There are many reasons putting company owners and senior management off from selling to schools.

The biggest worries are on:

  • whether they have to join a suppliers’ list (they don’t),
  • if they have to drop their prices to compete (they don’t – value is more important than price to this market), and
  • if they have to wait a long time to be paid (they don’t – schools are legally obliged to pay suppliers within 30 days).

When a company’s management do make the decision to target the education sector, they ask our account managers what the most effective ways of getting a foot in the door.

We always answer “direct marketing”. That’s because direct marketing to schools (by email, phone, or post) is still the most effective way to find schools to buy your products and services.

If you’re actively considering selling to schools, we’ve put together this article which, in 5,000 words, tells you everything you need to know about this exciting, vibrant marketplace.

We’ll cover the following:

  • what types of schools there are for you to target
  • what are Multi Academy Trusts and why should you market to them
  • who makes purchasing decisions in schools and do you need to be on a suppliers’ list
  • how schools are funded
  • successful direct marketing techniques to schools
  • what approach and attitude you should take with direct marketing, and finally
  • the marketing packages offered by More Than Words.

Selling to schools – what types of schools are there?

There are many different types of school in the UK available for you to target. Knowing the differences between them will help you understand why your products and services might be more suitable for some types of school over others.

In most of the country, children aged between 4 and 11 go to primary schools with children aged 11 to 16 going to secondary schools. In a few areas of the country, there is a three tier system – 4 to 9 primary schools, 9 to 13 middle schools, and 13 to 16 high schools.

Marketing to schools and teachers – academies

While there are different types of academies in operation in England, they all have the same status in law as ‘academies’.

Academies, free schools, academy converters, and traditional academies all have this status yet there are a number of differences between them, specifically:

  • who sets them up,
  • why they are set up,
  • whether there is a predecessor school, and
  • what the ‘provider’ has to demonstrate in order to be given permission to set one up.

What are academy schools?

Academies are publicly-funded, independent schools, held accountable to parents through a legally binding ‘funding agreement’.

How do they spend their money?

How much they have to spend is based on a formula calculated by the DfE but the amount per pupil will be similar to other schools locally run by the local authority.

Schools have full flexibility to allocate funds as deemed fit, including services normally provided by a local authority.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

They have much more freedom and control over curriculum design, school hours and term dates, and staff pay and conditions.

They must however teach certain subjects including maths, English and science.

They must be ‘broad and balanced’ in their curriculum.

Marketing to free schools

What are free schools?

Free schools are new state-funded schools (which includes independent schools becoming state schools for the first time).

Who sets them up?

Teachers, parents, existing schools, educational charities, universities, community groups.

In order to do set up a free school, the group must form a company limited by guarantee and choose members and directors to run it.

Free school companies must use the DfE model memorandum and articles of association, meaning that, once constituted, the company will be an academy trust.

How are they run?

Free schools are independent, free from local authority control.

They are held accountable through a ‘funding agreement’- a contract with the Government.

How do they get permission to open?

Free schools must submit an application to the Department for Education.

They must demonstrate that there is a clear demand for that type of school from the parents in the area.

Marketing to “forced” academies

What are forced academies?

Usually, forced academies are underperforming maintained existing schools which are forced to convert to academy status. When this happens, the school is allocated to an academy sponsor who will take them over.

Who sets them up?

Academy sponsors can be universities, FE colleges, education charities and business sponsors.

How are they run?

Traditional academies are independent, free from local authority control.

They are held accountable through a ‘funding agreement’- a contract with the Government.

How do they get permission to open?

The Department for Education ‘brokers’ between academy providers and the underperforming schools.

Marketing to academy converters

What are academy converters?

Usually, academy converters are high performing schools already in existence, who opt out of Local Authority control to gain independence and autonomy.

Who sets them up?

They are existing state schools.

How are they run?

The school governing body signs a funding agreement with the Government and are independent from the Local Authority.

How do they get permission?

Outstanding schools apply to the Department for Education for approval.

Marketing to maintained schools

Maintained schools are overseen, or ‘maintained’, by the Local Authority. A large majority of primary schools are maintained however only around four in ten secondary schools retain their maintained status.

What are maintained schools?

Maintained schools are funded directly by the local authority.

How do they spend their money?

The amount spent per pupil varies significantly by the local authority. Schools are free to allocate all funds received by the local authority holds back a certain amount back for “central services”.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

These schools must follow the national curriculum and national teacher pay and conditions.

Individual schools can focus on specific subjects as long as the National Curriculum requirements are still being met.

There are four main types of maintained schools – community schools, foundation and trust schools, Voluntary Aided schools, and Voluntary Funded schools.

How a maintained school is classified depends on:

  • who employs the staff,
  • who owns the land and buildings, and
  • who controls the admissions arrangements.

Marketing to community schools

What are community schools?

Community schools are schools which are controlled and run by the Local Authority.

How are they run?

The Local Authority employs the staff, owns the land and buildings, and determines the admissions arrangements.

Marketing to foundation and trust schools

What are foundation and trust schools?

Foundation and trust schools are schools run by their own governing body.

How are they run?

The governing body employs the staff and sets its own admissions criteria.

The land and buildings are usually owned by the governing body or, in trust schools, a charity.

Marketing to Voluntary Aided schools (VA schools)

What are Voluntary Aided schools?

The majority of voluntary aided schools are faith schools.

A foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) inputs a small proportion of the capital costs for the school and forms a majority on the schools governing body.

How are they run?

The governing body employs the staff and sets admissions criteria. The land and buildings are usually owned by the religious organisation.

Marketing to Voluntary Controlled schools (VC schools)

What are Voluntary Controlled schools?

Voluntary Controlled schools are like Voluntary Aided schools but they are run by the local authority.

How are they run?

The local authority employs the staff and sets admissions.

The foundation or trust (usually a religious organisation) owns the land and buildings and usually forms a quarter of the governing body.

Marketing to other types of schools

While academies and maintained schools form the majority of schools, there are two other types of school that are different from the ones already discussed.

Do they have to follow the National Curriculum?

Grammar schools must are exempt from the National Curriculum but must teach certain subjects including maths, English and science.

They must be ‘broad and balanced’ in their curriculum.

Independent schools must give “pupils experience in linguistic, mathematical, scientific, technological, human and social, physical and aesthetic and creative education’.

They are different from academies and maintained schools because of:

  • how they are funded and
  • how they select their pupils.

Grammar schools

What are grammar schools?

Grammar schools are state funded schools which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Grammar schools can also be maintained schools.

Independent schools

What are independent schools?

Independent schools are schools which charge fees to attend, rather than being funded by the government, and can make a profit although they are mainly charitable in nature. They are governed and operated by the school itself. They are lightly regulated by government and inspected by a range of bodies.

Who sets them up?

Independent schools vary from those set up by foundations in the middle-ages to those founded by new companies and charities.

How are they run?

They are funded by fees, gifts and endowments and are governed by an independently elected board of governors.

Click here for our latest article on selling to private schools.

Selling to schools – what are multi-academy trusts?

Academies were first launched in England in 2010. They are not funded by their local authority – they’re funded direct by the Department for Education unlike maintained schools.

72% of English schools (both primary, middle, and secondary) have converted to academy status following the introduction of the legislation.

Many schools converted to academies because of a desire among their teaching and management staff to run their school in the way that they wanted to with their budget being top sliced by their local authority.

Other schools were forcibly converted into academies because they were deemed to be failing by OFSTED and then brought into a sponsoring MATS group to start their road to recovery.

A multi-academy trust is responsible for the operation of more than one academy school. At time of the production of the latest version of the database, there are:

Number of schools operated by the MAT

Number of MATS

1-5 598
6-11 259
12-25 85
26+ 29

Multi-academy schools receive budgets equivalent to the budgets the constituent schools would have received had they been stand-alone academies.

Selling to schools – who buys within the schools and how do you sell to them?

Depending on the products or services you’re selling to schools, we can help you choose which of your products and services you should lead with to maximise your chances of success.

Selling to schools – what do schools actually buy?

Think of businesses that you already sell to.

Each business, large and small, has a need to buy a number of different things and how those things are classified can be broken down into two different categories –

  • what they need to buy in to improve and promote their product or service so that more people will want to use them, and
  • what they need to buy in to be able to trade.

Many companies don’t think about email marketing to schools because they believe, understandably, that they only buy in books, furniture, sporting equipment, projectors, computers and so on.

And it’s true – schools do buy these types of products and services but they also buy in the products and services they need to be able to operate.

Think of school utilities (gas and electricity), school catering equipment and services, school building maintenance and facilities management, school safety goods and services, continuous professional development, and more.

The reasons why schools will buy from you are the same reasons your business customers already buy from you  – your products and services will either help them do better what they’re doing now or free up cash which they can spend on providing their core service (the education of children).

We will help you select the right products and services to market to schools from their existing portfolio.

Schools have more spending power and autonomy than any other part of the public sector

For the last twenty years, schools have moved away drastically from local authority financial control.

That power now belongs in the hands of head teachers and their colleagues even in maintained schools

Our school email database contains detailed income and expenditure records for each establishment.

For many schools, we can even break down their spending to the pound and penny (either actual or modelled) in areas including…

  • teaching staff
  • supply staff
  • education support staff
  • spending on professional services
  • development and training
  • insurance
  • books, classroom and learning equipment, school trips and payments to alternative provision services
  • ICT, including education software, cost of broadband, hire contracts and ICT revenue expenditure
  • back office (including staff costs) such as administrative and clerical staff, administrative supplies and bought in professional services for administrative functions such as finances or legal
  • catering including spending on catering staff and catering supplies including providing free school meals and free milk
  • premises costs including building and premises maintenance and improvement, cleaning and caretaking, water and sewerage services including security and hygiene and includes salaries for employees of the school
  • energy
  • miscellaneous spending including rates, exam fees, other insurance premiums, special facilities such as swimming pools, loan interest, community focused school staff and school costs

Selling to schools – who in the schools makes the decisions?

In primary schools, the final decision on spending comes down to the Head Teacher.

S/he is often advised by key members of staff known as heads of years and coordinators. Coordinator titles within primary schools include Art, Citizenship, English & Literacy, Geography, History, IT, Mathematics, Music, Physical Education, PHSE, RE, Science, Technology, and Special Needs (SENCO).

Spending responsibility is a lot more devolved within secondary schools.

The headteacher is only one decision maker within secondary schools although s/he is (obviously) the most senior and usually signs everything off.

Budgets for secondaries are much higher than for other schools and, normally, the head teacher will allocate a certain amount per department per annum which is then administered by the heads of those departments.

Secondary schools normally have many heads of department – the number is often related to the size of school as measured in pupil numbers.

Typical Heads of Department titles within secondary schools are Art & Design, Biology, Business Studies, Careers, Chemistry, Citizenship Studies, Classics, Technology, Drama, Economics, English, Food Science, French, Geography, German, History, ICT, Maths, Media Studies, Modern Languages, Music, PE, Performing Arts, Physics, PSE, Psychology, RE, Science, Sociology, and Spanish Language.

Selling to schools – running costs expenditure and the school business manager

The Deputy Head’s role has diminished over the last 20 years, particularly over finances.

These responsibilities have largely been transferred over to the bursar’s department.

Administrators and bursars now control spending in many areas like school efficiency.

There is a secretarial role to the administrator as well.

She has a controlling function over most of the mail and email arriving in schools.

A large proportion of mail to the headteacher is now opened and handled by the administrator’s office.

School business managers are the senior financial and administrative contacts within many secondary schools.

Their main job, in conjunction with the head teacher, is to allocate resources and budgets efficiently.

Main duties include accounts, health and safety, budget planning and processing salaries however many do have purchasing responsibility over the following:

  • General ordering of products and services
  • Handling contracted services like catering, cleaning, maintenance and IT support
  • Security
  • Administrative systems
  • Marketing

So, if you are involved in value-driven services (for example, services on contract) rather than value-added products and services (for example, teaching aids), the school business manager may be the best person for them to send a message to.

Selling to schools – four points to remember when deciding whether to target this sector

  • Schools have no suppliers’ list they must work to, unlike with other types of public sector organisation (councils, NHS, etc)
  • Great payers – by law, schools must pay you within 30 days when they’ve signed off the job as completed.
  • Other than for contracts likely to be in excess of £173,000, OJEU procurement rules do not apply meaning less competition and application paperwork
  • All schools have capital expenditure budgets

Schools funding – how are schools funded in England?

As we saw on the last page, when schools get money in, they spend it on the following things:

  • back office costs
  • educational consultants & professionals
  • catering
  • education support staff
  • utilities (light, heat, power)
  • computers and IT
  • learning Resources (books, courses, etc)
  • non-teaching staff costs
  • premises and facilities management
  • supply teachers
  • teachers directly employed
  • general expenditure

But where do they get their money from, how much do they get, and when are they paid the money?

General funding (general annual grant)

The general annual grant is paid direct to the school from central government on these dates:

Academies and free schools

Equal payments throughout the year paid on the first working day of each month

Local authority maintained schools

Schools can choose equal monthly payments or three payments a year, normally 40% in April, 35% in September, and 25% in January.

PE & sports premium payments

PE & sports premium payments are £8,000 for a school with 17 or more pupils and £500 a pupil for smaller schools are paid to a local authority first and they’re then transferred to the school on these dates:

Established academies and free schools

  • 7/12 of funding start of November
  • 5/12 of funding start of April

Established local authority maintained schools

  • 7/12 of funding end of October
  • 5/12 of funding end of April

Non-maintained special schools

  • 7/12 of funding start of February
  • 5/12 of funding start of May

New academies and free schools

  • 7/12 of funding start of February
  • 5/12 of funding start of May

New local authority maintained schools

  • 7/12 of funding end of January
  • 5/12 of funding end of April

COVID-19 note: On Friday 23rd October, 2020, the Department for Education announced that schools with unspent PE & Sport Premium funding from the previous year could carry forward that spending to this year. Following the lockdown of the 23rd March, school remained closed to all students except the children of keyworkers and children with EHCPs. In most schools, it is highly likely that the second tranche of spending has not been fully utilised.

The second tranches were paid on:

  • 30th April 2020 for maintained schools
  • 1st May 2020 for academies, free schools, CTCs, and non-maintained special schools

The only requirement needed for schools to carry forward unspent money is to give brief reasons for their under-spend on their online published report.

Year 7 catch-up payments

The Year 7 catch-up payment was a £500 grant paid to schools (axed in 2020) for each student who did not achieve level 4 or above in reading and/or Maths in their KS2 test although the payment will continue in a different form through a new national funding formula.

Pupil premium payments

Pupil premium payments are paid direct to the school from central government on these dates:

Academies and free schools

  • End of June
  • End of September
  • End of December
  • End of March

Local authority maintained schools

  • Start of July
  • Start of October
  • Start of January
  • Start of April

High needs payments

Pupils requiring High Needs Funding (HNF) will be experiencing a combination of substantial or severe difficulties in the areas of communication, cognitive development, social emotional & mental health, physical difficulty and/or sensory impairment.

The new process requires schools to submit an online application for each high needs pupil whose provision exceeds £6,000 per annum. High Needs Funding is not a reimbursement of actual costs but an additional resource to support a school in meeting the pupil’s high level of special educational needs.

All schools

Usually paid monthly directly to the school by the local authority

Universal free school meals payments

All pupils in years 1 and 2 are eligible and received funding of £2.41 per meal. Additional sums are available for smaller schools who can’t buy in bulk like bigger schools.

All schools

7/12th of the universal free schools payment award is made in July 2017, 5/12 paid in July 2018

COVID-19 catch-up premiums for schools

The government has announced £1 billion of funding to support children and young people to catch up in COVID-19 catch-up premiums.

A one-off universal £650 million will be paid to ensure that all schools have the support they need to help all pupils make up for lost teaching time.

£350m is being provided as part of the “National Tutoring Programme to provide additional, targeted support for those children and young people who need the most help.”

Payments will be made on a per pupil basis – £80 per pupil.

This means a typical primary school of 200 pupils will receive £16,000 while a typical secondary school of 1,000 pupils will receive £80,000.

Special, AP and hospital schools will be provided with £240 for each place for the 2020 to 2021 academic year.

Schools receive the money in 3 tranches, the first two of which has already been paid.

Self-generated income

This includes income from facilities and services, receipts from other insurance claims, income from contributions to visits etc, donations and/or private funds

In conclusion

This summary only scratches the surface of school funding.

There is far more available to schools (like up to 80% rebates on business rates for academy schools and free schools) than the main grants and payments listed here but you can see how regularly they get paid including but not limited to:

  • funding for 6th form students,
  • SEN funding,
  • funding for minority ethnic pupils,
  • standards fund,
  • other government grants,
  • other grants and payments,
  • SSG pupil focused,
  • pupil focused extended school funding and
  • additional grant for schools.

Selling to schools – wow do you get marketing messages into schools?

As we saw earlier in this article, schools can spend the funds they receive in any way they want.

With maintained schools, the slight difference is that they have to hold some money back to pay the local authority.

Other than that, it’s down to the people who run the school on how they spend their money.

Email marketing to schools UK

Email marketing is the most popular way to get into schools.

Studies have shown that at least 50% of teachers and decision makers within UK schools have made a purchase as a direct result of receiving a marketing email.

There are two types of email marketing to schools.

Sending personalised emails direct to teachers’ named email addresses gets the highest response levels.

It’s also the most expensive with packages costing between £2,400 a year and £7,200 a year.

Some companies  will charge up to £1,500 to train you to use the system as well.

These companies are offering great products and we must never speak ill of the competition.

However, this model doesn’t suit everyone.

We offer email marketing to the school office.

Most email marketing to schools is still delivered that way.

When they arrive at school, they’re normally seen by an admin person, the bursar, and sometimes the head teacher.

So, what if you want to target the maths teacher?

In this case, we put in the subject line of the email “Atn: Head of Maths”.

We then rely on the person who has received the email to forward the email onto the correct target.

It happens a surprisingly high number of times, but it’s not 100% guaranteed.

Selling to schools by postal marketing

Postal marketing is nowhere near as popular as it used to be but it’s making a comeback.

There are two types of postal marketing to schools available.

Sending lots of leaflets from different companies in the same envelope is called a shared mailing.

The leaflets are A4 leaflets folded into A5. There are up to ten of them inserted into an envelope.

At the top of each leaflet, there’s a message to the school secretary saying “Please pass this to the Head of Maths”.

We then rely on the school secretary to put the leaflet in the correct teacher’s pigeonhole.

A shared mailing insertion to 4,000 schools costs around £329 (including design of the leaflet, printing of the leaflet, insertion into the envelope, and postage costs).

This is a very popular, low-entry-cost way of getting printed materials into schools.

It’s not as effective as solus mailings.

A solus mailing is where it’s one envelope with one advertiser’s material in it.

It therefore gets all the attention.

The cost of printing, posting, and packing 4,000 solus mailings to schools is close to £2,000.

For companies wanting to explore the education market but not throw themselves in at a high cost, shared mailing is the best route.

Selling to schools by telephone marketing

A lot of companies still use telephone marketing to approach schools.

It’s difficult to get in touch with the right decision makers more often than not because they’ll either be teaching or performing other duties.

Selling to schools – fax marketing

Fax marketing still exists but it’s not really used to send advertising messages to schools that much anymore.

The main reason for this is that most schools have registered with the Fax Preference Service (FPS).

When a business or a school goes onto the FPS, you can’t send marketing faxes to them without their expressed permission beforehand.

What are the most successful approaches when selling to schools?

With our managed email marketing campaigns, our designers, copy writers, and campaign planners work to certain proven rules when devising the advert to be sent on your school email marketing campaign.

What is the goal of your campaign?

  • Are you going for a over-the-phone or over-the-internet sale? What payment mechanisms and terms are you offering to make it easy for the school to do business with you? Let’s make it as simple and straightforward as possible.
  • Do you want an appointment with a head teacher or other school representative? If so, let’s word your school email marketing advert to ask for one
  • What can you do to build your brand? In the early days, it’s all about getting their company known. Is there anything you can include on the advert that enhances their credibility?
  • How should you tailor the subject line and the email above the fold to encourage the school office to forward it to the correct contact?

Selling to schools – copywriting for your email

  • Matter-of-fact, intelligently written – this is an educated audience we’re targeting
  • Strong headline to encourage readership of the rest of the email
  • Short, pithy, engaging body copy – written to reflect the needs and opinions of the recipient
  • Call to action – you must ask the recipient to do something (call, email, fax, and so on)
  • Written for those in the marketplace for your product or service now or in the very near future
  • If the data supports it, some element of personalisation (in addition to standard salutations) is very effective
  • GDPR compliant in form

Selling to schools – design of your email

  • Matches your logo, colours, and (where possible because of the technical limitations of email) font
  • If possible, dark text on a white background for highest legibility
  • Elements to follow in an expected and natural order
  • Responsive design
  • Clean, beautiful minimalist look.

Selling to schools – timing your campaign

The optimal time between sending emails to schools, especially in the early days of your campaign, is 9-10 working days.

If you wish to send postal marketing, firms are reporting that response rates are currently very high because the number of letters going into schools is much fewer than 10-15 years ago.

Therefore, letters and mailshots are getting far more attention than previously.

If they want to try telemarketing, sending school email marketing campaigns or school postal marketing campaigns is a great way to warm a school up to the idea of setting up meaningful appointments with you or your sales representative.

Selling to schools – why you need to keep marketing to decision makers

School money is finite.

Despite budgets being at near all-time highs, care must be taken on all spending decisions as this is public money.

They don’t want to make a mistake.

Head teachers, school business managers, and other decision makers need to get to understand your customer, their company, their values, and what they can offer them before they’ll even consider doing business with your customer.

Remind your customer that your school email marketing package lasts for a year.

Please be re-assured that it is completely normal and expected that your first two or three campaigns will get a very low response rate because schools probably never heard of your company before.

After that, trust in you and your company starts to rise.

They start to know the company and see that you’re a serious supplier to the education sector.

That you are a person schools can work with.

It’s at this point, you will see the number of opens and clickthroughs and direct contacts for each campaign increase substantially over their initial first few approaches.

You may wish to consider joining a school buying group like Incensu (More Than Words are marketing partners to Incensu) or the National Register of Education Suppliers.

Schools offer companies a domino marketplace

School heads and business managers talk to their colleagues in other schools.

The main reason to keep in contact with schools every two weeks is to build a reputation and build a bank of trust in your customer’s brand.

When they have their first school signed up and perform well for them, other school heads, business managers and decision-makers and -influencers, equally keen to save money but with a trusted supplier, will take advice from your customer’s education clients and they’ll find referrals starting to grow gradually over time.

More Than Words – 70 years’ collective experience selling to schools for clients

More Than Words’ directors, senior staff, copywriters, and designers have 70 years of experience helping companies market their products and services into schools.

Our team has also worked with non-commercial clients to promote their message into schools including BBC, Channel 4, United Nations, Houses of Parliament, British Council, some of Britain’s best known charities, local government, central government, and universities.

In the last six months, please see below a small selection of the types of campaign we have been successfully involved in:

  • selling products to schools
  • selling software to schools
  • selling curriculum to schools
  • selling books to schools
  • selling services to schools
  • selling to international schools
  • selling children’s books to schools
  • selling stationery to schools
  • selling Usborne books to schools

We offer two types of service to clients – database-only and managed.

School database service

If your company has the ability to send email campaigns or its own telemarketing team, we offer the:

You don’t have to buy the entire database – let us know which types of school you wish to sell to and we’ll come back to you with a count and a quote.

The data is licenced to your company for 12 months and comes with free technical and advertising support.

Managed school marketing campaigns

If your company does not have the ability to send email campaigns or its own telemarketing team or you want us to run them for you, please ask us about our:

Start selling to schools with More Than Words

We are one of the UK’s leading marketing agencies helping clients to sell their products and services to schools.

Every client is different and every campaign is different – let us know as much about your company, the products and services you sell, and the value you can deliver to schools and we’ll give you as much assistance as you need to generate the greatest possible return on your investment with us.

Please call 0330 010 830 or click here to email our direct marketing and marketing databases team.

Break into the growing school market with More Than Words

To speak to an account manager, please call on 0330 010 8300, click here to email us, or fill in the form below and we’ll get back in touch with you as soon as possible.