Radnor House uses Kirkland Rowell Surveys to assess how its efforts are perceived.
When Radnor House, a co-educational independent day school in Twickenham, opened in 2011, the school had high aspirations. Its core ethos was based on excellence, respect, courage and perseverance: “Our culture of high expectations for children doesn't stop in the classroom. It permeates everything they put their hand to, from sport or music to drama,” says the Head and Proprietor of Radnor House, David Paton.
The fruits of this approach have been truly impressive. A 2012 Ofsted inspection graded Radnor House “Outstanding” in each of the four categories assessed, placing it in the top 0.5% of schools in the UK. Much of the teaching observed by Ofsted was also described as ‘inspirational’.
Part of that success is the school's steely focus on embedding its four core principles into every pupil-staff interaction, says David. For example, assemblies might be given on any number of different subjects, but staff might highlight examples of courage within that.
But David is not one to rest on his laurels. “We don't just aim to be in the top 10% or top five%. We want to be the very best,” he says.
To ensure the school continues on its journey towards being the best, Radnor House enlisted the help of GL Performance, conducting its Kirkland Rowell Surveys to evaluate and understand how its efforts were appreciated by parents, pupils and staff.
“We already used a number of GL Assessment's tests and we have always had exemplary service, so we were keen to see what Kirkland Rowell Surveys could do for us,” David adds.
Kirkland Rowell Surveys are the UK's leading parental, pupil and staff surveys, used by almost 3,000 state and independent schools in the UK and abroad. They are particularly powerful for independent schools – both in the UK and abroad – where parents are deeply engaged with their children's education, expect their views to be heard and have high aspirations for their children. Indeed, the high level of parental expectation at Radnor House is highlighted by the fact that 95% of respondents said that attending university was ‘very or quite important’ for their children, which compares to the independent schools’ average of 83%.
“We're the sort of school that really values performance data,” says David. “Any tool that helps us understand how we are perceived is invaluable.”
Radnor House commissioned five surveys from Kirkland Rowell Surveys in the summer of 2013 – for parents and pupils from both their junior school and senior school, and staff across the school. This enabled Radnor House to benchmark their results for junior and senior age ranges against similar independent schools.
To many eyes, the results would have been warmly welcomed. For example, 100% of junior school parents said they would recommend the school to other parents – an incredible result. That strong endorsement of the school was echoed at the senior level, too, with a score of 98.7%.
Across the board, on issues ranging from how well the school is run to the child's progress at the school, parents consistently rated Radnor House as outstanding.
But for David, the interesting results were not those that indicated Radnor House had excelled in any given area, but those suggesting there was room for improvement. “If you're committed to high achievement, as we are, you really need to understand any area where improvements can be made,” he says.
One obvious area to focus on from parent responses was concern over facilities. Here, more than one in five parents listed it as their highest priority, marking it as parents' most commonly cited concern.
This was, however, an issue the school was well aware of. More than £1 million has already been invested in areas such as IT facilities at the school and its historic buildings, which are on the site of Alexander Pope's mansion. However, further work is also under way on the creation of an all-weather sports pitch; a project that has moved on apace since the surveys were conducted and will be ready for use shortly.
Having conducted surveys of both parents and pupils, it became apparent to David that parents were not always aware of the good work Radnor House was doing. “One big difference between the results for parents and pupils was that the experience pupils get is better than the one parents see,” he says.
To address that perception gap, David plans to report the results back to parents via a newsletter, as well as to repeat the exercise in the coming year, so that they can measure the improvements they have made.
“It is vitally important for us to hear what parents think,” says David. “One reason I think we scored so highly is that we very much see parents as a customer, in that what they think really matters to us. We're determined to give them the best services – and that means providing the best education for pupils.”
By repeating the survey, David hopes to track Radnor House's progress against its improvement targets and continue its efforts to exceed parents' expectations. He also intends to delve even deeper into the data, in the expectation that it can provide further clues about where the leadership team's focus should be. “There really is so much information we got back from the surveys that we've only just scratched the surface.”
But while the strong parental endorsements of Radnor House will provide eye-catching figures it can use on its website, the surveys provide a far more useful feedback mechanism when it comes to promoting the school. “We don't really do much marketing. Instead we rely on word of mouth,” says David. “However, the feedback gathered will allow us to focus our marketing messages on the areas that make us stand out from the crowd as we know what really matters to our stakeholders.”
Listening to staff
For Radnor House, David also felt it was important to include staff in the perception surveys.
One of the most notable aspects of the staff survey was the high levels of motivation reported. “We work our staff hard and are pretty demanding of them, so it was pleasing to see that they enjoyed being part of our team and take huge pride in the school,” he explains.
The teachers all rated Radnor House as outstanding in areas such as the quality of teaching, the behaviour and safety of children and the school's leadership and management. The one aspect that achieved slightly less than perfect marks was the achievement of pupils, although David puts this down to the fact that being a relatively new school, Radnor House has no history of exam marks to use as a benchmark.
As ever, David and his teachers at Radnor House have their aims set high, and won't rest until they have the evidence of pupils’ success laid before them.