14 Jan 2015
In our current study into how schools consult stakeholders, we ask schools about how and how often they ask parents, children, teachers and governors for feedback about how well their school is doing. (You can still contribute here - and enter our January prize draw, worth £500)
We found that most do so once a year, with governors being less frequently consulted. Mostly, they conduct these exercises to support school development planning, but also for gauging general levels of satisfaction.
It seems that there's a lot of re-inventing the wheel going on, with schools devising their own questions each year. Apart from the fact that this is a lot of work for someone, schools are missing a trick here - by asking different questions every time, there's no way to use the consultations to track progress, and by using different questions to other schools there's no way to discover what's normal.
Schools also make life difficult for themselves because they tend to do them on paper, even though Ofsted, for example, use online methods only. This means that some poor soul has to do all the data entry and analysis manually and it takes weeks to get the results back, which can be frustrating.
Most would like to be able to track the school's progress and to compare with other schools - as they do with "harder" performance data, but are limited by their current practices.
Primary school parents typically have better opportunities to give feedback to the school - in the playground, for example, but secondary school parents often feel rather disenfranchised and have few routes to give praise or raise concerns. They also tend to feel that their responses are, if not ignored, not really valued, because schools don't really know what do with the feedback. Teachers tell us that they include negative responses in their reports from these consultations but tend to add their own justifications and contextualisation.
Our research suggests that schools could take their stakeholder consultations more seriously: they are a fantastic way to set development priorities, provided they are well written (as professionals, we at schoolzone, would say that the vast majority aren't), to address achievable outcomes, asking questions that stakeholders themselves might care about.
Feedback also needs to be seen to be taken seriously by stakeholders - schools should know, and make known, what they intend to do with the findings before they even design the questions they are going to ask.
Finally, we'd recommend having a plan of attack on how to action any changes that the feedback suggest might be necessary: allocate some budget, ask a trusted improvement partner to respond to (or even help design) the feedback, or make it clear how it has informed school development planning.
If schools were businesses, these consultations would be like the all-important customer insight studies which are very important in organisations whose income depends on understanding how customers feel about them. This is true for schools too of course - it's just that the connection is less obvious: all the more reason to think about taking consultations seriously.
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