Research indicates that partnerships between home and school improve student learning outcomes. Schools striving to gain representative feedback from parents often report difficulties getting parents to take part in surveys or other feedback opportunities such as focus groups. Maximising parent participation is a universal challenge.
As with any data collection, you should always strive to achieve the largest sample size possible. It is also important to ensure that the sample is representative of the full population. As you strive to gain a deeper understanding of your community context, it is important to employ strategies that result in a sample that is representative of the parent body. A school may employ a range of strategies that successfully increase the survey response rate, but this may still produce a limited range of feedback if the sample is biased because it is representative of only one or two sub-groups. For example, a biased sample can occur because engaged parents are more likely to respond, and therefore the responses may not represent the views of parents who choose not to participate in the survey.
We suggest that schools develop an explicit communication and implementation strategy as part of the school planning process. It is important to communicate the purpose of the survey clearly and to indicate how the data will be used. The parent body is typically diverse; therefore it is important to use multiple strategies to promote the initiative and engage the various groups of parents. Consider a variety of ways to communicate with the whole parent community, including those who rarely or never interact with the school.
The success and credibility of the initiative will depend greatly on the school demonstrating to parents that their feedback has been heard and acted on. Parents will be more likely to participate year over year and the school will have a more reliable data set on which to evaluate progress and measure impact.
On the following page are some examples of strategies that you could implement that have previously worked well in schools to maximise the opportunity for feedback:
- Ongoing communication from the Principal, school leaders and teachers to promote the initiative, with support from the parent body such as the Parents and Friends (P&F) Association or School Council.
- Promote the survey via the school’s Facebook page, phone app, website and newsletters. Embed the direct link (or miniURL) to the parent survey when using social media and e-communications.
- P&F play a lead role in promoting the opportunity to provide feedback.
- Principal/School Coordinator provide current response rates using the Tell Them From Me (TTFM) ‘monitor progress’ function and report this progressively throughout the survey window via SMS, newsletter, etc.
- Promote the range of strategies being employed to facilitate access to the survey.
- Personally invite a random sample of parents (e.g take every 6th family from the roll) to participate as part of an advisory team for school planning and evaluation processes.
- Ask disengaged parents for their ideas on strategies to encourage participation.
- Promote the fact that there are open ended and custom questions at the end of the survey. See our resource ‘Sample Custom Questions for the Partners in Learning Parent Survey’ for question writing ideas.
- Provide multiple opportunities for participation in the survey at events that attract different groups of parents. For example: information meetings, breakfast BBQ/parent-teacher night, trivia night, band concerts, sports carnival, drop-off/pick-up time.
- Provide access in school for a designated time in the morning after parents drop children off at school. Post a staff member at the school gate at this time to directly invite parents to come in and do the survey.
- Set up computers/tablets at events for parents to do the survey. Provide an incentive for participation such as a chance to win a prize.
- Issue a direct invitation to disengaged parents.
Key factors for success:
- Clear, consistent communication promoting the purpose and implementation details of your initiative.
- Explicit organisational strategies to ensure that the data and actions taken are shared with all stakeholders of your school community.
…a primary school principal:
“We’ve opened the computer lab before and after school for one week. Whoever is on morning or bus duty directs parents to the lab to complete the survey there. We’ve advertised that the lab is open. Whoever turns up gets a Freddo as thank you. I’ve been in the lab and so has someone else from the [survey] committee to support parents in logging on and resolving any issues. In three days we’ve had over 40 parents…from a school of 99 kids.”
…a secondary school head teacher:
“In high schools use parent teacher nights and funnel parents into computer labs to do the survey. Provide a ticket to each parent who takes part and draw a prize the next day. Also put a tea/coffee supper in the computer room to get [parents] in there…older students can assist with the computers.”