There’s no such thing as an average school. Each institution brings its own unique set of issues and challenges. Take Cedar Road Primary School, situated around a mile outside the centre of Northampton. The 400-plus children that attend pretty much hit the average of every national category of measurement, says the school’s head teacher, Kay Gerrett.
But in the five years that Kay has been in post, she has seen substantial changes, not least of which was the school taking Year 6 pupils for the first time in 2007.
“It’s not the case that you’re just dealing with bigger 10-year-olds; they have a whole different set of development needs. You can interact more and they can also be given far greater responsibilities,” says Kay. And as well as changing the atmosphere of the school, it also introduced the need to prepare for Key Stage 2 SATs.
Kay passionately believes that during periods of upheaval, it’s essential to monitor how those changes are affecting everybody connected to the school – particularly parents. “I’ve always been keen on building a strong relationship with the parents,” she says.
In the past, Kay had developed a questionnaire that she sent out to parents, seeking feedback on how they perceived what was going on in the school and what they thought of the initiatives underway. The problem was, says Kay, that analysing the results and then determining what that told her about the school in comparison to similar establishments was time consuming and difficult.
“Our governors have always been very hot on the importance of the parent voice and building a strong partnership with parents,” Kay says. As such, families have been a strong focus for her team of staff and everyone has been on board with the idea of using a parental questionnaire to provide information that will improve the outcomes for children.
Kay looked at a range of parental feedback surveys, but she found that while they covered some of the issues she needed to explore, they didn’t really allow her to delve in to the matters that were most pertinent to her school.
To ensure she could find out what parents really thought about what was going on in the school, in December 2009, Kay decided to use a parental stakeholder survey from Kirkland Rowell, who produces a dedicated version of the parental survey for Primary schools.
“The process was just so easy,” says Kay. Kirkland Rowell’s surveys have been designed based on comprehensive evaluations to establish which issues parents care most about and which questions schools need to get a handle on.
Because the surveys have been designed to get straight to the heart of parental concerns, only the most important questions are asked. The surveys are based on the views of two million parents, with their responses used to identify the 20 most important areas to them. These include school discipline, quality of teaching and the suitability of homework. This approach ensures that, unlike some of the other stakeholder surveys available, the four-page Kirkland Rowell questionnaires are not onerous for parents.
Before the questionnaires were distributed, Kay had spoken to the Kirkland Rowell advisors to ensure that she could include some questions that were specific to Cedar Road. Each school can choose up to four unique issues to explore, which may include how well the school does in encouraging pupils’ activities in the local community, control of attendance or rewarding achievements.
For example, Kay had been concerned that the parents of Foundation Level pupils may have been wanting more contact with the school, so she was able to include this as part of the questionnaire. “The results backed up my assumptions”, says Kay, “and as a result, they provided the impetus to address that and puts measurements in place to assess our progress.”
Kirkland Rowell knows how to get parents involved in the process and can advise on strategies to encourage parents to return their questionnaires. Cedar Road received responses from over 35% of all parents and carers – an impressively high rate, which adds weight to the validity of the results.
Once the questionnaires had been returned, Kirkland Rowell analysed the results, producing a comprehensive and statistically reliable report that helped put the parents’ answers in to perspective. The graphical analysis covered all criteria surveyed, with results broken down by gender and year group.
“The nice thing about this report is that it’s so professional and easy to understand, making it clear which issues matter most to parents”, says Kay. “The results are also colour-graded, making it possible to compare our results with schools that are similar to ours. Without that comparative data, it is difficult to put the parent’s responses into context.”
Kirkland Rowell’s parental survey played an essential part in the school’s Self Evaluation Framework and during their inspection from Ofsted in the summer of 2010. The survey results provided a wealth of evidence for each of the quality indicators that the Ofsted assessors were evaluating. Because Kay had the Kirkland Rowell survey report to hand when the inspectors called, she was able to answer all the questions they had on the partnership with parents and had the results to support her. “The Ofsted inspectors were very keen to look at the report. It helped answer all their questions,” says Kay.
And the Ofsted inspectors were clearly impressed by the work that Kay and her team had done in strengthening their relationship with parents. The effectiveness of the school’s engagement with parents and carers was rated as “outstanding” – and the inspectors noted that engagement was reflected in the positive comments coming back from parents about the school.
Kay had actually bought the pupil assessment survey from Kirkland Rowell, too. In the end, there simply wasn’t time to conduct it before the inspectors arrived. But having seen the benefits of using the parent questionnaire, Kay is planning to conduct the pupil survey in the second half of the Autumn 2010 term.
“Ideally, I’d like to do the parent, pupil and staff surveys – and on a regular basis, because it provides such authoritative feedback on what the major stakeholders think about developments within the school”, says Kay.