23 Feb 2022
At the end of March (how long ago it feels!) I wrote a blog anticipating the need for schools to create a virtual alternative to face-to-face events in the light of the COVID pandemic.

Six months on and with large-scale gatherings still restricted in many areas of the world, it’s time to look at what schools have achieved – and what they have learned from it. And below the six key points of advice I've picked up from fellow school marketers there are links to a number of virtual tours and visits so you can see and be inspired for your own events!

1. Virtual needs to be more than a chance to see your buildings

Very few people attended live Open Days just to see the school site, so it’s great to see schools using videos of staff and students, live Q&A sessions, examples of great student work and even interactive challenges, sometimes even ignoring the building altogether! One thing I really like seeing is discussions involving students talking about the school and what it is really like to study there – something that matters a lot to prospective pupils.

2. Virtual gives you the chance to focus visitors on what really matters

School tours and events can suffer from overkill – showing too much and leaving the visitor confused as to the real selling points of the school. A virtual event lets you focus on the key questions – ‘what does this school offer now?’ and ‘what are you doing to make it even better in the future?’ To help with this, make sure that all those appearing in your tour are aware of the school’s key messages and have had the chance to find the stories that show them these in action in their area. School leaders’ contributions should be mainly focused on the future.

3. Virtual can use cutting edge tech – but it doesn’t have to!

here are many great video and design companies offering virtual tours to schools and it’s worth talking to them, not least to marvel at the latest technology from augmented reality to 360-degree images. However, don’t get too carried away with technology and forget the messages and stories. And whatever tech you’re using, make sure to test everything in the actual conditions they will be used in – I’ve seen several schools forget about the limits on numbers when using tools such as Zoom for example!

4. Virtual can never replace individual conversations

A good virtual event should always be backed up with the chance to ask questions. This is often offered via email or as part of a group video chat but many parents are less confident asking questions this way and might prefer the chance to talk by individual telephone or video call – or with a face-to-face visit if this is permitted. It’s also worth allowing and encouraging parents to book calls with specific experts in the school such as special needs co-ordinators.

5. Virtual frees you from the limitations of time, so freeze your events!

I’ve seen quite a few schools that have used virtual events to replace face-to-face ones but have also stuck to the very limited time windows they were used to. Some of this may be down to safeguarding fears, but given that parents may be struggling with time pressures, why not record the ‘best bits’ of a fixed-time event and add tours, video interviews and more for visitors to access at any time?

6. And finally, virtual is just one part of the process!

There are a lot of schools that have invested heavily in virtual events but don’t then capture visitor data and follow up. This is fine for schools that are heavily oversubscribed – but it’s important that a school doesn’t assume that it will be in the future. Make sure that you’re clear why you are asking for data and most visitors will willingly sign up for further news and updates on the admissions process, allowing you more time to impress them!
Virtual events to be inspired by (and please add yours in the comments!) ​​

  • The Marches School: Hayley Alldridge, Head of Marketing and Brand for the Marches Academy Trust describes the school's online provision: "We are transforming virtual open events taking the focus off the facilities (as we can’t bring people in to see them) to focussing on the relationships within the school community - we’ve put together a suite of videos showing what our school looks like each day and have pushed the boundaries on the old style ‘virtual tour’. This is the first time parents will be choosing a school for their child online without the opportunity to visit the school so we’ve had to be creative."
  • Blackburn Central High School
  • Perth Grammar School 
  • Beckfoot School
  • Bradley Stokes Community School 
  • The Beacon School