In June, the 2016 Census revealed that private school enrolments fell from 32.7% to 31.8% between 2011 and 2016.
But here’s the rub: while private school enrolments are declining, the number of people living in major metropolitan centres is increasing.
This means that in the major city centres, available student placements are becoming scarce while the competition for these places becomes markedly more aggressive.
Not surprisingly, the demand by parents for a quick and seamless process to enrol their children in a ‘best fit’ school is matched only by principals’ need to secure those enrolments with as little hassle as possible.
Recognising these challenges for both parents and principals, Natalie Mactier launched a free online service called School Places in 2014.
Here’s how it works: parents tell School Places what their needs and preferences are, and in turn the company shares details of places at schools that suit those needs and preferences. A spot is then put on hold while the parent meets with the school and determines whether it is suitable for their child.
Over the last three years, the company has broadened its services based on the feedback it has received from parents and schools. In September 2016, School Places introduced a customer service team to pre-qualify parents before giving them access to school vacancies.
The company’s CEO, Natalie Mactier, told The Educator that this was due to the fact that many schools were uncomfortable with the idea of parents having access to data such as the number of available enrolments and where those enrolments were.
“The customer service team protects schools by offering a level of discretion that was not there before. We still have 12,000 spaces loaded into the website, but it just means that the school has more control over what is seen publicly and what isn’t,” she explained.
Mactier said this means that the company is able to on-board and acquire schools at a much faster rate.
“Once we removed that level of transparency that was making principals feel uncomfortable, we found that a lot more were willing to get on board,” she said.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all model. On one end of the spectrum, we have schools outsourcing enrolments to us, but on the other, we have schools that don’t wish to have a public profile on School Places.”
Mactier said that for these schools, the customer service team keeps in touch with the school to get an idea of their vacancies and what areas they’re hoping to fill so that if a parent makes an enquiry, their questions can be answered.
Another traditional hassle the company is helping parents and schools resolve is the amount of red tape involved in organising parent-teacher meetings.
Giving parents and principals greater control
Later this year, School Places will be allowing parents to schedule interviews with teachers and principals online rather than having to manually fill out paperwork in person at the school.
“Many parents are often too busy to come into the school and fill out lengthy paper-based forms,” Mactier said.
“From a parent’s perspective, there is nothing more frustrating than doing research after hours and not being able to proceed after a certain step in the process. Then you have to call around and organise interviews with the school.
Mactier said this option will be particularly helpful to principals as it reduces the time lag between having a parent interested in the school and then closing the loop and having that enrolment in place.
“For a school principal, this provides them with greater transparency into the volume of applications, interest and leads that come their way,” she said.
“This also means the principal can look at benchmarking around KPIs of conversion rates. To us, it’s important as an online solution, but we focus on conversion rates at each point in the process.”
Mactier said it’s often difficult for schools to focus on how to improve key KPIs and processes because it’s a lengthy paper-based process.
“When things are online and streamlined, it tightens up what is otherwise a very drawn-out process and lets principals have greater control over these areas,” she said.