Our survey said…

Simon Hepburn, founder of Marketing Advice for Schools and a keen user of online surveys, tells us why online surveys are a useful tool for schools

All schools will have become used to surveys in recent years – not least because of the introduction of Ofsted’s Parent View questionnaire in 2011. However, there are many other reasons for schools to use surveys, and the number of tools you can use, and their sophistication, is increasing. This article suggests some ways schools can try these out!

Why should schools conduct surveys?

Among the reasons schools can use online surveys are…

  • To quickly gather information from parents – the COVID pandemic threw up situations where schools needed to find out quickly whether parents were eligible for ‘key worker’ places for their children, or had carried out tests at home – and surveys proved a lot faster than letters or telephone calls in doing this.
  • For teaching purposes – as a part-time teacher I’ve written surveys that ask my students to feedback which topics they are confident (or less confident) about – and they’re also great for low-stakes quizzing if you have to teach remotely.
  • To explore potential changes in the school, such as introducing wrap-around care, and see what parents and other stakeholders think of them.
  • For marketing purposes – to find out how the school is perceived, and which areas are seen as strengths and areas for improvement.
  • To prepare parents for inspection – the most cynical use of surveys, but there is an argument that familiarising parents with how to fill them in will help improve the return in Parent View and tools used by other inspection bodies.

What can you use?

  • Free survey tools – as most schools are now using either Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams, their survey tools (both called Forms, confusingly) are excellent places to start. They have a simple selection of question types and can be easily shared with thousands of people. The downside of both is that you can’t customise the appearance of the polls very much, and they lack the complex options of the alternatives below.
  • ‘Try before you buy’ tools – one example is Survey Monkey, the market leader in online surveys. It has a limited free plan which will allow you to try more advanced features such as their templates and question bank. Choosing a paid for education plan will let you carry out a meaningful survey, as well as offering additional features such as A/B testing, where different participants get different questions; a similar alternative that many schools are using is Jotform.
  • More advanced tools – Typeform is a good example of an ‘industrial-strength’ survey tool. I’ve used it recently to create complex surveys that take respondents in different directions, depending on their answers; it allows multiple creators to work together.
  • Paper – even though it might not seem to make sense in an article about online surveys, it can be easy to print off copies and use them to increase take-up – for example, some schools will hand out surveys at parents’ evenings or open events.

How do you use them?

Whichever tool you use, here are some key principles to follow:

  1. Keep them short – every additional question is an opportunity for a participant to give up on the survey. If you have a large group that you can survey, consider splitting your survey into two and asking different sub-sets about different issues
  2. Be careful with GDPR rules – you need to show a ‘lawful basis’ for using personal information to either conduct a survey or to collect and use information from it. Ask for help from your data protection officer if you are concerned.
  3. Share survey links in multiple ways – the advantage of digital surveys is that links can be shared via social media, apps such as ClassDojo, or as links in newsletters as well as being sent directly to participants. This will improve feedback and can also help you access people who prefer these different forms of communication.
  4. Repeat surveys over time – the first time you carry out a survey you might only be able to use it as a benchmark. As you move forward, and implement changes, surveys can help you see how opinions and perceptions are changing.
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