The transition to academy status is a momentous one for any school, but the changeover is likely to be easier if pupils, parents and staff are on board. But how can you be sure what messages are getting across, and whether there are sections of the school community that aren’t signed up to the process? Canvassing opinion certainly helps – and Kirkland Rowell Surveys ensure that those opinion gathering efforts are targeted in the most effective way.
The Havelock Academy (formerly Havelock Comprehensive) in Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, gained academy status in September 2007 as part of a fast track programme. It secured sponsorship from entrepreneur David Ross, who hails from the area and was keen to give something back to the community. “It was an important change for the school.We wanted to make sure that everyone connected to the school understood what we were doing and why," says David Bennett, Executive Director at Havelock Academy.
Kirkland Rowell Surveys offer a compelling way of gauging a school community’s thoughts and feelings and can provide valuable feedback about how key initiatives are being received.The questionnaires have been carefully designed to focus on the issues that have proven over the years to be the ones that matter most to parents, pupils and staff.
One clear benefit of having the survey is that it puts you in a good position when it comes to Ofsted inspections. And David is keenly aware how that can help: one year, he was two days in to an Ofsted inspection when he got the results from his latest survey. “The easy-to-use reports provide independent verification about what you’re doing and what people think”, says David. “Having answers to the questions that the inspectors ask at your fingertips is worth its weight in gold.”
In its most recent report, Ofsted rated the school as satisfactory – a huge achievement given where the school had come from. And the report noted that the school had “established firm foundations for future improvements”.
Because the Havelock Academy has conducted the surveys annually, it has been able to build up a picture of how initiatives have progressed year to year.This was especially useful during the transition to academy status.The school had previous experience of administering student and parent surveys, but with the academy initiative and others, such as becoming a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate MiddleYears, it became important to canvass staff opinion too.
“I think the majority of the staff were supportive of what we were doing, but it’s unrealistic to assume everyone is happy about every decision,” says David. “And whilst there may only have been a small number of staff who were unhappy about one or two things, they were very unhappy – so it was essential that we could pick up on those concerns and address them.”
The surveys also highlight any areas where parents or pupils have concerns. “It’s absolutely essential that you understand what those concerns may be because that’s the only way you can be in a position to do something about them,” says David.
The survey management data doesn’t only help identify problems; it can draw attention to good work going on in the school that parents may otherwise not have noticed. “We had two or three departments quietly going about doing some very good work – but they didn’t sing it from the rooftops and because of that, not everyone appreciated the work that they were doing.”
Of course, not all assessment tools on the market can help schools pick up the subtle nuances of what’s going on in their establishment. But because Kirkland Rowell Surveys can be tailored, each school can include questions on the issues that relate specifically to their circumstances. “We were able to really drill down in to how the transition to academy status was going,” says David.
Having the option to do paper-based or online questionnaires provides the assurance that schools can issue the type of survey that is best suited to their needs. While the online option offers the advantage of convenience, not all families have internet access. “We know that 15% of parents don’t have internet access at home, and when doing something like this it’s important to be inclusive,” says David.
Because participation is an essential element of the surveys, GL Performance works with schools to ensure they get the best possible response rates.The advisors can help identify the most effective way to distribute the questionnaires, or suggest strategies which will get pupils and parents to participate – such as running prize draws for early responders or implementing classroom-based checks that encourage pupils to return completed questionnaires.
And the efforts have paid off for the Havelock Academy. “We get response rates between a third and a half,” boasts David.These efforts have a further benefit, he says, as the children that have the most problems in school often come from families that are hardest to reach out to – so by making the extra effort, you really can build up a picture of how the work is being received across the school population.
So far, the move to academy status has been positive. Pupil attainment is rising, with the proportion of pupils obtaining five good GCSEs exceeding the National Challenge initiative targets. And the school is making progress in other areas, adding a sixth form and is introducing the International Baccalaureate for post-16 students.
The survey results also enable David to compare the school to others that work in equivalent environments. “We are in what you’d call an area of extreme deprivation in terms of the local employment and housing situation.” So being able to make an apples-to-apples comparison is extremely useful.
What’s more, because the results are provided in an easy-to-use format, David likes to add his own analysis into the mix. “GL Performance does much of the analysis for you, but the way they present the results allows me to carry out my own further analysis if needed.”