Admission drivers and insights

Choosing a school for their child is one of the most challenging and stressful times for parents and, in most cases, one of the most important decisions they will make. With far greater access to information about schools than in the past, parents’ selection processes are more structured, informed and planned.

MMG’s research with future parents has provided the following insights:

  • On average, future parents apply for a place at two and a half schools and pay the required application fees.

  • Nearly half the applications are for a place four or more years ahead.

  • A greater number of parents who did not experience independent schooling themselves are now choosing this experience for their children.

  • Schools with an Early Learning Centre (ELC) are attracting parents who find fees are lower than local day care providers and who benefit from the government subsidy available to ELC parents. Twenty percent of these parents withdraw their children at the end of the ELC year however, in some instances, they return to their original school of choice for secondary school years.

Future enrolments are a key indicator of a school’s sustainability and, as such, a much greater focus is being placed on the admission function by school leaders and boards.

While the registrar’s role is unquestionably critical in achieving enrolment targets, a number of other major drivers also need to be considered:

  1. School health. Current and past parents are a major stakeholder group when it comes to influencing the choice of future parents. Their perceptions and advocacy regarding their experience of the health of the school are therefore critical. This includes areas such as academic standards, quality of teaching, student wellbeing, leadership and balanced educational offerings.
  2. Reputation. Future parents rely heavily on the reputation of the schools they are considering. Their views are shaped through talking to current parents and students, referring to academic league tables and press coverage, perceptions of the quality of students and results in academic, co-curricular and sporting areas.
  3. Economy and competition. Australia’s volatile economic highs and lows over recent years have seen declining enrolment numbers in independent schools. Higher quality state schools and quality lower fee independent schools are also a growing challenge.
  4. Attrition. Student retention is extremely ‘inelastic’ and a parent’s decision to remove their child is mainly influenced by financial, relocation and scholarship factors. Removal from a school due to dissatisfaction occurs in fewer than 20 percent of cases. Attrition levels in independent schools generally range from 4.5 to 6.5 percent of total student numbers.
  5. Admissions processes and future parent engagement. In the area of converting enquiries to commencement, MMG has observed some reluctance from registrars regarding proactive phone contact and follow-up with future parents. Apart from an auto-generated acknowledgment of the initial enquiry, fewer than two out of ten schools demonstrate effective follow-up. With 45 percent of parents enrolling their child four or more years prior to intended commencement, this ‘danger zone’ is critical for establishing relationships and strengthening school choice. It is often also the period during which a parent receives little or no communication from a school.

Efforts to reach enrolment targets are a schoolwide responsibility. However, engagement and support from the school executive is an important factor in enabling your admissions team to function at best practice levels.

Tony Pfeiffer is the Founding Partner of MMG Education, a leader in tailored school stakeholder research and performance benchmarking. Tony served on the board of a leading independent school for over nine years and has decades of corporate experience in senior executive roles.

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