This article from first appeared in the May issue of the ISBL (Institute of School Business Leaders) magazine, Vision.

We understand how competitive the pupil recruitment environment is and we know that marketing your school to prospective families is often the responsibility of staff with no marketing experience.

School marketing plays an essential role in raising your school’s profile and stimulating pupil applications. Choosing where to focus your marketing efforts however, can be daunting and knowing how to generate results from your endeavours even more so. 

Our mantra: less is more. Keep things simple by focussing on fewer marketing activities and do them well. It is worth prioritising these three:

  1. Word of mouth
  2. Visibility in your community
  3. Nursery liaison


  1. Word of mouth

Word of Mouth is an incredibly powerful marketing channel for most schools, with a large proportion of parents hearing about a school on the ‘friends and family grapevine’. Prospective parents see this as the most trusted source of information. 

Knowing the power of this, schools need to find ways to harness this advocacy so that their parent body can be great ambassadors for the school. 

At Stickman, we show schools various ways of doing this, but one simple idea is to ask parents to refer a friend. Families who’ve recently joined the school (e.g. Reception or Year 7 parents) are a good place to start; they are likely to be excited and enthusiastic about joining your school community and spreading the word. 

Approach them in person; check in with them about their initial experience at your school. Ask them who they might know who would be a great fit for your school – a parent at their former nursery, a neighbour or family member – and if they’d be happy encouraging them to visit the school. 

  1. Visibility in your community

An obvious but commonly overlooked marketing activity for a school is getting visible around your catchment area. Never make an assumption that all those families who are eligible to apply for a place at your school are aware that your school exists, or that they know anything about who you are and what you do well. To what extent is your presence really known outside of the street or village you are in?

More than ever before, prospective parents are ‘digital first’ in their initial investigations about any school. They will spend a significant time perusing everything they can find out about you online before ever picking up the phone or visiting in person. Your online presence is therefore crucial in creating a positive first impression. Ensure what parents find is accurate, up-to-date and user friendly for attracting pupil applications.

In a similar way to Word of Mouth strategies, there are many ways of creating visibility about your school. Optimising prospective families’ digital journey is just one of them. 

  1. Nursery liaison 

Think about the pathways to Reception that the children who enter your school experience. Even if your school has its own nursery, chances are that a number will come from other childcare settings. How do the parents of these young children find out about the primary schools in the area? How do they know which they can choose from in their application and what leads them to place one as first choice over another? Much of this information will be from other families (Word of Mouth) but their child’s nursery will be a trusted source of advice and knowledge.

Healthy relationships with your catchment area nurseries will help to ensure your school is known and is ‘front of mind’ in conversations between nursery staff and parents who are considering a child’s next step.

These nurseries will only have an interest in building a relationship with your school if you can show them that it will benefit their children and/or strengthen their engagement with their parent (and prospective parent) community. So be sure to make this clear to them. For example, they will be interested to know how their former nursery children are getting on at your school. These pupils will be super ‘examples’ of why that particular nursery’s provision gives children an excellent foundation on which to start school. With families’ permission, pupils who attended the nursery could be encouraged to write about what they loved about it (they might need some help to remember the types of activities they got up to) and how this has helped them at school. If the nursery can display these for parents to see, it offers a heart-warming demonstration of the nursery’s success with children. 

Again, there’s lots more we have to say here, but do these things for starters. Yes, they involve a bit of time and effort, but they are affordable, simple and most importantly effective activities to focus on initially. 

If you would like to be more confident about how to market your school and improve pupil applications, ISBL have partnered with The Stickman Consultancy to offer ISBL members 20% discount on the Stickman online pupil recruitment marketing course for primary schools. 

 The ‘3-Step Framework to Building an Awesome Pupil Recruitment Marketing Plan is an accessible and practical online course that is made up of 12 bite-sized modules. It is aimed at marketing beginners in schools and gives you the knowledge and confidence to put together a marketing plan and then to put it into action.

Find out more here. 

Stickman Character

Subscribe To Our Mailing List!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest school marketing news and views from the Stickman team.

Thank you for subscribing!