Open Days offer prospective parents an insightful opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the schools they are considering for their son/ daughter. But what is the best format for an Open Day that will give you the results you need?
Should Open Days be another day in the life of a school where parents can drop in at anytime on a given date, or should it be a fete-like occasion with balloons and bouncy castles to draw in as many families to your wonderful school?
We have seen both extremes as well as a few other variations and can come to the conclusion that a successful Open Day for any school wishing to recruit students would need to tick the following boxes:
1. Targeted promotion: be clear of who you want to come to your Open Day. Is it just prospective families, previous enquirers, existing families or families in general? The more specific you are, the more targeted your promotional campaign will be. It’s better to have 5 interested families to attend your Open Day than 50 who may just want a free gift and a ride on that pony that you’d mentioned on your leaflet!
2. Whole-school co-ordinated affair: When an Open Day doesn’t have the benefit of being a whole-school exercise, you will see, for instance, emphasis on face painting, pony-riding and jumping castles as featured activities Whilst the kids will no doubt have an absolute blast, it’s unlikely that your prospective parents would have seen enough (about the teaching and learning, the management and ethos of the school) to make a decision to enrol their child at your school.
Instead, plan the event at least 3 months in advance in conjunction with the Principal or Head and their deputies, start raising an internal profile of the event amongst teachers, staff and students. Involve as many as you can earlier on and you will have a more meaningful and fruitful Open Day.
3. Stop normal operations (for a couple of hours): Whether you choose a normal weekday or a weekend to host your Open Day, be sure to make it a special event for all involved. How can you make it special? Some tips to consider:
- Have speeches. Some schools think having speeches is too formal and opt instead for one on one informal chats with the Principal/ Deputy. Not only will this consume much your academic leaders’ valuable time, it will tire them very quickly, and possibly disabling them from giving subsequent parents that all-important warm and enthusiastic welcome. Having speeches at set times (ideally at the beginning of the Open Day) allow your academic managers to be able to carefully craft what they wish to present, allowing them to show the school and its leadership in the best light. Formally addressing the prospective family through a speech helps them to feel respected, wanted and welcomed by the school, which is important in trying to win them over. A good speech or presentation can also strengthen the connection between the school and families. So don’t be shy about having speeches. We have never seen them to go wrong.
- Have student guides. Select a good number of your top students, work with them over a couple of workshops prior to the open day on ‘how to be a good guide’ and, on the day, let them do the important job of showing your visitors around. Parents love the honesty and ingenuity in students, who will do an excellent job of selling your school ‘subtly’.
- Have displays. Now is the best time to display all the fantastic work that each department has accomplished. You could have information desks for each department/ subject in one large room or each classroom is an information station. It is important to inspire your prospective families with what their child will be able to achieve at your school through the displays.
- Classroom experience: Getting your guests to try out a practical experiment in the Science lab (preferably a non-hazardous one!) or try out a Maths game in the classroom are great ways of showing how interactive and fun learning can be at the school. Don’t leave it up to chance either: do pick your best teachers, who can connect with the parents and facilitate the classroom experience. A successful classroom experience will often lead them booking a “trial day”. (The idea of a trial day is to ease the pressure off parents to commit straight away. Give them the opportunity of booking a trial day. Most of the time, parents will enrol after a successful trial day!)
Those are our three top tips for delivering a successful Open Day that will bring you the desired results: enrolments! Let us know what worked on your Open Day!