Key take-outs from the 2021 ISQ What Parents Want Survey and what this means for your school’s future marketing.

The recently released 2021 Independent Schools Queensland* Survey Report of What Parents Want provides solid evidence and insight for marketing staff to use in their marketing planning and implementation.

Whilst a lot of the results of the 113-page report were not surprising at all, it is the interpretation of this data and how schools use it that can really be a marketing advantage.

This was the fifth survey conducted, having started in 2006 — with results remaining similar to most of the 2018 results. Results were taken from 3961 parents from 116 schools. Over a quarter of the responses were from new entrants (choosing a school for the first time) and over 75% of all responses were from South-East Queensland. To put this into perspective for Queensland schools, 15.7% of Queensland’s school students are enrolled in an independent school.

Parents were asked a series of questions focused on the decision-making process undertaken to select the independent school for that child who had most recently commenced at an independent school. Questions were directed at identifying when parents first started thinking about school choice, the places and people they consulted to gain initial information about schools, and how this list was refined to ultimately result in the school selected.

Rich, insightful data has been compiled which school marketers can leverage in prioritising their focus and budget areas. We have summarised the key finding below as well as our interpretation of how this impacts marketing.

ISQ What Parents Want Survey – Top 8 Take-outs

With the surveyed parents 45% self-identified as “senior management in large business organisation, government administration and defence and qualified professionals”.

A further 20% were “Other Occupations”, listed as: other business managers, arts/media/sportspersons and associate professionals, tradespeople, clerks and skilled office, sales and service staff.

The majority of parents (88%) were from Generation X. Millennials are expected to become the dominant parent group in the short to medium term. In lower primary years, more parents are from Generation X. However, by 2027 Millennial parents are expected to be the largest parent group in Year 7.  By way of reminder: Generation X are born 1965–1980, Generation Y/Millennials are born 1981–1996.

The majority of parents surveyed earned over $145k per year and 75% of households have at least one Bachelors’ Degree.

What does this mean for your marketing?

This data can help when you are charged with media planning (or briefing it in), especially from a digital marketing perspective. When setting up audience profiling for SEM this information is extremely valuable. It helps you make decisions as to whether a media opportunity is the right fit (i.e. does this media connect with the right target audience?) This information is also helpful when determining community partnerships and sponsorships.

Between 2006 and 2021, the proportion of parents considering all three schooling sectors has increased by 15 percentage points; increasing from 17% in 2006 to 32% in 2021. Parents with children attending regional independent schools were also more likely to consider all three schooling sectors (41% compared to 32%) and less likely to consider only independent schools (40% compared to 46%).

Additionally, parents categorised as Millennials are more likely to consider all three schooling sectors than Generation X parents.

Good news for independent P-6 schools: Parents of Prep students were much more likely to consider only independent schools than any other option (45%). However, Year 7 new entrant parents were least likely to consider only independent schools (36% compared to an overall response average for new entrant parents of 41%). One third of all respondents consider all 3 segments.

What does this mean for your marketing?

Be very aware of your immediate competitors, what they offer and what their key messages are. How can you differentiate yourself from them in your positioning and key messages? What can your school do to value add?

The 2021 ISQ What Parents Want Survey revealed that 60% start planning from before birth to age 2 and 40% when kids are aged 2-5.

What does this mean for your marketing?

How do you target people who haven’t had a baby yet or about to have a baby? This indicates the huge opportunity schools have in their current community – Alumni and Word of Mouth / Ambassadors. Schools need to do more engaging with their own community including having events, experiences and opportunities to WOW them. This also includes content. This early interest in school emphasises the importance of your brand reputation and the work you do in creating brand stories that can be shared.

Parents were also asked to identify the three most influential sources that led them to seriously consider a particular school.

These were:

  • Word of mouth from family, friends and colleagues (65%)
  • School open days/formal visits (61%)
  • Other parents with children at the school (50%).

The “school website and social media” was identified as the next most often identified source (42% of parents) as was “family member(s) already attending the school” (23%).

One-on-one school visits were perceived as the most useful, followed by school open days, school websites, school publications and school social media.

93% of parents attend an open day or a school visit. Of the parents who undertook a school visit, 46% attended only one school open day. This suggests that for nearly one in every two parents that attend a school open day, it is the only school open day the parent will attend.

However, 81% of parents did attend at least one-on-one school visit, with nearly half of parents (48%) attending one school visit.

School websites are still important with 90% of parents visiting at least one school website in their decision-making process. A large majority (83%) of parents identified that they had accessed a school’s prospectus/brochure.

More than half (58%) did indicate they were influenced by social media to some degree.

What does this mean for your marketing?

This data is where you should focus a lot of your school marketing effort. Ensure you have effective:

  • “Book a personal tour” promotions
  • Organised tour promotions, and
  • Registration/tracking processes in place.

Your Open Day/s need to be a feature in your marketing calendar. You need to have an up-to-date and effective website and prospectus. Your social media channel needs to be active, engaging, original and focused on a range of content appealing to your various target audiences. You need to be able to track all of this activity against marketing spend for ROI. There also needs to be a planned process of follow-ups once you have engaged with a prospective family.

Parents indicated meeting classroom teachers was the most important, followed by the principal, students, the deputy principal, and parents of students. For parents of boarding students, the most important person to meet was the head of boarding.

It is not surprising that when parents were asked to identify the degree to which their decision was influenced by the external appearance of school buildings and grounds, 97% of parents indicated that their decision was influenced to some degree by facilities.

Over half of parents (53%) admitted to the quality of school facilities (buildings and grounds) was “highly” influential with another 17% of parents indicating facilities “totally” influenced their decision (A total of 70% of parents responded to this survey question). These proportions are similar to past surveys.

What does this mean for your marketing?

It’s important for you to educate your school staff about what parents want/are interested in. It’s also important to curate your tours/open days to include classroom teachers and the Principal/Deputies. Maintaining facilities and planning for new ones need to be high on a school’s ongoing strategic/master plan agenda; communicating this to the current community and prospects is advisable.

Parents were asked in a separate question to identify the extent to which their decision was influenced by their child’s opinion of a school. This impacted over half of parents (53%), with 39%  indicating they were ‘highly’ influenced by the child’s opinion and 14% being ‘totally’ influenced by a child’s opinion. These proportions were similar to previous years. Nearly another quarter of parents indicated they were influenced to ‘some’ extent by a child’s opinion (24%).  (Predominantly not prep entry.)

What does this mean for your marketing?

This means up to 77% of parents are influenced by their child’s opinion! Schools need to encourage parents to bring their child on the tour/Open Day experience and they need to be wowed and enticed. Consider marketing initiatives and language aimed at students (e.g. video, PR stunts, Tik Tok and more).

The 2021 ISQ What Parents Want Survey found that the 10 MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS IN ORDER OF PRIORITY were:

  1. Preparation for student to fulfil potential in later life
  2. School seemed right for child’s individual needs
  3. The high quality of teachers
  4. Encouragement of responsible attitude to schoolwork
  5. Teaching methods/philosophy
  6. Reputation of school
  7. Good discipline
  8. Emphasis placed by school on developing student’s sense of community responsibility
  9. Range of subjects offered
  10. Prospects for school leavers

Not in the Top 10 were:

  • Strong academic performance
  • Small class size
  • Appearance/behaviour of existing students
  • Size of school.

Other influential factors

Other influential factors were “level of school fees” and “closeness to home”. In addition, new entrants to schools were most influenced by teaching methods/philosophies, small class sizes and size of school. They also preferred a co-ed school. For P-6 entrants a P-12 school was appealing. The single most appealing element in terms of curriculum and programs was the range of subjects offered followed by STEM and Pastoral care/wellbeing programs. Parents were also interested in provision of diverse learning pathways, artistic/music and sport opportunities.

What does this mean for your marketing?

Using these messages as a base for personalising your key messages and content is critical. This is what parents want to know about. Elaborate on how your school does this – or does it differently! Make sure it is part of your website home page, your prospectus, your tour speaking notes, your Open Day speech, your social media content and more!

Of those parents that considered changing schools, the most frequently cited reason was “unhappy with school management” (38%). The next most frequently cited reasons were “concerns about discipline/behaviour management” and “sufficient attention not given to individual student needs” (both 29% of parents). This was followed by “unhappy with school communication with parents/parent engagement” and “the child being unhappy” (both 28% of parents). The only other high-rated reason was “bullying occurring” (24%).

The most frequently cited reason for why a parent did change a school related to the child being unhappy (49%).

What does this mean for your marketing?

It costs a lot less to keep a student than it does to find a new one. Declining enrolments is a major concern for any school. This highlights the need for a relationship management approach. Strong and connected school leadership and communication about what is happening within a school is essential. Both of these aspects help to create a good school culture and drive happy employees (staff) and engaged, happy students. The outcomes usually speak for themselves. However, it usually all points to the top. Schools need Boards and school administrators who understand how to lead and run schools.

What is missing from the Survey Questions?

Lastly, as specialist marketers in the education sector we believe there are some aspects (potential questions) to the 2021 ISQ What Parents Want Survey that could be considered as they would be very helpful – and we wonder why they haven’t been included before now:

  • Were you enticed to visit a school or enquire because of PAID digital advertising you have seen?
    (We don’t understand why this hasn’t been given more focus as this would have to be the biggest area of a school’s marketing budget. You would think the question of ROI should be asked, instead of focusing on press/billboards. Paid digital advertising is different to social media as social media, more than likely, is just the school’s own Facebook and Instagram pages/feeds).
  • What appeal does a school’s own bus service provide? Does this hold sway to potential enrolments?
  • How many people surveyed are Alumni of the school they send their child to (either parent)?
  • Were you influenced (for Secondary/Senior) by the pathways and vocational education options/facilities offered at the school you chose?
  • Were you influenced by a particular sporting / music / academic / other program at the school you chose?  This is a good way to measure stand out programs e.g. Outdoor Education, International Baccalaureate
  • As a parent of an independent school student, how much do you donate annually to your independent school each year (or total amount in the past 5-10 years?)
  • Do you volunteer at your school?

Even though these questions weren’t asked, we encourage you to look at these in context of your school as this may help your marketing planning and/or content.

Research Guides the Work We Do

Look Education values the insights provided by this research and provides additional research services for schools, along with a full suite of branding, marketing and digital offerings. Get in touch today.

*Independent Schools Queensland is the state-wide peak body for independent schooling and a leading advocate for parental choice in education. The 16 page summary report of the 2021 ISQ What Parents Want Survey can be downloaded here.