Helping boarding schools stand out in a Covid-19 world
“An increased and continued focus on IT seems a good place to start.”
It’s a very competitive world boarding schools are facing – the market was already competitive pre-Covid-19 – and the reality is some schools won’t survive and won’t re-open in September 2020, writes Pat Moores, director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.
So how can schools enhance their offer to make sure they do thrive in this new world?
An increased and continued focus on IT seems a good place to start. The rush to move learning online has produced fantastic outcomes for some schools that have really embraced the challenge and met the demands of sceptical parents who were uncertain that schools would be able to offer a valuable online education for their children.
As Mike Oliver, principal at Brooke House College says, “teachers and pupils across the globe have worked unbelievably hard and adapted amazingly to ensure teaching and learning has been maintained during lockdown. The success of this move online means that I would expect IT developments and digital delivery to play a much more significant part in boarding schools in the future”.
How can the online learning “experiment” benefit schools in terms of enhancing their positioning in the market? Some key trends in the market lend themselves to enhancing this online provision.
For example, the new online offer could potentially build a new and valuable income stream for schools or a blended learning offer collaborating with quality local providers for face to face teaching.
Also, now schools have got a greater taste for IT development, one might hope they will more overtly embrace VR/AR experiential learning that is mainly accessed online or via apps. For example, expanded use of software like google expedition would enhance both online and classroom base learning, particularly in a world where physical travel will be difficult for some significant time to come.
Another aspect of delivery that no doubt some schools are already investigating is an online summer school offer. The introduction of VR/AR technology can replace some cultural visits. Google expedition, for example, has over 900 virtual 3D experiences to offer, such as a trip to Elizabethan Bristol or a trip to the North Pole. Also, specific skill development related programmes could also be offered online. “Bootcamps” offering coding and data analytics skills for older children could be offered online and there are many providers who already offer courses of this type to adult learners.
Use of technology can also enhance a school’s environmental positioning. Many schools are now embracing virtual tours and as Caroline Nixon, Director, BAISIS and International Director, BSA points out; “We may see a weakening of the reliance of schools’ marketing departments on expensive and long-distance travel to recruit students. Families and agents may be willing to engage with schools in more creative and environmentally friendly ways”.
Overall, new additions to a school’s positioning and proposition to enhance their competitive strength need to be more clearly articulated than ever before. Ensuring these statements are obvious on school web sites and prominent in prospectuses and promotional materials for agents is vital, alongside ensuring that all internal staff are aware of the key “strengths” of the institution.
But what about the core, safeguarding offer that all schools need to clearly articulate in a Covid-19 world? Certainly the role of guardians has been scrutinised during the pandemic and the focus ongoing will be on meticulous planning and parent communications for the new academic year: “parent webinars; regular, translated communication packages; flexible arrival arrangements from mid-August and consistent messaging from schools and accredited guardians are all helping to build the trust that will be essential for families to feel confident about the new academic year,” says Julia Evans, director of Cambridge Guardian Angels.
Finally, whilst embracing new technology, new pedagogy and detailed planning for the new term ahead, schools also need to remember what makes the school experience memorable for existing students. As Anna Trott from Kings Education highlights, “as we have all moved online, weirdly this has highlighted, more than ever, the need for human interaction – the feeling that whilst all around is changing, old bonds remain – this will always be the essence of a truly memorable education experience”.