Last week MTC was at the ISBA annual conference in Manchester. We were speaking about the results of the School Transport Survey we conducted among ISBA members in April, as well as talking to bursars and exhibitors involved in the provision of transport.
The Survey was the first of its kind, designed to provide useful benchmarks about school transport services. For example: how many regular routes do schools run for day pupils and boarders; at what times of day; and what proportion of pupils use them? We also got into the nitty-gritty of operations; who operates the services; what vehicles are used; the level of subsidy; how fares are charged; how routes are varied in response to demand; as well as the structure of decision-making and day-to-day organisation.
To request your free copy of the Survey Report email firstname.lastname@example.org giving your name, school and your role, by doing so you consent to receiving further information, including for marketing purposes, from MTC.
One of the questions that we asked respondents was how they see school transport changing in the future. Replies could be categorised largely under the headings of rising costs and rising demand.
Rising costs could include rising parental expectations about service levels, higher fuel prices, the repeal of Section 19 exemptions, changes to D1 entitlements, a shortage of drivers, more outsourcing, the need for electric vehicles because of ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) charges and the spread of congestion charging.
ULEZ and congestion charging will also apply to parents and, together with increasing traffic congestion and busier lifestyles, are expected to contribute to an increase in demand for school transport. The schools that responded expect to add 14% more routes to their networks over the next three years.
This tension between rising costs and rising demand will play out in the changing levels of subsidy, which are generally expected to rise. While some routes will become uneconomic, others could be restructured with lower charges, larger coaches, fewer stops and/or serving hubs rather than individuals. There could also be more joint services shared between schools. At the same time new, more bespoke routes will emerge with smaller vehicles, door-to-door service and premium pricing.
It is all going to get become more complicated, and many of the conversations we had reflected on this theme. A few of the things we learned by talking to delegates were that:
- Not all governing bodies appreciate that most schools’ transport does not break even overall. One bursar said “I’m going to show this report to my governors to prove that others subsidise their services”.
- Many bursars wonder why schools continue to run their own transport, when catering and other activities have already largely been contracted out.
- There are an increasing number of operational models, with emerging hybrids such as schools leasing their fleet but subcontracting the driving.
- For schools with extended days it might be necessary to add some of the extra activities (e.g. tablet-based revision aids such as Quizlet) to any transport services that leave earlier, so that parents don’t feel their child is missing out.
- Better ways are needed to get parents to sign up to services in good time, rather than at the last minute or indeed after any reasonable deadline has passed.
- Restrictions on driving to the school gate may be needed to stop a) some parents only wanting to show off their 4×4 or b) sixth formers abandoning public/school transport in favour of driving their own cars!
MTC can provide detailed maps showing where your target markets are within the school’s catchment, right down to the level of individual neighbourhoods and villages. This allows us to plan school transport effectively, suggesting new routes or alterations to existing services.
In a competitive market it’s vital to reach the right target audience, and make it more convenient for parents to choose your school over your competitors. Families want much more control over their precious time and quality of life, so it has to be easy for prospective parents and pupils to answer questions such as – how do I get there and will it fit our lifestyle? Some schools have sophisticated transport systems, including coach and mini bus services, transport from stations, bespoke car services, and even river taxis, whilst others leave it to parents to get their children to school. Some provide this service included in the fees whilst the majority charge – but school transport is changing.
To find out more about transforming your school transport contact email@example.com
Our services include:
- Defining your transport strategy
- Making your school more accessible
- Defining your target audience
- Stealing a march on your competitors
- The threats and opportunities of traffic congestion
- Accessing the boarding market with tailored transport
- Accessing the day market without diminishing boarding
- Using parent surveys & market analysis to identify routes with greatest impact on recruitment
Bursars can pick up a copy of our transport research from MTC stand 141 at ISBA Conference 21st & 22nd May 2019
Good to see Alistair Lexden’s article in the Spectator reminding us of the true nature of independent schools, and asking whether they will ever be sensibly discussed in the media. He rightly bemoans the constant use of the same Eton-Harrow photograph from 1937, suggesting independent schools are at the root of social division. What other world-leading sector would have a photograph from 1937 used in the media when describing their service? And picking on one or two well know brand names to discuss such a diverse sector is far too simplistic and misleading.
The fixation on affordability is too blunt an instrument too. I highlighted it in a sector-wide report in the 1990s. There has been much jumping on the bandwagon since, because there is always more focus on fees when economic conditions become more difficult.
Independent schools must control their costs and, yes, affordability matters, but they should also be focusing on making sure that they deliver outstanding customer service. Parents must feel that they are receiving the very best value for money while their child is at school as well as when they leave for university or a career. One of the best heads I ever worked with always said that the qualities of our education and the values we instilled were those that equipped pupils for life, especially when it becomes difficult. You can’t put a price on that.
Let’s have more stories about independent schools that are more accessible and their achievements, and persuade the media to dump that photograph once and for all.
And as for nomenclature, I see that the Spectator uses the somewhat quaint term ‘private schooling’ The term ‘independent’ rather than ’private’ is much more descriptive of a sector that is characterised in the majority by charitable foundations – despite state academies and free schools referring to themselves as ‘independent’.
Rose Wild’s fair article in The Times on Saturday 16 March says that no parent uses the term ‘independent’ school, and suggests that ‘private’ should be used. I beg to differ: private fuels elitism too. Instead independent should convey the idea of being free from both government control and the ideologies/ pedagogies that many parents dislike about the state sector. And above all an independence of thought in its governors, leadership, teachers and pupils.
Photograph provided by Dover College.
Emma Hattersley’s comments in the Telegraph urging independent schools to reduce scholarship investment and increase bursary spend is right on trend. MTC has been doing more work lately, helping schools to identify less well-off families, and assisting them with the right communications to encourage applications. We use our Catchmentor market analysis to identify areas where less well-off families live, and assist schools in targeting these families. Catchmentor is mostly used to identify families who can afford the fees, but we use it more frequently now to identify bursary families, and assist schools in developing community links.
Our experience of establishing bursary schemes with schools has shown that it’s not just a question of fee assistance. Families in the catchment are missed because the method of communication and content has not been focused on their needs, and more importantly, the concerns of the family and the pupil. A number of really good bursary applications proceed a long way through the recruitment process, the place is accepted, but the potential pupil drops out at a late stage because of fears about fitting in, and loss of their existing peer group. As many know, the whole process requires a quite different nurturing approach throughout the recruitment process and more support once the child does become a pupil. Schemes that develop relationships well before an application is made forge trust and confidence. Assistance with uniform, other educational expenses and transport can make all the difference too. To find out more about how MTC can help with your bursary recruitment email Melanie Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org
I am heartened by the announcement of the Government backed scheme to place vulnerable children in care into independent boarding schools. With the Government paying 60% of the fees and the schools in the scheme agreeing to waive the remaining 40%, this scheme is more cost effective for Local Authorities, and provides vulnerable children with the opportunity to benefit from the structure, security and community that boarding education provides. The fact that a Norfolk study has shown that two thirds of children in care that are placed in boarding schools come off the ‘at risk’ register is very encouraging.
I have personal experience of just how transformative this can be for young children who have a troubled start in life. A close relation was educated at the Royal Hospital School Holbrook, within their charitable foundation, when his mother was widowed and impoverished decades ago. Being a single parent then was extremely difficult. He became an eminent professor and Harley Street surgeon and has never forgotten the quality of education and the help and encouragement that he was given by a supportive housemaster at his boarding school.
The fact that Colin Morrison will be leading the Boarding School Partnerships on behalf of the Department for Education is encouraging, given he has benefited himself from a boarding education within a charitable foundation. This scheme has been wholeheartedly adopted by independent boarding school heads, many of whom feel passionately about nurturing the talents of children who have a less fortunate start in life. In any event, this scheme to support less advantaged children reflects the roots of many independent school charitable foundations, and as such is great news.
In a mature market paying more attention to four aspects of the marketing mix – product, price, place, promotion – becomes more important. This short blog focuses on ‘place’ – the method by which you bring your service to buyers.
In a competitive market it’s vital to reach the right target audience and make it more convenient for parents to choose your school, compared with your competitors. It has to be easy for prospective parents to answer the questions, how do I get there and will it fit our lifestyle ? Parents want much more control over their precious time and quality of life, which means that the independent education sector must consider moving towards a state of what we call ‘extreme convenience’. Whatever some think of Amazon, their service is based on extreme convenience. It is an example of serving our needs as quickly and conveniently as possible, and if their advertising is to be believed, they can deliver what we need almost before we have thought about it.
In my experience convenience and accessibility are nearly always in the top three reasons for choosing a school. Providing more tailored transport services becomes more important as parents demand a more individual service for their children. Our surveys have shown that providing an outstanding transport service nearly always improves parental perceptions of value for money, which proves very helpful when affordability has such a high profile. Schools that don’t pay attention to making their school accessible are more likely to lose market share, however good their service.
It’s that time of year when schools consider their transport plans. Our top tips are:
- Know where the families live who are most likely to buy independent education
- Target routes to where these families live
- Work on routes that are most convenient
- Don’t neglect public transport and provide best links for stations
- If your school is situated is a congested city or rural area consider bespoke services
- Avoid over long routes and plan express services
- Don’t leave it to an inexperienced administrator. Make it an intrinsic part of your marketing strategy.
- Use MTC Catchmentor™ to help you work out your routes and target the right locations
For more information call 07885 576514
News that two Independent schools announced new campuses in China during the Prime Minister’s visit, prompted us to look at the growing number operating overseas. In the past five years the number has increased from 20 to more than 60, with the majority located in the Middle East and mainland China. 2017 was significant, because it was the first year where the number of pupils attending overseas campuses (31,775), exceeded the number of non-British pupils attending UK ISC schools (27,281).
This is a great success story of overseas expansion in countries with a growing population, an affluent middle class and buoyant markets. This activity is no longer the preserve of big name boarding schools that started the trend. There are now many more day schools accessing this market. Reigate Grammar being one that signed up to open the first of five schools in China, during the Prime Minister’s visit.
There are risks involved, but the benefits are attractive. Franchising enables UK independent schools to benefit from the strength of their name, their history, and reputation, providing an opportunity to grow their brand internationally. We are a small island with a relatively small market. In a mature market with affordability becoming a barrier to purchase, competition to recruit becomes more intense every day, for both day and boarding. Opportunities that can be created to access growth markets world-wide, and give a competitive edge, are worth considering. Selling in international markets can command higher fees than selling at home, especially when dealing with a luxury UK made product – and being able to describe a school as an international brand increases it profile at home. Profits pay for bursaries in the UK, which is essential in maintaining the integrity of fee paying independent education, if it doesn’t want to be the preserve of the rich, especially for boarding.
As ministers seek to open up markets in the global race, they are calling on more Academies to establish schools overseas, and no doubt they will be competing more for this market too.
If establishing schools overseas is a step too far, introducing a home stay programme to recruit overseas pupils can increase sixth form numbers and revenue, especially for day schools that want access to new markets that are not available to their competitors. After MTC’s home stay seminar last term, at least two schools who attended are developing successful programmes.
Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the independent education sector has been quietly getting on with accessing international markets, and securing a stronger future for fee paying schools. It’s a great success story.
In our sector we are used to grappling with new legislation, and making a good job of its application in our schools. The new General Data Protection Act – GDPR – is yet another piece of legislation that we need to get grips with, by May 2018. The good news is that if your school is compliant with the current data protection legislation, this can be used as a starting point when things change. The less good news is that there will be some things that you will have to do for the first time, and some things that you will have to do differently. If all this makes you glaze over and you haven’t yet made a plan, our practical seminar in London on February 20 at The Rag, Pall Mall, led by our expert Rob Masson from the DPO Centre, is designed to give you a step by step guide, so that you can implement it in a pragmatic and phased way.
Much of being compliant is concerned with reviewing your current processes – such as doing an audit of what personal information you hold about staff, pupils and parents, where it was sourced and who you share it with. Other activity includes checking that your procedures cover the rights of individuals, how you will respond if you are requested to provide information, how you would report a data breech and how you achieve consent for holding information. As well as delegating a member of staff to be the responsible officer, there will be some staff training to ensure everyone knows how to deal with all types of personal data that you hold in your school.
To provide maximum benefit for delegates, numbers at our seminar have been limited to 20.
Take advantage of our early bird offer and book now, by going to our events page.
This is a joint MTC and Hugh J Boswell event.
Melanie Tucker Principal MTC – the education strategy experts
The name James Tooley is well known on the fringes of the independent education sector. For most of this century, the Newcastle University professor of education policy has been a voice in the wilderness for low-cost “affordable” independent schools.
As ardently as he has advocated an educational model which he has demonstrated with some success in the third world, those who believe they know UK independent schools have forecast that it wouldn’t work here, where costs are even higher than parents’ expectations.
Soon, however, his passionate credo will be put to the test. Although, according to latest reports, the scheduled opening has been delayed, the first school run on his low cost principles is soon to open its doors in Durham.
If – and it remains a big if – it succeeds in attracting parents to choose it, in a region traditionally inimical to independent schools, this “third world” breakthrough would say something about the modern state of Britain, both economically and educationally.
Be that as it may, affordability remains by far the most pressing economic challenge facing independent schools.
With depressing familiarity, the start of this school year was marked by The Times reporting a private bank’s finding that school fees have been rising three times faster than parents’ wages.
The effects are starkly shown in the numbers. Despite the ISC’s cheerfully upbeat interpretation of its annual census data, numbers in independent schools have been, at best, stagnant for a decade and more – this at a time when the total number of children of school age has risen by nearly 10 per cent.
And that’s not because schools are full. I doubt whether there are more than a hundred or so local market-leading schools, even within the golden circle of the M25, which couldn’t find places for more pupils.
So marketing has never been more important. Knowing your market and how it is changing, getting your brand right and communicating its narrative effectively, professionalising your marketing and admissions processes and supporting the staff responsible for them – now is the time to review all this.
Only a matter of days to go now and another year will be over. And what a year it has been.
This time last year, David Cameron was still (just) Prime Minister, Michael Gove was in the political wilderness and Donald Trump seemed a long way from the White House.
During the last 12 months, we have seen a new Prime Minister come and, almost, go. With her has come – and gone – the prospect of a new crop of grammar schools. And we are still no nearer knowing whether the Government will take the rational view and exclude overseas students from its troublesome immigration statistics.
So, just beyond the inevitable interval of tidying up all that admin which just didn’t quite get done during the year, you can finally see that beach in the Aegean or the olive grove in Tuscany.
And when you get there, and finally have a little time to think, here are five ducks to get in a row for the next round.
- Ready to make the most of the new GCSE grading system? Widespread confusion is forecast this summer with the new 9-1 grades in English and Maths. The BBC reports that, while the official view is that both 4 and 5 represent a pass grade, some universities will accept only a 5. When the dust settles, independent schools will, as always will be well-placed, but has your school decided how it will present the grades when they come through at the end of August?
- Time to change buses? Your school transport routes are a vital component of your marketing strategy, both as a factor in successful recruitment and as mobile advertisements for your school. Do they still serve your current and potential markets effectively or do you need to review them? If not, commission a Melanie Tucker Consulting transport review to increase your recruitment.
- Team review: Much imaginative and well-funded school marketing is handicapped by weaknesses in the organisation and staffing of your marketing and admissions functions. Vital data is lost or ignored, leads are not effectively followed up and people’s skills are not appropriately deployed. Make sure it doesn’t happen in your school. A professional marketing audit will inform your decisions.
- Time for a geography lesson? Commission one of our Catchmentor™ reports to identify the best places to recruit down to street level
- The weather’s lovely. Use the space in the summer for some blue sky thinking to consider your strategy for an ever-changing market.
Have a great summer break and come back refreshed for whatever 2017-18 is going to bring.