The key aim of this project was to pilot if a membership-style model for local schools increased engagement. Previous research commissioned by ZSL found that if a school had multiple interactions with the zoo, it led to many positive social, emotional and cognitive outcomes for students and staff. However, the pay-per-visit model can act as a financial barrier to repeated, longer-term engagement, and so schools tend to bring just one year group, and usually only once.
To address this, the Education Access Scheme launched in 2021, offering schools unlimited access to their local zoo, designated staff support and discounted activities for a one-off fee. It was important that the price represented the scheme’s value and was high enough that schools would want to make the most of it, but not too high that the cost was a barrier. The resulting £500 membership fee was calculated based on the average spend of local schools during the 2018/19 academic year, which was just under £500. Therefore, this price would make the scheme affordable for most schools, as well as financially viable for the zoo because if every school in the local area joined, the zoo would not lose income.
Across our two zoos, 71 organisations joined the scheme in the 2021/22 academic year. Collectively, the cohort made an average of 54 trips a year before the pandemic (Based on a 3-year pre-COVID average). In the first year of the EAS they made 346 trips, which means they visited 6.4 times more than before they were members of the Scheme. This demonstrated that this model overcomes a significant barrier for local settings to have multiple interactions with the zoo.
Before the introduction of this Scheme, recruitment of schools for new activities was a barrier due to a lack of strong relationships with local schools. Since the development of this scheme, we have found it much easier to recruit schools for new activities, widening the potential for us to work more closely with them on smaller-scale projects and deeper prolonged engagement.
Interestingly, both Zoos made significantly more money from membership schools than they had from the same cohort in previous years (pre-pandemic), demonstrating that this is financially viable. During evaluation, 90% of school staff felt that the Scheme was value for money and 92% thought it had helped them save money on school trips, showing that the £500 was a reasonable price point for schools.
Additionally, 93% of teachers stated that the scheme enabled their students to engage more in nature and conservation and 60% of teachers felt that these opportunities helped them to link conservation more to classroom topics.
As a result of these outcomes, we are already scaling this Scheme up with 92 member schools so far in 2022/23, with more likely to join later in the year.
This project won Gold in the BIAZA Education category in 2023.