Small enterprise management in the public sector: the marketing of primary schools

Stokes, David Robin (1999) Small enterprise management in the public sector: the marketing of primary schools. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The purpose of this thesis is to understand the marketing perceptions and practices of primary school managers, in response to attempts to introduce market forces into the provision of UK state education. The study has investigated marketing in primary schools through ten longitudinal case studies using three main sources of data: interviews with headteachers, and governors, participant observation, and market research of the perceptions of parents and other groups. Two groups of influences combined to make diverse and complex marketing micro-environments, which conditioned the impact of marketing activities initiated by the schools: i) the local provision of primary education (the capacity, sector and status of schools, and the image of the locality), and ii) the population profile of the catchment area (numbers of local pupils, parental perceptions and population types). A picture of marketing at the case study schools emerged which was different from the initial impression of a peripheral activity given by much of the literature, and headteachers' own accounts. Critical incident analysis revealed more extensive strategies and tactics which could be labelled as “marketing”, but which were not necessarily described as such by headteachers. Events and decisions triggered marketing activities directed at a number of targets which can be grouped into the priority order of: i) internal relationships (existing parents, pupils, staff, and governors), ii) recruitment markets (new parents and feeder institutions), iii) educational agencies (LEA, DfEE, OFSTED etc.), and iv) community relationships (local media, commercial sponsors and community groups). Individuals within these target groups positioned a school according to their perceptions of its academic and environmental reputation, its locality and their degree of involvement with it. Headteachers attempted to improve their schools' market position through a mix of methods which can be summarised as four I's - information, image building, involvement, and the influence of word-of mouth communications. Headteachers found that the most effective marketing strategies had two main components: i) marketing to improve relationships with existing parents, staff and governors was an essential precursor to any external marketing effort; and ii) marketing to targets other than prospective pupils was important in order to build up a supportive series of relationships in the micro-environment. In particular, parental involvement strategies to achieve marketing aims evolved as an acceptable response because they were not seen as overtly competitive, and they had a perceived educational value. Headteachers seemed to share many of the marketing problems of owner-managers of small businesses. The findings reported here suggest that the private sector may have lessons to learn from the marketing management of small public organisations such as primary schools, so that a more meaningful exchange of information across the sectoral divide is indicated.

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