Enrolment management is a challenge every admissions office must face. Local culture and academic and wellness expectations need to blend with school demographics and policies in order to provide a smooth enrolment process for everyone. Join the IAB and three schools from around the world as we sit down to talk about how they attract and retain students and families in our current educational environment.

What are your school’s most successful tools for attracting the right students (complying with quotas for nationality/learning needs or any other metric such as gender) for your school, and how do you measure your success?

CT: At LEH Foshan, our talented British teachers are our greatest asset. The individual attention they give to each student ensures that everyone is suitably stretched and challenged in order to make the best possible progress. Our native English speaking teachers come from leading schools around the world and their experience is key to the success of every student.

In terms of recruitment, we are a new school. Students and their parents can benefit from taster lessons and can meet the teachers before they enrol. Parents have confidence in the quality of the school, and the experience and commitment of our teachers through these face-to-face talks. They also have the reassurance of the backing of our sister school in London, one of England’s oldest and most successful schools.

KN & NB: The most successful tool that JIS has is word of mouth. By establishing a strong connection with our parent community, we have essentially found ourselves with “brand ambassadors” all over the world. As our expat families finish work assignments, or get relocated and leave Jakarta, they take their experience at JIS with them. We regularly get inquiries from people who had a colleague or friend who was at JIS in recent years and told them about our school and community. Secondly, we run strong digital marketing campaigns around what it means to be a student at JIS. These campaigns tend to focus on the “JIS experience” whether that be service learning in Indonesia, the multicultural student body, access to international sporting and culture competitions, student university acceptances, or our alumni network. Between word of mouth and targeted digital marketing, we are able to draw interest from the right students. We measure our success in two ways, how much qualified interest have we garnered and what are our final enrolment numbers. Our marketing team works closely with admissions to follow the flow of applications and final enrolment numbers. By measuring success in more than one way we can pinpoint areas where we need to improve.

KRZ: Our most successful tools for attracting students to our school have been our social media ad campaigns and our guided virtual tours. Because we were unable to have people visit us, we had to “go” to where they were, which meant increasing our online presence.

This past year we launched the inbound marketing integration between OpenApply and Finalsite and we firmly believe that it was pivotal in helping us increase our number of applications despite the forced school closure due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

We use landing pages and Google Analytics to measure the success of our campaigns. By using Crazy Egg, we are able to determine if our landing pages were laid out correctly or not and make any needed adjustments.

What are the main reasons students leave your school and do you use an exit survey/ interview when they do?

CT: As a new school opening this September, we haven’t met this situation yet. In my previous school the main reason for leaving was relocation of the family. As LEH Foshan is a boarding school we can provide continuity; our students can remain enrolled even if their parents have to move for work reasons.

Our open door policy and emphasis on excellent communication between home and school is designed to head off the majority of problems before they arise. At LEH, we encourage open and positive communication with parents and hold regular “Coffee Mornings with the Head Master” to clear parents’ concerns and share with them the school news and updates.

KN & NB: The overwhelming majority of our students leave due to work-related relocation. Our counselors and administrators aim to have conversations with departing families but this may not always be possible. Families may also feel inhibited about sharing constructive feedback. To make sure we get the most feedback possible we include an exit survey as part of our online withdrawal form. This has been a great source of information for helping us understand our families’ JIS experience and also opens the door for further communication if necessary.

KRZ: The majority of students leave SSIS because their families are relocating outside
of HCMC. We added a survey which asks questions about their experience at our school as part of the departure notification. If families want the exit packet with their child’s school report at the end of the year, they must complete the survey. This ensures that we will get answers to our questions. The survey results are compiled at the end of the year and are reviewed by the school leadership team. We are looking for trends to help us gauge satisfaction and areas for improvement.

What ways do you screen for learning needs (either SEN or ESL/EAL) at the point of entry into your school? Are your methods picking up most of the learning needs in your school (that is, once the students have enrolled, how often do more needs emerge)?

CT: At the point of entry, parents are encouraged to declare any known learning needs. Our assessment system, comprising personal interview, online testing and review of prior reports are all designed to pick up any potential issues. The experience of our staff means that these concerns are brought into the open early and individual solutions planned with the parents and students.

As students progress through the school, carefully designed formative assessment allows our teachers to pick up any learning needs that may have been masked by other needs such as English Language needs. In my experience, needs that have long been undiagnosed, or sadly even ignored by previous schools, are recognised and careful individual education plans are put in place that enable students to thrive.

There is a wide range of learning needs and LEH would not claim to be an expert in every area. Parents can however expect a meaningful and supportive dialogue with the school to ensure that the best possible advice is provided at every stage.

KN & NB: Every student’s admission is determined on a case-by-case basis using multiple sources of information, such as the applicant’s learning history, school records, feedback from references, JIS admission tests, and interviews with both the parent and student. As an inclusive school with a diverse student body, we have a rigorous admission process not because we are looking for reasons to deny, but because we want to ensure that we set our students up for academic success and social-emotional wellness from the day they join our community. This means planning the best possible transition and adequate support for each child. JIS Admissions works closely with our campus Student Support Teams (SST) and Principals to review applications. Viewing applications through different lenses helps us build a comprehensive understanding of the applicant. This close partnership helps keep surprises to a minimum. Despite this, less than 1% of new students a year present with more needs than we anticipated. Our team-approach to application reviews helps the campus SST respond appropriately to these situations when they arise. In addition, the Admissions Office is represented in our Schoolwide Student Support Team (SWSST), which sets guidelines and recommends policies regarding support services school-wide. We are able to review and reflect on these situations and initiate changes to our admission guidelines and practices when necessary.

KRZ: Screening for students with learning needs is one of the most challenging parts of the admissions process. We ask parents to indicate whether their children have received any additional support in their previous schools ( EAL/ESL, SEN, or Gifted) on the application form. If they say yes, then we request all testing results and documentation. Once we have
this information, the learning support teachers review the files to determine if we are the right fit school for the student.

If the results of our admissions screening (standardized tests in grades 1-12 and observations in EC-KG) are not in line with our norms depending on the student’s language profile, they are sent for EAL or SEN testing.

Our early childhood screening tool was developed to ensure that we were aware of any possible learning needs early on and could decide whether their needs were in line with what we as a school can provide. It becomes difficult when an EAL/ESL need is masking an underlying learning difficulty.

Because our learning support scope is small, we are very cautious about the students we admit. It is unfair for the family to take their money when we know we cannot provide their child what they need to be successful.

What would you say is the most important thing a school should focus on in retaining students?

CT: Each student’s happiness, well-being and success is paramount. By focusing on the individual we aim to instil into each and every student the belief that they are capable of achieving anything. We provide an inspirational English language education for carefully selected students, developing a joyful attitude to learning which encourages students to think critically and creatively. The school is full of opportunity, challenge and friendship; a place where students learn to take risks and become bold, discover their passions, talents, and their own identity. We nurture remarkable young people.

KN & NB: The most important thing for a school to focus on is the student experience. We are committed to making sure that our students are getting the education that they need to adequately prepare them for the next step in their journey. This isn’t just academic, but social as well. We focus on developing the “whole student.” For JIS, it is important that students are compassionate, empathetic, and socially conscious. We provide opportunities for kids to explore their passions in constructive and educational ways. We also extend these opportunities and this commitment to our students’ families. We have a vibrant and active parent community that socialize together, volunteer at school together, and develop lasting friendships together. By offering opportunities for everyone to get involved and building our entire community, we have created a place that students and families want to be.

KRZ: In my opinion, the best way to retain students is communication. By using a variety of communication channels, we can remind parents every day of our value proposition. But just as important, we need to ensure that we respond to emails and information requests in a timely manner.

Over the past five months, I think that schools around the world learned some crucial lessons. A big takeaway for many has been the value of transparency. The more transparency you show, the more buy-in schools can garner, which translates into a strong sense of belonging and community. When families feel part of a community, then it is harder for them to leave. Why would you leave somewhere where you “fit”?

About the Authors

Cathy Tan is the Director of Admissions, Marketing and Communications at Lady Eleanor Holles International School Foshan.

Kathleen Ngkaion is the Head of Admissions at Jakarta Intercultural School.

Nick Biblis is the Head of Advancement at Jakarta Intercultural School.

Katie Rigney-Zimmermann is the Admissions, Marketing and Communications Director at Saigon South International School.

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