Intelligent Operations

James West: “Educational Waffle” and why it’s reducing school enrolments 

Every school has honest, heartfelt intentions when it comes to attracting new pupils – however very few sit back and acknowledge the headache they cause parents. The decision for a parent or guardian on where to enrol their child is rarely based on location alone – expectations are much more diverse.

This article is written by James West, a marketing consultant with a track record of working with education provides across the U.K. 

“Educational Waffle”

Let’s unpack the problem – “Educational Waffle”. It often feels like schools are duty bound to use the same limited pallet of stock phrases and statements with flimsy sentiment. This “waffle” – technical term – might feel like it conveys your values. However, just look at half dozen school prospectuses and you’ll soon understand how dizzying the effect of reading repeated promises of quality, aspiration and attainment makes you feel.

The issue here is at the heart of what causes parents’ problems and reduces the effectiveness of all marketing and communications (for enrolment, retention, and the overall perception of a school). The reason it happens is that it’s easier to write in educational waffle, it’s a familiar shorthand and common place – but none of these reasons should be excused. 

The problem that causes these symptoms is that not enough work has been done to understand the uniqueness of your school’s learning experience – the few specific aspects that separate your school from the others. When we work with education providers, they are often able to rattle off a list of 10+ features that make them ‘unique’ – that is, until we show them that nearly every other provider uses the same set or similar. This revelation of seeing themselves from the perspective of a parent, pupil or partner quite quickly reveals how samey their offer is perceived to be.

Why not have a look at a dozen websites of schools in your area – how many tangible distinctions can you spot in the ‘About’ sections? Try to avoid ‘reading between the lines’ and just go with what is said on the page.

What can be done?

Understanding differentiator/s is the core of what is needed to unlock your communications and make your unique school learning experience stand proud. 


To start, we recommend two things:

  1. Listen to your parents, pupils, partners, and staff 
    (Ask them what they think about the school, what specifics they really value, why they decided to enrol, work or partner with your school).
  2. Write a long list of features and ask yourselves ‘Which are unique to us?’
    (If at first you don’t get any, keep going – push yourself to look for specific aspects that could be unique or closer to unique)

Remember we’re looking for things that make you unique. From our studies of educational websites, the following should cause alarm bells if they are featuring on your features list:

  • Active learning
  • Heart of all we do
  • Success in life
  • Hard-working
  • Successful
  • Realising potential
  • Dedicated staff
  • Inclusive
  • Welcoming
  • Community focused
  • Achievement driven
  • Learning journey


Once you’ve found your differentiator or a set of possible differentiators, we encourage schools to use something like Geoff Moore’s Value Proposition to start articulating the benefits.


FOR parents living in Roehampton

WHO are worried about their child’s transition to school

OUR induction series IS the ideal first step

THAT gives parents and pupils time to make the adjustment.


The final step is still very much the start of the process. As soon as you think you’ve found a differentiator, start using it. At this stage you want to test to see how it is received – By using it in a newsletter is a different action received? Did we get more enquiries from putting it on the front of a marketing flyer? When I say it out loud to parents, is their reaction affirmative?

So much of marketing and communications is like writing a recipe for a cake. You need to tweak the ingredients until you find the right balance – the aim of this work is to get going and start to see if you can find the perfect recipe for marketing the benefits of your learning experience. 

James and his company West Creative are working in partnership with Smart School Services to help support schools with their marketing and communication activity. If you would like to discuss your school and this service, please complete the Head to Head form below and we’ll be in touch.

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