b'RESEARCHIt is a brave head who makes strategic decisions based on hearsay.Time and costResearch is time-consuming, and can be costly. But it is a brave head who makes strategic decisions based on hearsay, the press, or pressure from competition. It is a brave head of marketing who puts all their eggs in one campaign designed to convince prospective parents of the benefits of the new catering provision, when actually parents couldnt give two hoots about whether Finola likes foie gras with her melba toast at lunchtime.As a passionate believer in research-driven strategic decision-making, I urge key decision-makers in schools to get out there and find out exactly what is going on within their school community. There are so many ways to carry out effective research, from parent surveys, to focus groups, to one-on-one discussions, but one positive side effect of any research is that, eventually, you will bring your community with you on your journey. Solid goldTaking the time to listen, to understand and to feedback, is worth its weight in gold. Parents want to be heard, they want to be understood, and they want to feel valued. Having worked with many UK and international independent schools, I genuinely believe that building relationships with your key stakeholders is the single most effective way to market your school. If this is a side-effect of effective research, then I give you yet another reason to consider using the best research tools to inform your decision-making.Judging by my inbox, I am pleased to report that schools have emerged from this wretched pandemic realising the real need to nail recruitment and retention, and furthermore to use research and data to underpin all strategic decision-making. But there are still uncertain times ahead and some may feel things will get worse before it gets better. So, for heavens sake, lets stop guessing and start researching.Rachel Hadley-Leonard is a schools marketing, admissions and development consultant at RHLConsulting. Rachel can be contacted on rachelhadleyleonard@outlook.com.www.independentinsight.netIwww.iexcellence.co.ukIwww.i25awards.co.uk 29'