You can tell a lot about the culture of schools by observing the behaviour of school pupils.
Polite, presentable pupils promote positive impressions to prospective parents.
Why the clumsy marketing catchphrase?
Every marketer knows that there are four Ps to manage when marketing any product; price, place, promotion, product. For schools, the pupil is the p of product. School marketers want to show you how your child will be better educated than at a competitor school if only you sent them to their school. So, on a school visit they will show you. As the buyer/parent, you need to decide whether you like the “products” that you see. You have to decide whether you want your child to emulate these pupils.
Schools are obliged, therefore, to put their best foot forward. And you should think poorly of those who don’t get their pupils to smarten up or act on their best behaviour on a school open day or to a prospective parent doing the rounds. And to further the marketing assonance; pupils will be pre-selected, primed and prepared. Enough! In plain speak; you’re not going to meet the student who set fire to the chemistry lab.
To see the “product” in action you do need to visit during a school day, disruptive as it is. Open days are useful, though behaviour won’t reflect the normal school day, but take them for what they are.
Speaking to school pupils tells you more about the school
By far the most valuable aspect of an open day is the chance to speak with the pupils. You’ll learn more about the demeanour, social and cultural mix of the school’s pupils as well.
Your primary school tour guide is likely to be keen and enthusiastic about her tour responsibility. She will impress you with her confidence and maturity; partly because your little bundle of joy is so much younger and still biting people.
You’ll engage more with a senior school tour guide and will learn from speaking to them about their school interests and how they manage the various challenges of the school day. In fact a conversation with a senior school pupil is possibly more valuable than a tour of the school. But don’t be too hard on them if your guide is a gawky teenager who would rather be anywhere else and knows that it is totes uncool to be enthusiastic about anything, ever. If you don’t get much from your first guide, ask for another and go round again. If you don’t get much from your second guide, there’s a pattern emerging.
Speaking to the bus driver tells you even more about the school
If you really want to know how pupils conduct themselves, eschew the stage management of the tour. Speak to the bus drivers or train conductors who ferry them to and from school. They deal with pupils in large groups, where they are away from the watchful eye of the school. You’ll learn even more. You may even get a very different, and not altogether rosy, picture.
A note to school marketing departments; assonance is fine but sibilance is better.
Students sell schools*.
*Copyrighted and happily licensed for a fee.