A couple of weeks ago I attended a two day boarding school conference just outside London where overseas agents from countries all around the world gathered to meet independent schools to learn more about the benefits of sending children to our schools. Meeting one particular agent on day two before even the pleasantries were over, ‘demanded’ to know what made Knighton different to all the other 100 schools also represented at the event. After a day and a half listening to schools telling her they were all about the whole child, the excellence of their pastoral care and their wonderful facilities, she’d heard it all and wanted a more original response.
I tried my best not to disappoint although I couldn’t help feeling slight pressure as she fixed me with a stare which clearly meant “don’t be beige”. Once our 20-minute ‘speed date’ was over, she presented me with a small gift, a china model of a Scottish bothy; she explained she only gave them to schools who passed her test. Afterwards feeling more than slightly relieved, I couldn’t help wander around the conference hall looking to see if other schools had a small china model bothy on their table.
The beige comment struck a chord, particularly so as there was a recent press article saying all independent schools were in danger of becoming too similar with websites reflecting all too familiar content of panoramic photographs of the latest multi million pound build and lots of happy smiling children. Dare to be different the article said.
In essence most schools do the same thing, we can’t avoid the core element of what we do which is to educate children. So how we don’t stand out from the crowd? If a school had to give its three minute ‘elevator pitch’, what would it say?
Marketers talk about having a USP – a unique selling point – which gives you a point of difference when comparing to similar businesses. I have a bit of an issue with limiting ourselves to one USP, often, and particularly with schools, there is not one USP but a collection of them. So, for Knighton one of our USPs is we are an independent girls only (and stand-alone) prep school. We are not the only school of its type (according to my research there are only four like Knighton in the country) so we can’t say we are unique in this regard, different yes but not unique.
Distilling all that’s ‘different’ about Knighton I feel boils down to the ethos and feel of the school and our attitude to children and childhood. Looking through parental lenses, they have to be able to imagine whether or not their child will be happy and thrive here. If these boxes are ticked, then it’s largely down to pure logistics.
This may seem an over simplification of an incredibly complex and emotionally charged decision making process, more so when you factor in the cost of committing to an independent education for your child/ren but consider the following: Many parents taking those first steps towards independent education will be doing their research in a number of ways as well as talking to other parents who already send their children to an independent school. Independent school parents are savvy well connected people who like to know what they’re buying into. Based on their research including visiting two or three schools, the impression they walk away with after their visit is more than likely to be a gut instinct about the look and feel of the school than anything else. They’ll then go away and consider the logistics; can they make it work for their child and for their family?
The look, the feel, the ethos, and our attitude to children and childhood provides Knighton’s colour palette; being beige simply isn’t an option.