Nelson Mandela said,

“Education is the most powerful weapon
which you can use to change the world.”

…and he of all people would have known


But when the inspector calls how do you know what effect your education is having?


If education is the most powerful weapon, we are pretty sure that information is the second most powerful.  How can you manage and develop any organisation, including a school, academy, college without knowing how it is performing?  And when an Ofsted inspection looms, knowledge is indeed power.


We have been undertaking a survey of students, staff and parents for a major Essex secondary school for the last nine years. Crucially we use a mixture of familiar paper self-completion questionnaires and up-to-the minute online techniques.  And equally crucially, we use precisely the same wording as the questions that Ofsted ask in their survey during their inspection.


Why?  Most immediately so that Ofsted are not able to spring surprises, which the school does not know about.  Fore-warned is fore-armed.  More importantly in the long run, an annual survey allows the school to know the direction in which it is heading.  Better or worse?  It highlights the strengths on which your school can congratulate itself and pinpoints weaknesses which set challenges for improvement.


But how do you get the best response?  Ofsted typically get a response rate of about only 10% overall.  Our rather different methods have achieved a response rate of about 75% in recent years for staff, higher for parents and carers, and about 90% for students.  We hardly need draw the conclusion of the stark contrast between the robustness and statistical validity of our results compared to those of Ofsted.


For students, we tried on-line surveys but eventually settled on good old fashioned paper questionnaires.  Teachers hand them out during tutor group registration time.  Students complete them then and there and hand them back.  They don’t have time to think too deeply about their responses and studies have shown that this produces better quality data.  And maximum response.


Parents and carers present a different challenge.  The changing structure of families means that we could not assume that deliveries to ‘home’ would reach all of them.  So we work closely with the school to identify contact details for all.

  • Where there is only a postal address we send out self completion questionnaires, including a reply paid envelope.
  • Most have email so we send them an email invitation to complete the survey on-line. It’s confidential as they have a secure log in and individual password.  We use a series of email reminders when appropriate to encourage response.

Some parents have more one child at the school, so they receive an invitation for each child.  This recognises the importance of children’s individual experiences.


All staff are offered an on-line survey to complete – same questions as Ofsted.  But if they prefer or do not have easy access to a computer, they can collect a paper questionnaire from the school office.  After completion they return it direct to us in a reply paid envelope.  This ensures confidentiality of their response


Finally we produce a detailed confidential report for the head teacher and governors.  They can easily pick up the key points from the summary or delve into the detail of the data tables.  The most important result is not so much the absolute values but the trends of year on year changes.  We also compare results from parents and students, highlighting significant differences in perception between the first hand experiences of students and the slightly more removed experiences of parents and carers.


The feedback from the school has told us that their ability to present this quality of information to the Inspectors has helped to head off criticism and kept the school well away from the dreaded ‘Requires Improvement’ outcome.  Apart from this, it indicates to the school aspects of its performance that they need to concentrate on.