February 2013


  • The Right Note
    Jan Webber looks at the effect the latest changes to Ofsted inspection criteria are having and offers tips to help leaders be ready when the call comes. More
  • What Lies Beneath
    St Benedict’s Catholic School in Suffolk has used psychometric assessment to help improve the performance and behaviour of underachieving and disruptive students, as Sally Wells explains. More
  • Our Survey Says
    In light of the new Ofsted framework and Parent View website, it is more important than ever for schools to have their own analysed data about what stakeholders think, argues Ian Rowe. How does your school compare? More
  • Learning to learn
    About ten per cent of secondary schools across the country are currently involved in research looking for hard evidence of whether a range of teaching and learning strategies actually work. Kevan Collins explains how. More
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In light of the new Ofsted framework and Parent View website, it is more important than ever for schools to have their own analysed data about what stakeholders think, argues Ian Rowe. How does your school compare?

Our Survey Says...

Paperwork is often regarded as the enemy when it comes to executing strategies to drive improvements in school performance – instead of delivering actions, many of us get sidetracked by form-filling.

So school leaders may be expected to welcome the decision by Ofsted to lighten the paperwork burden of inspections. But while surveying stakeholders can sometimes be dismissed as a paper-chasing exercise
only useful for inspections, school leaders are increasingly seeing it as a vital tool in their efforts to drive school improvement and enhance their marketing campaigns.

Although stakeholder surveys are no longer compulsory, leaders would be ill-advised to face an inspection without them. After all, Ofsted tells us that “inspections will give greater consideration to the views of parents, pupils and staff as important evidence”.

In the absence of a stakeholder survey, Ofsted will rely on feedback delivered via Parent View and any pupil interviews it undertakes. In both cases, there is a real danger that they will get an unrepresentative account of school performance.

But stakeholder surveys are not just a convenient prop for an Ofsted inspection; their real value comes from understanding what matters most to the parents, staff and pupils – just as any thriving business tries to understand its customers’ concerns, improve its services and target new customers.

Power of feedback

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) is the fastest growing chain of academies in the country with 66 academies under its umbrella. David Triggs, its chief executive, is a passionate advocate of the power of feedback.

“Too many stakeholder surveys are done to please Ofsted,” David says. “They get done, get shown off, then sit in a drawer.”

He believes that the power of stakeholder surveys is that they provide the foundation for improving schools. It’s a simple principle, he says, that if you keep delivering on what your stakeholders tell you matters most to them, parents will want to send their children to your school and teachers will want to be there. In that sense, the surveys lead to school improvement.

But despite the premium David places on feedback, it’s not always so easy to gather it.

“In 2006 when we first tried to conduct a parental survey at our academy in Middlesbrough [Unity City Academy] with 11,000 pupils, we got 11 responses. The reason for that, we quickly discovered, was that parents had been asked for their views before, but felt they were never listened to. Building bridges became our priority.”

Parental priorities

Kirkland Rowell Surveys is the largest provider of school stakeholder surveys in the UK. Its database of parental responses gathered from 758 secondary schools over the past fi ve years shows that, typically, parents’ chief concerns are the quality of teaching and school discipline. Pupils, meanwhile, report that teaching quality is one of the most important issues to them, but they tend to rank school facilities as their primary concern.

For school leaders, it’s not enough to know which issues matter most;
they need to know how satisfi ed stakeholders are with their efforts in these areas. Here, there are clear distinctions between what those from
socially advantaged areas report and those from disadvantaged areas.

1. Parents' level of satisfaction with the quality of teaching

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Areas of social disadvantage (deprivation 5) 79.6% 77.7% 78.0% 77.6% 80.2%
Areas of social disadvantage (deprivation 1)
90.8% 90.3% 89.9% 91.5% 91.4%

Data from Kirkland Rowell Surveys (758 secondary schools, 201,623 parental responses)

2. Percentage of pupils that picked school facilities as their top priority

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Areas of social disadvantage
14.0% 13.9% 12.8% 13.0% 11.8%
Areas of social disadvantage 15.7% 16.6% 15.4% 16.7% 13.8%

Data from Kirkland Rowell Surveys (607 secondary school, 388,660 pupil responses)

Parents across the board have ranked teaching quality as one of their priorities, but those from disadvantaged schools (Deprivation 5 – the lowest 20 per cent of schools) consistently report far lower levels of satisfaction in this area – a consistent and significant difference of more than ten percentage points (see table 1 above).

Other notable differences are that parents in socially advantaged areas are far more satisfied with their schools’ efforts to develop children’s potential – here there is a difference of more than 20 per cent in satisfaction scores compared to parents in more deprived areas.

There are also clear differences in parents’ perceptions around exam results. Almost twice the proportion of parents in disadvantaged areas
report exam results as being one of the priorities for improvement than
parents in affluent areas. It seems unlikely that those in affl uent areas
care less about exam results, but rather the statistics presumably suggest that they have less need to be concerned.

In fact, this seems to form part of a broader and long-term trend.
Parents in poorer areas report that they are happier with the security
and with the control of bullying in their children’s schools, but they are
less happy with how schools are developing their child’s confidence,
potential and moral values.

Eyewitness to your school

The results from pupil surveys throw up some surprises. Those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds report higher levels of satisfaction with their schools’ facilities today than they did five years ago (see table 2 above). This may seem perverse, but one possible explanation may be that many of the new academies built - where facilities are likely to be of the highest quality - are in deprived areas, where previous establishments may have affected perceptions.

Listening to staff

At Jarrow School in Tyne and Wear, stakeholder surveys have provided the bedrock for drastic improvements. Ofsted gave the school notice to
improve in 2009. When Ken Gibson, head of nearby Harton Technology
College, an outstanding school, formed a partnership, the use of
stakeholder surveys highlighted an immediate and pressing concern:
Only half of the staff thought school discipline was good – an indication
that staff morale needed improving.

Ken set about building that team spirit among the teachers, recognising
that teaching loads had been too high and putting in place four
periods per fortnight of non-contact time. When he repeated the surveys
a year later, 91 per cent of teachers believed that discipline was good.

That improvement in behaviour laid the foundations for improvements across the board. Parents were now rating the school as outstanding in 19 out of the 20 categories they were asked about. The proportion of students achieving five grade C GCSEs or above has also risen sharply; attendance rates dramatically improved; and the proportion of pupils getting A* grades in English and maths is well above the national average.

“It’s important to delve in to what parents and pupils think about a school but I don’t think you should shy away from asking teachers too, even if you expect some of what comes back to make uncomfortable reading,” says Ken.

The repeated use of surveys provides a neat method of tracking the performance of management initiatives, gauging the effectiveness of
improvement plans and interventions..

Benchmarking matters

Alongside the year-to-year changes, school leaders need to understand how the results of their stakeholder surveys fit with national trends. Benchmarking results allow schools to identify issues that may otherwise sneak under the radar. For example, at a national level, truancy control typically ranks fairly low among the list of parental priorities. A small rise in the number of parents indicating a concern may not appear too serious on the face of it, but set against national trends such outliers may give school leaders early warning of potential issues.

However, while it’s useful to be able to compare the results to national trends, school leaders need to be cautious. As we’ve seen, schools in affl uent areas can expect to get different results from those in disadvantaged areas.

As David Triggs, chief executive of the AET, says, stakeholder feedback is critical to the success of a school’s improvement plan – but information alone is not enough. Benchmarking provides the context to turn that information into invaluable knowledge.

our survey says