This year I've spent a lot of time working with schools that serve more than one age group on their 'retention' problems - ensuring children stay from Nursery to Reception, remain in the school from Y6 to Y7, or choose it for Sixth Form. In the case of prep schools, a new challenge has been creating a rationale for the 11-13 years now the Common Entrance process has changed.
One problem I've found is that schools see a proportion of people leaving as inevitable and try a purely promotional repose to persuade them to stay once they've already chosen to leave, rather than using other marketing levers to try to stop (or reduce) the problem happing in the first place. This fits in with the views many have of marketing - when I talk to teaching staff they usually assume it's all advertising, media and other forms of promotion (or 'organised lying' as one once memorably said...)
To change this mindset, one model I use a lot is the '7Ps' of marketing - a tool designed to assess what a service can change to improve use. Only one of the 7 is promotion - the other 6 are price, place, product, people, physical evidence and processes.
Let's see how schools can use four more of these ideas to help with retention...
There's a huge advantage to blurring the rigid 'key stage' boundaries and exams that implicitly invite students and parents to move. For example, schools can offer advanced courses to younger age groups, clubs and teams that bring different age groups together, or multi-year projects that cut through stage boundaries such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award or Extended Project Qualifications.
There's also a lot of evidence that changing place while moving through these boundaries can cause major problems - such as socialisation issues in Reception, learning loss in Y7, or friendship problems in Y12. All-through schools are usually already working to further reduce these - most likely by bringing staff together from both sides of the change to share knowledge and best practice.
Children and parents often come to rely on key people in the current phase of their schools, but expect that this influence will be lost. Creating 'transition roles' where tutors or teachers have roles across changes can be powerful, as can moving year leaders between phases to help transition and ensuring that current senior leaders and trusted teachers remain available for advice.
4) Physical evidence:
My experience of talking to students this year is that it is really, really hard to 'demystify' the next stages in the school journey. Assemblies and tours can go 'over children's heads', and even when they spend time in a new building on a taster day they still have dozens of questions about 'what is it really like in big school?'. So, take this on board, and give more and many opportunities for visits and questions from an early stage.