Launching a new free school

In 2017, the Department for Education approved plans for South West Essex Community Education Trust (SWECET) to build a new secondary school in Thurrock, as part of their free school initiative. As a brand-new school, Orsett Heath Academy was an exciting opportunity to make the local community feel engaged with and proud of their local school from the very beginning.

Promoting a school that potential parents and students can’t see for themselves is difficult. But with our support, Orsett Heath Academy has already become established in its local community. Heading into its first year, the school is oversubscribed, receiving over double the number of applications to school places available in 2020-21.

To reach prospective parents we developed a tailored strategy that incorporated various techniques of engagement, such as sending letters to and meeting with key stakeholders; writing to parents at feeder primary schools; creating a brand identity for the school in collaboration with potential future students; creating new social media channels to share the school’s brand; and producing press releases to raise awareness of the school and its values. Ahead of the 2020-21 Information Evening, we ran targeted Facebook advertising to generate further interest and excitement which resulted in over 240 people attending the event.

When delays in opening the new school arose, we ensured the reputation was not damaged by the setback. Using regular media statements, press releases and letters to make sure that parents were aware of the delays and what might happen to their applications. This enabled the academy to keep the positive reputation we’d built ahead of its opening and to achieve another significant number of applications for 2020-21.

Going forward, work is underway to keep parents and stakeholders up to date with the milestones of the building works and to fully embed the school as a key part of its local community.