Marketing and recruitment

For free schools at all stages, but particularly those in pre-opening, a key task is recruiting your cohort of pupils. You will need to work hard to ensure that your marketing, branding and community engagement are effective and you recruit enough pupils for your school each year. In this blog post, we share some tips for you to consider.

The challenges

Before you embark on this journey, consider the unique challenges that opening a free school brings and address these issues in your marketing strategy. Common risks to think about are:

  • You are the new school in the area and parental choice may already be fixed towards other local schools.
  • Established schools have premises and often impressive buildings that they can showcase during open days.
  • You do not have pupil cohorts to show prospective parents and carers, which may make the prospect of their child joining an empty school unnerving.

These challenges may seem daunting; however, there are key advantages to a new school, including the ability to recruit teachers who are creative and have different skill sets. A new school will also allow you, the pupils and staff members to build and grow as the school does. You will be designing, creating and building the culture of your school as one big team!

What can you do now?

For free schools in pre-opening, it is never too early to begin organising your recruitment and engagement strategy. We suggest you reflect on these key points:

  • Identify experiences in your project steering group and conduct a skills gap analysis;
  • Understand your project and the platform you will use to manage it;
  • Acquaint yourself with the timelines and key milestones of the project;
  • Anticipate what challenges you will face and create strategies to mitigate these;
  • Choose your communication tools e.g. MailChimp, Eventbrite, Survey Monkey, Zoom;
  • Think about your branding strategy.

Marketing and branding are particularly important as branding consistency and professionalism will build confidence in your project.

Pre-offer day, offer week and beyond

Preparing for offer day is critical for pupil recruitment. Building a strong communications plan, developing your branding and engaging with potential pupils are important tasks to successfully implement your pupil recruitment strategy. As long as you are doing it well, remember that you cannot over-communicate! Some top tips follow:

  • Draft your offer, waitlist and rejection letters and material, months in advance.
  • After offers are made, you should beware of the drop-out risk. During this post-offer period, you should be managing your relationship with the local authority to avoid drop-outs.
  • Some applications may come in late. It is important to keep encouraging applications to come in, particularly if you are below published admission number (PAN).
  • Develop your transition programmes. You should let parents, carers and pupils know what to expect on the first day. For example, you can share the lunch menu, uniform requirements and travel arrangements early.
  • Keep communicating! You can send personalised letters from the headteacher or holiday cards.

Most importantly, if your numbers are low, do not panic! You can focus on increasing your marketing efforts and spread the word about your new free school. This might include leaflet drops, banners and freebies such as school ties or extra sweatshirts. Investing in marketing and communications is an activity all schools need to do but particularly free schools during pre-opening and in their early years while they become better established.

If you require support for your free school, the NSN Delivery Programme is a bespoke support service that can provide personalised products for your project. You can find more information about our support here and you can access NSN’s multiple resources here.

NSN provides media training for free schools. You can find out more about training and upcoming events here. If you have any further questions, contact NSN at our helpdesk: or call us on 020 7537 9208.