Schools are failing their students. According to OFSTED, in its report "Going in the Right Direction", published in September 2013, the majority of schools are failing to provide students with impartial advice about their options post 16.
Despite a legal obligation since September 2012 for schools to secure independent and impartial careers guidance for all Year 9 to 11 students, there is evidence to suggest that not only is this advice not being delivered, but students are being misled.
The many colleges I have visited are indicating that schools are restricting access to schools liaison staff and senior leadership teams from colleges. It is also clear that schools are starting to provide courses, traditionally provided by colleges, in facilities that are not fit for purpose. I have also heard horror stories of schools organising field trips and activity days to coincide with college open days.
The coalition Government should start to listen to colleges, along with the campaign launched by the Association of Colleges in 2013, called Careers Guidance Guaranteed, otherwise we are in danger of failing a whole generation of young people.
So outside of lobbying the Government, what can be done? Firstly, do not give in to schools. Be persistent and try to get a foothold at any level, whether it is SLT level or at curriculum level. Try to use the influence that the governors may have – some of them might also be governors at your feeder schools. It is important to have a contact strategy for each school and to monitor this on a regular basis.
If schools continue to be awkward or obstructing, you need to communicate directly with students and their parents. There are many tools you can deploy to engage with young learners. Here are a few:
Social media marketing
In a recent survey of marketing effectiveness carried out by Rave Communications, Facebook advertising generates the best return on investment compared to all other advertising channels. Facebook advertising can be targeted with high accuracy and minimising wastage. Facebook users can be targeted by geography, age, interests and behaviour. Twitter has recently introduced advertising to the United Kingdom, but currently there is not an ability to target geographically. However, this can be overcome by picking behavioural criteria that links people with a locality. It is essential that social media advertising is planned and managed proactively. Don't simply put up an advert and leave it. It is important to keep testing different messaging to optimise results.
Social media advertising is good for both encouraging a direct response, like clicking through to a website, and for brand building due to the frequency of message impact.
Outdoor advertising is highly cost effective for reaching young people and the cost per impact is low compared with most media. Formats vary widely from the imposing 96 and 48 sheet poster sites, down to smaller 6 sheet sites located at bus stops, on the roadside and at supermarkets and railway stations. Additionally, transport advertising on buses and taxis can be highly effective. There are three common mistakes made by colleges with outdoor advertising. Firstly, booking too late will result in less than ideal positions. Secondly, colleges tend to over-clutter outdoor adverts, making it impossible for the audience to quickly decipher the ad. Thirdly, colleges expect a direct response from an outdoor advert, but outdoor is not a responsive media, it is a brand awareness media.
I have heard of some colleges panicking and parking mobile ad vans outside schools. This will only antagonise a school and is likely to damage any shred of a relationship for many years to come. If you want a presence on the streets on a regular basis, make sure all your college vehicles carry strong college branding.
Although local press titles are suffering due to declining readership and advertising spend, media relations activities remain a good way to keep the college top of mind. Good editorial content should be multi-tasked and placed with the local newspaper, with online news outlets and be used for social media posts.
John Wilford is founder and managing director of Rave, a specialist marketing agency providing strategic advice, creativity, media planning, social media and campaign execution to many FE colleges and sixth form colleges