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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

Admissions is a game with no winners

In 1988, Donald A. Norman published his now seminal work entitled The Design of Everyday Things. Still today, it helps designers think about why some products satisfy customers and others only frustrate.

“Design," says Norman, "is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

Fast forward to 2018 and it appears that we still haven't fully understood this - at least when it comes to school admissions. We continue to frustrate our customers by assembling enrolment procedures that are, at best, a veritable game of snakes of ladders for unsuspecting families.

As if to bring the point home and underline it in red, two members of my team, Robin Berting and Suzette Parlevliet, recently encouraged us to play a game of Transitions. The game involved rolling a dice and moving a character around a board, through the admissions cycle, from first contact to first day. Easy enough, I thought to myself.

How wrong I was.

It wasn't long until I found myself moving forward, only to get stuck in the mire of the application process.

Photograph of a large piece of paper with the different stages of an admissions process pasted on. There are also a series of dolls that are pieces of the game.
Robin and Suzette designed a brilliant game, aimed at highlighting the hopes and fears of families transitioning through the admissions process at the International School of Brussels.

Tour cancelled. Go back one space.

Placed on a waiting list. Miss a turn.

It was just a game, but I quickly found myself thinking that, whilst our internal policies, protocols and procedures make sense to those of us on the inside, we've never really taken the time to gather the deep understanding that Norman describes.

Well, that's not exactly true. There are glimmers of hope out there.

In 2017, the Enrollment Management Association published a study based on feedback from 2700 families on the road to independent school admissions. Their conclusion: "Parents find the admission process anxiety-provoking and time consuming." (p3).

I'm not surprised.

So here's my personal commitment: to start a conversation with families, inviting them to co-create a process that actually works for them. And here's five questions I have in mind to get us started:

How can we help you decide whether this school is the right place for your child? What are the most frustrating aspects of applying to a new school? How are we making you feel when you visit our school? If you could change one thing about the admissions process, what would it be? How can we best get to know your child as a learner?

School admissions really shouldn't be this game of snakes and ladders. But to advance, even a little, on this one, I fear we may need to go back for while to the drawing board.


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