What Nigerian families are looking for in your UK boarding school
Following ten years’ of experience in helping Nigerian families find UK boarding schools, I have written this article with some guidelines to school communication.
It is not meant to be definitive, some of the points are very obvious, and most of the messages apply to any international market. But you may find it helpful…
1. Academic results
Parents are familiar with league tables and results, and while we don’t take them all that seriously in the UK, you will have to be clear about where you stand academically.
If you are not at the top of the league tables, talk in terms of being able to help a range of students from the average to those who will achieve straight A’s (and give some case studies).
You must be able to reassure parents that their children will achieve their full academic potential at your school.
And in terms of reporting on progress, they will be pleased to hear of regular reports, frequent and proactive communication from tutors and house parents and an open door policy on academic matters.
2. History and heritage
Families are looking for British values and ethos from your school so indications of style, heritage, a foundation date, impressive buildings and reputation will be well received.
Use relevant images in your literature and ensure that photographs show a sense of place and style – with students in them.
3. Home away from home
Explain the weekend programme, and particularly how many students are around at the weekend and what lessons and activities are organised.
If the school has exeats, you need to be clear about what happens if they are compulsory exeats (perceived as a big problem by Nigerian families).
Also tell parents about the boarding nationality diversity, they will be less keen on those boarding schools with a high proportion of Hong Kong/Chinese and no other nationalities.
If there are some other African students at your school or joining in the coming academic year, the families will be encouraged to hear about them.
They may not be so keen for their son or daughter to be the only African child in the boarding community and ideally they will want one or two other Nigerians that they can share travel arrangements with.
A big issue is that Nigerian students miss the West African diet and parents often mention this to me and complain that it is potatoes with everything.
Talk to your Nigerian students about the lunchtime and evening meals and see how your school caters for them at the moment.
4. Location and travel times from Heathrow
Families from overseas do not necessarily know the geography of the UK, so I suggest that you communicate in terms of travel distance/times from London/Heathrow by car/train.
Try and include a clear map in your brochures with some major cities so that the families get an overall picture of where you are located.
Nigerians are familiar with travelling long distances and will be prepared to travel in the UK for the right school. And often those schools further away from London are better value.
Don’t forget to explain about your beginning and end of term pick up and drop off service if you have one as this can be a major benefit.
5. Religious ethos
This is very important in Nigeria, and in Lagos Christianity is dominant, whereas there are more Muslims in areas such as Abuja.
It is worth pointing out at this stage that contrary to impressions in the UK, Christians and Muslims in Nigeria get on very well together.
The families will be pleased to hear about any services at school or locally that their children can attend, a strong Chaplain and Christian ethos, and an active Christian Union if you have one.
If the family are Muslim, then demonstrate how you support their customs, catering requirements and practices too.
6. Safety and Security
This is important to Nigerian families as security is often quite tight in the country, especially around schools.
So, remember to explain that boarding accommodation is safe and supervised, house parents are always on duty, students cannot leave the campus without permission, visitors have to sign in, etc.
Nigerian students are likely to be good at sport, but may not have experienced traditional British sports such as rugby, hockey, netball or even lacrosse.
They tend to be good at athletics, swimming, football (girls’ and boys’ football) and basketball. However, once they play British sports they are good at them and enjoy them.
Nigerians will like to see pictures or testimonials from other Nigerians who have succeeded at your school in the past. The families might actually know each other.
Some schools put enquiring families in touch with current parents, this is particularly effective.
Don’t rely on USB sticks (it is an Ipad/Iphone dominant country) or large prospectuses to give away.
Consider short powerful videos, PowerPoint slide presentations, focused brochures (bearing in mind the points in this article) with strong visual impressions.
The role of the Head is of course very important as she or he sets the tone and ethos of the school’s values.
So an introduction, or something about them and their family in a brochure and their background will also give a very good impression.
I offer consultancy to schools looking to attract more families from Nigeria and internationally.