student/parent, why they are valuable and matter both in the short and long term, and proof that they are a reality across the student/parent journey is a far more compelling narrative for school audiences. In this regard, we can learn one lesson from the corporate world – top brands are usually associated with a very small (not more than 2-3) set of attributes in achieving penetrative and attractive identities.

To impact on public perception and enrolment, school marketing must be more than ‘lots of activity’ pushing out similar messages that aim to connect with increasingly diverse audience preferences and expectations.

Marketing Messaging: Pitfalls to Avoid and the ‘To Do’ List

For the foreseeable future, we think that the quality of marketing messaging in schools will be a tipping point and catalyst for market success or failure.

How can schools effectively address the challenges they face in the search for the ‘right’ marketing messaging in a time of enrolment pressure?

Our work with schools on marketing over 3 decades manifests in 6 crucial guidelines for action to review and enhance marketing messaging.


Schools struggle to distinguish or differentiate themselves, nor explain compelling and cogent reasons to choose them (enrol) over other alternate schools.


Clear points of difference in messages, and or messages that may be common but are known to be highly valued by parents/students (prospective, current and past).


A sameness (generic) in the way schools project themselves that does little to create a sustainable identity, or connect well with diverse audiences/expectations.


Marketing messages that are not generic (e.g. a current or possible future innovation or theme) to build a clear school identity and trajectory. Parents/students being able to consistently 1-2 words they would assign to the image of the school that is aligned with the actual espoused school identity.


A lack of messaging and understandable communication on differentiation at the classroom/pedagogy level, so essential for effective and persuasive marketing messages.


More said about staff quality, teaching and pedagogy in marketing messaging. Illustrating authentic school wide pedagogies, how it is of benefit, what is genuinely being done to genuinely enhance and monitor it.


Weak links between the School Vision (and or Mission) and the marketing messages..


An inspiring and ambitious School Vision sets the scene for messages that can be marketed successfully. That is in demand everywhere.


Lack of connectivity in marketing messaging to specific audiences.


Minimising disconnect between what schools are saying (messaging) and the realities and consistency of the holistic parent/student journey is core to building reputation.


Do not over-rely on corporate models to build school identity. Credible high value education messages are what the market most wants here.


Effective marketing messages must override slick mottos which often creates cynicism, not enhanced reputation in school communities.


Flowing from the above, schools need an organising framework to see where and how build a messaging narrative that is consistent and deep. From our experience, a market messaging development action framework should span the below working from left to right:

Such a framework will take schools on a better path toward:

  • More precise marketing messaging definition, and explanation.
  • A narrative for the future identity of the school to align internal strengths/capabilities with external audience preferences.
  • Credibility in marketing messages/value proposition.
  • Formation of Performance metrics to support whether or not market messaging truly impacts on perceptions of the School.


The process of reviewing marketing messaging has a wider benefit and implication.

Starting with the end goal in mind (a compelling and cogent set of reasons to choose your school), the process should inherently inform 3 big strategic issues:

Strategic Issue 1: How Should Your School Compete?

Agreement on what basis (which messages and value proposition) your school can primarily engage to appeal and be seen as attractive.

Strategic Issue 2: Where to Compete – Which Audiences/Which Messages?

In terms of where (what audiences or profiles), explicitly define the audiences the various messages are most likely to attract and the most appropriate marketing messages for each persona. This will assist in targeting and creating specific examples/proof points that would resonate with specific audiences.

Strategic Issue 3: How to Refine your Education Offer to Align to Marketing Messages?

Almost invariably, our diagnosis of schools is that with market challenges are partly a ‘product’ and alignment matter (what a school offers including services), and partly messaging (how a school externalises and communicates that offer). So, a messaging review is best when it is informative from this perspective also.

In conclusion, impactful and differentiated marketing messages continues to be an elusive problem for schools everywhere we look. In the times we now live in, the interrelated questions of what is ‘best’ to say and how ‘best’ to say it can no longer be considered merely prosaic for schools seeking to survive and thrive. Crafting impactful marketing messaging in schools requires a process that includes robust market analysis – it is not merely an act of creativity or imagination.

Please contact Dr Stephen Holmes at for further details.


Dr Stephen Holmes is the Founder and Principal of The 5Rs Partnership ( Based in Singapore, The 5Rs Partnership is a global consultancy specifically for schools in strategy planning, marketing and market research, reputation management, and governance, established in 2004.  Stephen is the only full-time practicing consultant in the world with a PhD in marketing schools. LEARN MORE

Is your school different?

Marcia De Wolf, Director, Quisite Consulting

Your school is a wonderful institution that provides an excellent education to its students and is a place where students, teachers and parents feel at home. You know it and everyone in your school community knows it too. 

If yours is a typical international school, then many of your families move to their next posting after about 3 years, except for the locals and long-term expats who have settled in your country. The teaching staff is a mix of young, ambitious teachers who leave after two or three years to explore the next country, and longer term staff members who feel they have found a working environment they wish to remain in. Sounds about right? 

So why do families come to your school? Why did they choose it over other schools in the area? What do they enjoy most about it? Why do teachers apply to work at your school? Do you know? 

If I ask you why new families should come to your school, would you be able to tell me? Would you feel comfortable with your answer and confident that this is something new families or staff are looking for? What do you offer that “the school across town” does not? What makes your school unique? 

You will probably tell me that they should pick your school since it is obvious that you are the best school in the region! Is it obvious though, to people not yet in your community? And how are you the best, exactly? And if you are indeed the best, how can you prove that?  

In the ever-changing landscape of international schools, few schools have the luxury of waiting lists. If anything, there is more competition than ever and beating other schools in attracting new families is essential to reach your enrolment numbers.  

When you are ‘on the inside’, you often assume your school’s unique features are obvious to those looking at your school for the first time. The experience for those ‘on the outside’, however, can be quite different than you imagine 

Prospective parents want to find a school that resonates with them, that they feel will be a good fit for their children as they move to this new country, where they will need to find new friends and learn a new language. They will likely skip past your school, even if it shows up first in the results on Google, if you have the same standard language as any other school. To get a family’s attention and have a chance to be contacted for a visit, you must find a way to connect with these parents to make them notice your school and consider it for their children. You need to provide a solution to their concerns as they start the relocation process.  

Look at it from the family’s perspective:  

Let’s say a family has just been informed they will be moving to your country on their first expat posting. Very exciting but daunting at the same time, moving to a country they have never been to and where they speak a different language. They have two children (9 and 14 years old), who do not speak much English and need basic learning support. Where do they start? They make a list: learn about the country and city, find a house, a school, a moving company, get transcripts from the current school, and so on. 

They will do a Google search to see what international schools come up for that city. They find some options and continue to the various websites, perhaps checking the schools’ social media channels. What do they find? Very similar information on the websites, happy faces on the social media channels, mostly of classroom or extra-curricular activities. To them, the schools all seem alike and offer a very similar experience.  

I picked a random big city in Europe and checked the websites of three quality international schools. Here is what their sites want me to know: 

School 1: we offer an American education, international community, and exceptional results 

School 2: “we prepare our students to engage with and succeed in a complex world 

School 3: “we are the oldest international school in x, have a rich history of inclusion and diversity, and offer a warm welcome to children.  

These are by no means differentiators. In fact, most international schools in the world claim to: 

  • offer a great education and excellent results. 
  • provide a learning environment in which students thrive. 
  • have a diverse and welcoming international community. 

If these are the reasons your school uses to attract new families and expect prospective families to come rushing through the door, you may wish to reconsider as it does not differentiate you from any other international school on the globe 

Do you feel your website, for a first-time visitor who knows nothing about your school, effectively tells your story? Does it convey the features that make your school so special? The many elements that you and everyone already at the school know, but a prospective parent doing a search does not?  

Prospective parents do not care if you have a flashy website, with fancy features. They want to see that you are a good fit for their children and get the sense that you understand their needs.  

I suggest you take an objective look at your school’s website, but from the perspective of an expat family that does not know your school, your country or international schools. Review your website, especially the home page, and consider whether this is the information you should see if you are a prospective family.  

For most expats, school is home away from home, the support network that needs to take the place of family and friends. It must fill a big chunk of a new family’s life, so the choice is of huge importance to any family starting the relocation process. Look at it from their perspective, what do you want them to feel and what do you absolutely want them to know when they visit your website for the first time?  

Have you already considered and identified differentiating factors for your school? Great! See if they pass the test: are they true, can you prove them, are they relevant and are they well communicated?  

Have you not yet considered what makes your school special or feel you may not be communicating it effectively? No problem, you now have an excellent opportunity to increase the number of new student inquiries by looking at differentiating your school now 

Please send me an e-mail at if you are interested in further discussing this topic and receiving some guidance on the process to follow 

In the meantime, keep up the great work and don’t underestimate all the seemingly small things your school does that can make it special and very appealing to new families! 


Marcia has been involved in branding and marketing activities for 26 years, both in North America and Europe. She started her career at CNN Headquarters in the Public Relations department for five years, before working in strategic communications at two leading PR agencies, Ketchum and GCI, guiding clients such as IBM, Nokia, Dell, and Sony.
She started her own consultancy in 2018 to focus on providing strategic services in marketing and branding. Her clients include the Justine Henin Tennis Academy, Bugatti, FIFA and UEFA. She also runs events for the Belgian national men’s soccer team, ranked number 1 in the world and manages a group of Belgian female sports legends, such as Tia Hellebaut, Kim Gevaert, Ann Wauters and other Olympic and world medalists. A frequent speaker and workshop leader at ECIS conferences, Marcia has successfully advised many schools in the area of effective marketing and branding over the past 15 years.