Research leads to borough-wide strategic approach to promoting schools

The Brief:

Camden Local Authority was seeking to build on its highly successful primary sector experience, in which Camden's pupils have amongst the highest achievement, narrowest gaps and best progress in England, so that the Borough retained more of these pupils at secondary school level.

Grebot Donnelly was appointed to undertake a large-scale research project with key stakeholders to investigate parental perception and influences on secondary school choice, and make strategic recommendations at both Borough and individual school level, based on the findings.

The Solution:

We carried out a comprehensive investigation covering: key trends in admissions-related and demographic data; the psychology behind parental choice, including the formation of and influences on perceptions of Camden schools; parental experience when applying for, or expressing an interest in a secondary school; and the existing marketing activity carried out by individual schools.

Both qualitative and quantitative research were undertaken over a period of three months, encompassing a wide range of stakeholders including: parents, headteachers, staff and students at primary schools, governors, councillors and Local Authority officers. Research questions were informed by desk-based research undertaken by GD’s research team and incorporated feedback, comments and suggestions from the client on topics of particular interest and/or relevance.

We carried out detailed competitor and contextual research, taking into consideration the historic percentages of first preferences in each of Camden’s secondary schools, as well as the credentials and Ofsted ratings of the schools. This revealed a mismatch between the high calibre of the schools and numbers of first preferences. Further research was carried out to investigate the reasons behind this.  

We ran in-depth focus groups with over 80 parents of primary pupils between Year 3 and Year 6 in six primary schools across the Borough.

An online parent survey included a range of open and closed questions, covering information about parent and child, how secondary schools were chosen, and views on the Camden offer. This was promoted to parents through multiple channels, including a postcard campaign through primary schools, social media and the Camden website.

One-to-one interviews were held with Headteachers, key staff and councillors within Camden Children’s Services and the Admissions Team.     

Critical friend feedback was also provided, including attendance at one of Camden’s promotional events.  

The Result:

The research included recommendations that led to a Borough-wide strategic marketing plan, designed to enhance the reputation of Camden secondary schools and increase preferences for these.

Camden Local Authority has already begun working with its schools to implement the plan and make positive changes to raise the profile of the Borough’s secondary education offer.


“Grebot Donnelly has become an important strategic partner as we work to keep more Camden primary pupils in the borough to 18. Grebot Donnelly was an important choice, which was influenced by the high value many of our schools already place on their work. They are leading experts in the field, work to a very high-quality standard and really get to know their customers. Above all, we trust them and value the willingness of their professionals to listen and respond to questions or ideas swiftly and informally. We aim to continue to choose Grebot Donnelly as our partner in this work.”

Pete Dudley, Assistant Director: Raising Achievement and Aspiration, London Borough of Camden