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  • Writer's pictureLen Archer

Why differentiating your School is Paramount to its Success

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

In this article we expand upon a few thoughts from new Sage Consultancy member, and experienced international business manager, Len Archer, on what really makes for a great school.

From our experience of several decades of working in public and international education we’ve been told by Board Members, Directors, Executive Leadership and Principals that their school is “different”, “unique” or “special”. These comments either implied that their school is a premier school compared to others or that it is not comparable with other schools in the same sector, the same city or country. (Even those within the same family of schools operating under a common franchise).

Now this school could actually be different and this uniqueness could helps it to differentiate itself from other competitor schools, so it can position itself in the market for parents to identify with and relate to. However, such comments may also be driven by the fear of bench marking with others, perceived loss of control, or perhaps a little pride. Where the underlying message is “ If I can convince you that my school is different, then whatever might present itself is not applicable and irrelevant. We’re doing just fine.”

The commercial reality is that international schools are the same. A school will hire Teachers, a Principal or Head Teacher, and likely some Teaching Assistants. These costs will comprise up to 65% of the total Budget. The school will require non-academic administrative staff, Payroll and Human Resources, Admissions, Marketing, IT and Business Office staff, here goes another 10%. Of course there will be a school campus, facilities management and staff needed to maintain, clean and secure the site. Count this as another 10%. Students and teachers will need teaching and learning resources, and other departments will need supplies for maintenance and repairs. Chalk up another 10%. The last 5% becomes the potential net surplus to reinvest back into your campus. So operationally, bricks and mortar schools are remarkably similar. (Ok, so maybe your percentages might vary somewhat, but you get the picture.)

Yes, there are differences in Mission and Vision as well as curriculum and Yes, some schools will face different statutory regulations and requirements. However, is your school fundamentally different to the others in your local market? As much as each one of us might claim otherwise, in most schools, the basic operational processes are the same.

Trying to capture what actually makes one school different from another can be classified as reputational management. This is being clear and unapologetic about the school's mission and vision and ensuring that the whole school is aligned behind this and the values that the organization champions. As well as talking the talk, the whole school will have to walk the walk. This is measurable success in delivering the curriculum and serving your students and parents. How well does your community regard your professionalism and competence in teaching and inspiring the students. How satisfied are they? Are they happy? Is there a positive ethos emanating from the school? Experienced school Directors and evaluators look for the “smile” factor as an informal gauge of the general well-being of a school. However, schools should also have formal measures of their reputational success to ensure that an anecdotal discussion does not influence important decisions.

From a non-academic perspective, what could curb the appeal and the reputation of the School? A good school also leads with service excellence and efficiency within its finance and operations. Ask yourself, how would prospective parents rate the school when they first arrive? What is the user experience with admissions and enrollment processes? Are they onerous and cumbersome? Are the various departments coordinating? Are parents asked for the same information multiple times? Is enrolling, attending and communicating with the school easy, or difficult and frustrating? Does your school’s non-academic services such as bus and food services match your academic excellence? Does your Business Office provide professional-looking invoices and communications to your parents and sponsors? Remember how you felt the last time you got exemplary customer service?

As well as service excellence, there are other finance and operational cornerstones that will underpin a school's reputation. These include sound financial planning and forecasting so that a school can budget to attract and retain great quality employees or the management of strategic partnerships with suppliers of services that the school outsources such as cleaning, security, catering and transport.

Highly acclaimed schools are successful on many fronts. It’s not only their type of curriculum or educational aspirations. From the very first inquiry to the school until when the parents and students ultimately depart they have a positive experience and develop an affinity that will drive a school’s reputation and success. The professionalism and caring given by ALL staff is what makes the difference.

Your uniqueness will be your level of service and caring given to your students, parents and staff. Your school can be of a similar structure to others, but how a school is perceived academically (and non - academically) will be completely different.

At Sage we are experts in school administration, operations and financial management. We can help assess your operational structures and help you ensure your operational reputation matches that which you are striving for educationally. We understand the good practices in the education sector and we can help you achieve higher levels of efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction. We aim to help increase and measure your school’s “smile” factor.

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