Developing a brand for your school is not a frivolous activity, but about being able to communicate what your school stands for –both internally to students and staff, and externally to parents, prospective parents and the community.
Something we have learned at St Matthew Academy is that the process of getting the branding right is an opportunity to think about what you want your school to do for its students and how you want people to see your school.
When we began in 2007, the school had a real reputational problem. Opened on the site of a failing boys’ school we had to show that our school was as different from its previous incarnation as it could be.
We had taken over a neighbouring Catholic primary school and became a mixed all-through school catering for students from three to 16, in a new, state-of-the-art building, with new staff and an aspirational curriculum specialising in business and enterprise.
Our problem was how to disassociate ourselves from the previous school, which – having been there for 100 years – was a local landmark. Starting as a top grammar, St Joseph’s steadily declined and achieved the dubious status of being the worst school in Europe (in its final year just four per cent of pupils got five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths).
As we had no reputation beyond not being St Joe’s, we realised the solution had to start with the branding, which had to communicate what we now were as well as what we were no longer.
We were introduced to a marketing company who helped us to think through exactly what we wanted to say about ourselves. The first thing we learned through this process is that the corporate identity – the logo, colours, design – is not the brand. Our brand consists of the values that drive us.
During discussions we realised our Catholic ethos was the most important thing about us. That helped us create our mission statement: “To provide a positive, inclusive, Catholic environment for learning and growth which promotes excellence and inspires each individual to discover, develop and fulfil their spiritual, intellectual and personal potential and to become lifetime learners.”
Everything else stemmed from there. Having been given the name of St Matthew by our sponsors, the Diocese of Southwark, we took inspiration from the St Matthew Gospel: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” Our motto became “Let your light shine” and it now sits under a star logo (pictured, right) in which each ray is a different size – reflecting the diversity of our pupils and their talents.
Our internal communications, website, prospectus, Facebook, Twitter and media relations are all informed by the brand values and resultant corporate identity, using them to spotlight the achievements of children and staff.
The brand is also easy to communicate externally – prospective parents can visualise their child’s talents being nurtured. It helps drive our relationships with the local community and businesses, who give us support through our enterprise specialism.
Over the last five years we have developed the brand – updated it to reflect the school as it is, as opposed to what we hoped it would be. That has meant understanding the whole range of ways that we communicate our identity, from the language we use to how our children behave, from how well we communicate with parents to how we react to complaints.
Our brand enables us to identify our school in a crowded market. Since we opened, most schools in Lewisham have been rebuilt, and everywhere results are rising. Several local schools have become all-through, so the features that were distinctive to us as a new academy are no longer unique. However, our defining message of a Catholic approach to education which sees every child as an individual to be nurtured and cultivated, still – we believe – helps us stand out from the crowd.
Creating your brand
- Work out what your values are first – these help shape everything else.
- Schools have to “live their values” – if you want a reputation for being compassionate, your behaviour policy has to reflect that.
- Schools are businesses in a competitive market – it pays to get the professionals in so that your corporate identity, website and communications reflect a professional organisation.
- Make sure every member of the school understands and “buys-in” to the brand values.
- Every communication is an opportunity to get your brand across – letters, newsletters, social media, school trips, behaviour on local buses, relationships with local businesses etc.
- Once you have a corporate identity, insist everyone uses it correctly every time, in every email, newsletter or article that goes out.
Deborah Benady is marketing and media manager at St Matthew Academy in Blackheath, London. St Matthew offers an advice service for schools interested in improving their marketing. For information email email@example.com