‘Special measures’ to ‘fully subscribed’

Transforming the reputation of a secondary school

When The Voyager School opened in 2007 it had new facilities that were the envy of most schools in Peterborough. But, underneath the shiny buildings, it was facing significant challenges to galvanise two former schools.

A series of leadership changes, poor Ofsted reports and low exam results led to the local MP at the time calling it the ‘sink school’. The community had lost confidence and families were voting with their feet. Students even told us that they took off their school tie on the way home as they were embarrassed to be associated with The ‘Voyager’ name.

A decade on, the school joined Thomas Deacon Education Trust marking the start of a new beginning. The ‘Voyager’ brand had become toxic, and new energy, excitement and belief were needed to win over the hearts and minds of the local community and allow leaders to accelerate improvements across the school.

Quote marks

We were delighted with the support we received from Athene during our re-branding which undoubtedly had the desired impact. Without their sector knowledge and expertise we would not have achieved what we did.

Their advice, guidance and direct input enabled us to feel confident in our approach and ensure that we didn’t make silly mistakes or miss golden opportunities.

We have continued our relationship with Athene who now advise on a range of public relations and communications aspects of our work at both individual academy and trust level.

Scott Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Deacon Education Trust

Channelling their inner Taylor Swift

Like Swifty herself, they needed to ‘shake it off’, ditch ‘The Voyager’ brand and make a bold statement that something truly new and exciting was happening. They needed to unite the community behind this new vision.

Working with academy and trust leaders, we engaged everyone (pupils, staff, parents, neighbouring school leaders and community representatives) to shape and define the new school brand identity and values – using the opportunity to build stronger relationships with the new leaders.

The new Queen Katharine Academy brand acted as the symbol that marked change and positivity, tying the school closer to the heart of the city, and setting the tone of higher expectations.

We also used this as a good time to understand what the community wanted to hear – they’d grown tired of the negativity and wanted to be able to champion the many good things that were happening in the school.

To support the rebrand narrative, we created a simple yet comprehensive PR and communication strategy that would send a shockwave of positivity through the community, making sure everyone was hearing, seeing, and talking about the good things happening at the academy regularly.

Social media provided a huge opportunity to celebrate pupil achievements and share high-quality teaching and learning regularly with the community, allowing the community to champion these successes with their own networks.

We also worked closely with the academy’s primary transition coordinator to identify and improve the ways the academy worked with its local primary schools, built early relationships with parents, and welcomed new families to the academy.

Changing hearts and minds

We could talk about the dramatic increase in social media engagement, positive media coverage, or how Queen Katharine Academy’s open evenings became full to the brim. But, ultimately, the preferences of parents are what really counted!

Before the rebranding campaign, just 111 Year 7 places were applied for. By 2019, this had risen to 226 places being offered. And 93% of parents stated they would recommend the school to others by the summer of 2019. By 2022, 324 preferences were received for 270 available places at the academy.

The positivity flowing through the school community helped leaders make the improvements needed to secure the academy’s first-ever ‘Good’ Ofsted report in 2019.

Oh, and students now wear their ties home with pride!

  • 111

    applications in 2018

  • 324

    applications in 2022

  • 93%

    parents recommend the school to others

Work with an impact