A new breed of customer?

By | May 24, 2014

I’ve been in my current role for just over a year now and I still have very vivid memories of being interviewed for it by a panel of four head teachers, for an hour and a half. Head teachers are a tough crowd. Put lots of them in a room together and give them the task of exposing a candidate’s limits and they become competitively searching, like Paxman with a toothache.

Their questions grew progressively more challenging until finally, in a coup de theatre, one of the panel – the head of an academically brilliant school – whipped out a sheet of paper and presented it to me.

“I received this email from a parent thinking of sending their child to my school. What do you think my response should be?” The parent in question was currently living in Southern California and working in tech in Silicon Valley. His question to the head was quite straightforward – can you offer my daughter the kind of education that she’ll need to thrive in the modern world, the kind she’s current getting in her school in California?

It was one of those serendipitous interview questions which sprang from a genuine situation – the head had got the email that morning before setting out to interview a bevy of potential Directors of Technology. She’d seized the chance to crowd-source an answer.

My answer, as it had to be, was ‘Yes’ – provided you are willing to invest a great deal of time in thinking through what it is about the future world that you may not currently be preparing pupils for, and then ways in which the focused application of technology might address this.

A few months ago, that parent contacted me through LinkedIn (an aside: this is pretty much the only time I’ve had an unsolicited message that proved useful. No, I am not interested in your SaaS platform, Brad. Go away). His daughter was now at the school and he was interested in meeting up and comparing notes the next time I was in the vicinity.

The school’s first exploratory parent’s evening to communicate their 1-to-1 plans provided the opportunity for this. The first thing I asked was why he’d moved from Silicon Valley to England, was it his job that led him here? His reply astonished me, and it still does.

First Choice image: wikimedia

“Oh, no” he said, “It was my daughter’s decision. She was coming to the end of her primary education and we wanted her to choose the school that was right for her. She did a lot of research on the Internet and chose here. So I got a job in the games industry near London and we moved”. I didn’t ask, but I guess he sent his email to reassure himself that his daughter’s choice of school was sufficiently forward-looking.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for student voice but the notion of delegating life-altering decisions to an 11-year old totally blindsided me.

“So you moved continent because your daughter wanted to?”

“We moved continent for the right school, we just let her pick it” was his reply.

I have yet to be blessed with children personally (which is weird, as my wife and I hold hands exactly like the priest showed us), so this level of trust, commitment and selflessness is probably beyond my comprehension.

This conversation is only a single point of information but is unlikely to be unique. Two things are clear to me, despite my limited perspective;

  1. Parents, always discerning about the academic performance, will increasingly expect a great school to fully prepare their child for a technologically rich future
  2. Schools can’t hide forever from wider societal trends, no matter how restrictive the accountability culture they labour within. School is preparation for life, and life – even now – is informed constantly by technology.

It’s time to engage in the debate, at the very least.

4 thoughts on “A new breed of customer?

  1. José Picardo (@josepicardoSHS)

    Great post Dominic. The kind of parents that send children to my school expect their children to learn more than just the stuff they need to pass exams. This is something that opponents of the use of technology in education fail to grasp. It’s not technology or academic rigour. It’s both.

    1. norrishd833 Post author

      Agreed – academic success is high on every parent’s agenda, but they’re increasingly clued up about other things that matter and yet (whisper it) can’t be measured.

  2. gibbmdMike Gibb

    Very interesting post, Dominic. I knew the first part of the story but not the reason for the move – each to their own, I suppose… The first set of 1-to-1 iPads have arrived and are being distributed this week. Exciting times @ GHS!

  3. Ros Walker

    Wow. Quite amazed by that story. It is astounding how your views of life can be changed by your children. I’m impressed with the child who placed her education ahead of staying with existing friends and a familiar environment. Hope she has settled in well and the family are enriched by their move.


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