Public Affairs Tip: If you want to engage well with schools step into their shoes.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that local non-profits can find it a bit tough getting schools interested in working with them. It’s a shame because these projects are often full of imagination and young people generally like change. Take me: I still remember the first time I saw a play given by a local theatre company at my primary school. Gob-smacked. Such magic. A world from nowhere.
But don’t lose heart. There’s ways of building healthy, sustainable relationships with secondary schools. You just have to be a Ben not a Bill. They both want to “sell” an (identical) idea – a drug awareness project – to the same school. Both lead a different local charity.
Bill wasn’t at home when common-sense came calling. So he goes blundering in (in April/a bad time for schools/near exams) irritating schools by cold calling them (without knowing who he wants to talk to), e-mail and mail bombing, phoning up expecting to talk to the head or a teacher (during teaching hours) and gets all hoity-toity with the receptionist (who’d burnt her toast that morning). Outcomes: receptionist slams phone on Bill and forever associates him with burnt toast.
Bill likes putting himself in other people’s shoes. He knows that the best time to talk to schools about new projects is September (when everyone’s fresh and free of exams); and that the school receptionists are worth their weight in gold (and probably burnt their toast that morning). He has a few names up his sleeve: the PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) head, the inclusion unit manager and the SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-ordinator). He’s talked to his friends and colleagues and found out that they’re sympathetic to the idea of promoting drug awareness. He’s framed his messages carefully around their needs, how the project will benefit their students (being very careful to pitch it to a year, subject, theme) and how it’s value for money. Outcomes: Ben gets a meeting with the right person; and the receptionist forever associates Ben with the person who made her feel better post toast burn.
If you’re interested in getting better at engaging with secondary schools and connecting with young people why not take a peek at:
If you’d like to share your story about what did or didn’t work for you when it came to engaging with secondary schools please do give me a shout. I’d love to hear from you and include your stories in future posts.
Quick Public Affairs Tip: If you want to open doors, tailor your approach to your target audience and their needs
I’ve always promoted the importance of a rounded secondary school experience. Something that enables people to create the lives they want whether it’s to do with banking or organic food farming. So I was chuffed to receive a commission to develop a strategy on how the local voluntary sector could engage more effectively with secondary schools.
It was a bit of an eye-opener. I’ve opened a lot of doors in my time – universities, trade unions, think tanks, government departments and ministerial offices – but this was a little different. Tougher. After the first couple of hiccups I’d managed to collect some crucial dos and don’ts to making that initial contact.
- Make sure you have a contact name within the school when you phone reception. Using a person’s name is always a good way to build trust. If you don’t have a contact name, then you could try business and enterprise; deputy heads, subject heads, pastoral heads or PSHE heads, inclusion unit managers, SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), welfare and pastoral leads.
- If you can find someone with a bit of influence in the school to introduce you to the “right” person – perhaps a governor or a member of staff in the school – that would be great. Or perhaps you know someone who used to go to that school who can help introduce you to someone.
- Time it right. September’s a good time to approach schools. Avoid post-April.
- Frame the messages in the offer around their needs, what the school wants and how the project will benefit their students. Be clear about where you’re pitching (year, subject, theme); how it’s value for money; and how you intend to measure success.
- Be super-nice.
- Cold call schools.
- E-mail/mail bomb schools.
- Phone up during school hours expecting to talk to a teacher.
- Contact the head teachers as they’re always very busy. Their PAs can be very helpful people. They know the school and can help you find the right person.
- Antagonise the school receptionists.
Hope you found this helpful. I’ll be continuing this school series with what to do in steps 2 and 3 (building trust and creating strong sustainable relationships).
I’d love to hear about your stories. What worked – or didn’t work – for you when you first approached a secondary school with your idea?
Why not get in touch:
One thing I love about being a public affairs professional is talking to loads of different people and picking up inspiring success stories; then sharing them.
Looking back on 2013, The Homework Club – set up by Reading Refugee Support Group (RRSG) and The Abbey School struck me as a nifty idea THAT WORKS. It began in October 2012 and:
- Supports children and young people (7 to 18) from refugee families from neighbouring schools to do their English, Maths and Science homework.
- It runs between October and April – twice a week – Tuesday and Wednesday between 4pm and 5.15pm.
- It has room for 45 children/young people
- Most attend twice a week.
- RRSG select the children and young people who need help with their homework.
- The project co-ordinator at The Abbey School selects the “tutors” from their upper and lower sixth form.
- Abbey teachers supervise the sessions with RRSG representatives on hand.
RRSG’s story: “What prompted us to work with The Abbey School was that we were getting a lot of parents coming to the centre saying they’d needed some help for their children with their school work. They didn’t have the reading and writing skills. As well as improving educational performance amongst children of refugees and asylum seekers, we wanted to expand their career and higher education aspirations; increase their self-esteem and confidence; and engage refugee parents with their childrens’ learning. (Nina Lugor, Casework Manager, RRSG)
The school’s story: “What prompted us to work with RRSG a few years ago was that I recognised that our girls’ general knowledge about the world could be a little better; and that there was a lot of negative refugee press stories going around at the time. Initially RRSG accompanied a refugee to tell his story. It was very powerful for all of us. We extended the relationship with RRSG to assembly talks; and Refugee Week activities. We thought the homework club would be mutually beneficial and it was. The student tutors got a kick out of making a difference, seeing someone learn. It also helped them with their personal statements for university; and the International Baccalaureate (IB). The home work club is a cheap, easy and practical way of making a difference. The model could easily be transferred to other schools, perhaps one day a week with one school staff member co-ordinating it. There’s no cost involved apart form the staff time (which three of us gladly volunteer). For me, I’m particularly glad at the success the homework club has had in promoting community cohesion and raising awareness of global issues.” (Julia Turkington, Director of Enrichment & Head of English and History, The Abbey School).
If you haven’t chosen your Christmas or local charity yet, please do donate to RRSG which does some fabulous work by visiting local giving.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, then please do add a comment; drop me a line at email@example.com; give us a call/text me on 07966 369579. I’d love to hear about your success stories working with secondary schools. Seize the day!