The Australian Boarding Schools’ Association (ABSA) promotes the interests and well-being of boarders, boarding staff, boarding parents, and boarding institutions in Australia. Richard Stokes, CEO of ABSA, invited Finalsite to participate in a professional development webinar with its members.
Richard stated: “When we visit our member schools, part of our evaluation includes their website and communication tools. So often, what is present on the website no way reflects the outstanding environment we see in person. We were so excited to collaborate with Finalsite to craft and deliver a webinar that truly focuses on key elements every boarding school website needs. We can learn so much from looking at others and listening to new ideas so schools receive the recognition they deserve.”
Max Eisl, director of international sales at Finalsite, who has worked with schools around the world for the past ten years, along with Jak Blackwood, head of UK sales, who worked previously in marketing for a boarding school, started the webinar with a few poll questions to help understand the audience. These polls revealed:
- Over 60% of boarding school teams said there were not involved, or not involved enough, in the design and content of the boarding webpages
- Close to 40% of attendees said their boarding school was not mentioned on their homepage
- Over 80% said their website did not reflect the actual boarding experience
This reinforced what Finalsite often sees on boarding websites - names, numbers, handbooks, confusing navigation, and long text, clear indicators that they have lost sight that these are families and parents looking at their websites trying to make emotional connections with the school and community. Jak shared: “It’s important to build excitement and anticipation while also trying to dissolve worry and fear. Burdening families with an abundance of administrative information is not the way to do this.”
Prefer to watch? Check out the full webinar recording below!
To highlight overall best practices, the Loomis Chaffee School, a day and boarding school in Windsor, Connecticut, in the United States was showcased. This website checks captures your attention and guides you on a journey to discover more.
Essential Elements to Include on Your Homepage
We often have to dig and hunt to find that a school even offers boarding. It’s buried in the footer or listed as a school section deep in the navigation. Some best practice tips include:
- Make boarding prominent on your homepage
- Embed social media to show the energy and breadth of opportunity
- Upload blogs from key people in your boarding community
- Share testimonials and reviews from boarders, parents, staff, and alumni
- Use videos/photos to quickly convey the ethos/atmosphere of your school
When crafting your school website, boarding should be a key element of the design, navigation, and user experience, and the boarding team should be included in the messaging, content, and story you are trying to convey.
Key Questions to Answer Throughout Your Website
Parents typically have a long list of questions when they are considering boarding. From the staff to facilities, to mental health and the environment, there is so much information to provide. Having it on your website is critical for gaining the trust of prospective families and will help alleviate repetitive questions, an abundance of emails, and phone calls. It will also set you apart from other schools and hopefully encourage more families to inquire.
Who is looking after my child?
Whether you are sending your child across town, across the country, or to another country altogether, everyone wants to know who is looking after their child. Creative ways to showcase this include:
- Staff profiles - titles can mean little to parents so show and explain key roles
- Blogs and articles - use your internal experts to write articles including team coaches, house staff, wellbeing leads, and pupil leadership
- Support team profiles- include groundskeepers, laundry, catering, cleaning, nurses, and IT. All of these people are important!
Charterhouse, one of the leading independent boarding and day schools in the United Kingdom, does a fantastic job on its homepage by showcasing its houses and leaders.
Including information from your Head-of- School with thought leadership on education and the advantages of boarding is also useful as in this example from Merchiston, a leading boarding school in Scotland.
It’s important to connect with prospective families, parents, and students alike, so having a variety of community profiles sharing personality and interests is important. Tonbridge, a leading boarding school outside of London, has done this thoughtfully.
What’s the campus and local community like?
Showcasing your local community goes a long way - not just with prospective families but also with your community. A strong partnership is critical in order for your school to thrive, and enables your community to show pride and actively participate in the success of your school.
Information to showcase includes:
- Local town and reputation
- Medical facilities and dental practices
- Hairdressers and barbers
- Campus and area security
- Gym and sporting facilities
- Catering, dining facilities, and local restaurants
- Shopping, coffee shops, parks, and other social spaces
Millfield School, an all-boys boarding school outside of London, brings their community to life on their homepage.
What are boarding houses like?
Since this is home away from home, what does that look like? These are often the most popular pages with the students as they want to feel like they will fit in, be comfortable and make friends. Each house should have a media-rich landing page that showcases its personality and should include:
- Videos and images to drive engagement and help students picture themselves as part of this story
- A typical room layout and content - but add some color to this and not just show a bed and desk!
- Well-rounded introductions to boarding staff
- Other fun facts like housepet, theme, traditions, and dining
The Hun School of Princeton engages and informs with their boarding school landing page.
And Loomis Chaffee offers infographics, FAQs, videos and so much more on their landing page.
What happens on weekends?
Do a lot of children go home? Is the campus alive with activities? These are important questions to answer. Parents value transparency so don’t be vague and include things such as:
- Statistics - 60% pupils stay on the weekend
- Filtered news stories
- Galleries of previous trips and activities
- Quotes or videos from boarders talking about what they like to do on weekends
- Social media showcasing weekend activities
- Wider cultural experiences
Merchiston highlights a typical weekend, quotes from boarders, and tweets from the houses. What an excellent way to make parents and students feel at ease being away from home.
How do you manage student wellbeing?
This is one we cannot stress enough and is often overlooked on websites. What if a student is sad, lonely, gets sick, the list goes on and on. Parents want to know about:
- Buddy systems and peer mentors
- Success stories of boarders
- Pastoral care team profiles and wellbeing initiatives
- Staff contacts and signposting for parents
- Boarders contacting home information
- Tutor or house system
- Flowcharts demonstrating “who should I talk to?”
- International boarders- integration and communication channels
The Taft School page does just this.
What does success look like?
Success is a relative term but parents do want to know outcomes. In fact, these outcomes are often shared via word-of-mouth which is one of your most powerful tools. Don’t just focus on academic achievements but also highlight and share:
- Alumni achievements
- How pupils are prepared for independent living and higher education
- Social, practical, emotional, and mental skill-building
- Alumni networks - long-lasting friendship groups
- More opportunities and time outside the classroom
- Wider cultural awareness and empathy
As this webinar was hosted during the Tokyo Olympics, the team at Millfield kept busy updating their website with metals from their alumni.
There are so many great boarding school websites from which to gain inspiration including:
It’s important to highlight your points of difference, showcase your community, update your website regularly and personalize the experience as much as possible. Having a powerful platform like Composer enables schools to easily manage and update their sites to achieve great results.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 11 years while living in both Asia and Europe. She helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication needs of international schools.