Collaborate, align, and seek diverse input to plan and implement your survey successfully.
School improvement at any level is a collaborative process. Involve those who will help make this process successful. It is important to design this process around the unique situations of each school, trust, team, and community. We recommend collaborating with a few colleagues on this process.
Ask yourself, “Who has been involved in successful change initiatives in our school/trust? What have they done to be successful?” These two questions may give you insight into potential team members to invite and to seek advice from for designing your unique process.
This collaboration can be very useful for keeping emotions at bay and biases in check, as not everyone will come to the table with the same past experiences and views in mind. By working together in this way you will establish openness and let everyone get a better picture of the evidence. You may also want to look outside your organisation and outsource some parts of the process, for example survey design, to ensure a level of quality and to save time.
Teams exist to help us do what we can’t do alone, and we suggest you create a team for this process. Ideally, you’ll want to have:
We suggest no more than 6 members on your team. Having more than 6 people shifts your team from a small group to a large group, which drastically changes group dynamics. For ease of time, collaboration, and leaving space for dialogue, keep your team under 6 people, remembering you can consult others beyond the core team.
A contracting conversation at the start of this project with your team will be important to ensure that the team is clear on the goals, their roles, the process, and how you’ll work together (timelines, decision-making, etc.). It’s healthy to schedule regular check-ins with your team to start the project as you’re learning to work together, and then to adjust as the project demands.
It is vital that you and your team are dedicated to finding solutions to problems and are prepared for the tasks ahead. As each team on a school or trust level is a unique unit with its own experiences and needs, keep these characteristics in mind when considering team dynamics.
Getting everyone on the same page might mean addressing any doubts they have about collecting and implementing stakeholder feedback. Here are some of the most common reasons1 why people may be hesitant to engage with your project:
They feel the transition to evidence-informed decision-making is a sign of distrust of their professionalism. Acknowledge any and all concerns they may have about the process and share the intentions you've envisioned for the process. Encourage them that data will help them become even more engaged in finding the best solutions for their stakeholders.
They feel overwhelmed by the potential time and resources a feedback survey (and the work before and after) will take. This is a reality that needs to be addressed quickly and efficiently. Your role is to make data-related work a priority, which means being very selective about what new things you ask team members to do and considering what things can be cut to make room for new work.
They are afraid that data will be used as a new accountability mechanism (to punish those not performing well). Evidence-informed decision-making at its core is not about accountability, but about using data to make informed decisions across the organisation. This is also critically related to the working environment you establish for the team - is this a safe space to work and share ideas? Are people open to receiving and giving feedback? Emphasise that this is not meant to be a tool to punish staff or pupils, but a way to open communication channels and to think outside the box about the reasons things are (or are not) working to ensure impact and improvement.
They feel they do not have enough knowledge or skills related to evidence-informed decision-making. Consider the general experience and education of your team. Not everyone will think they are savvy statisticians, ready to take on data compilation and analysis. As a part of addressing the working environment, remind team members that this process will include a lot of learning together as colleagues and that sharing knowledge and experience is key to the success of this process. Additionally, have clear support structures in place as you go through the steps, for people to reach out and get the support they need when they need it.
They feel they already know how to make good decisions for and about their schools/pupils. There is merit to experience and tenure in working in education, but sometimes intuition or gut feelings can cause a mismatch in perception between senior leaders and the rest of the staff body. By transitioning to more evidence-informed decision-making, we can address root problems using both quantitative and qualitative data, rather than relying on emotional reactions based on past experiences.
There are various ways to implement a collaborative team approach when planning your survey steps. However, there are key areas of this process to seek input for before moving forward, to minimise resistance down the road. Planning regular check-ins for input from leadership, staff, parents, and sometimes, even pupils will give you a broader range of perspectives and help you maintain alignment throughout the process.
You may also want to get an external view on your topic of focus by working with other schools, trusts or advisors. This can help you reduce bias and give you fresh ideas for what to look for, by having someone ask guiding questions that will help you organise your train of thought.
We suggest ensuring that you check in and communicate frequently with:
Leadership of the school/trust - keeping them involved and informed will limit the resistance they may feel to the validity of the data later on. We suggest the following points:
Staff in the school/trust - even if your staff aren’t filling in the survey (for example if you’re surveying parents/pupils), they will have helpful feedback on the questions, language, and context of the pupils and parents.
Parents - unless directly engaging with parents, you can limit communication to a few lines in the weekly newsletter so they have an awareness of what is happening and a contact point for any questions/concerns. If the survey does involve them, the engagement would mirror the staff touchpoints.
Pupils - their engagement really depends on the context of your situation. You don’t have to inform them of staff or parent surveys. It is helpful to get their feedback about questions/language in a pupil survey to ensure they can engage with it meaningfully.
The first and most important aspect for you to ask yourself is: “How do we want to use the survey data to make a change?” The answer should guide you to select the tool that will provide you with the technology to produce helpful and clear data. We suggest schools and trusts use platforms that are able to analyse staff, pupil, and parent data through sub-groups of demographic (age, class, year group) data.
Other considerations should include how you want to work with the results data (export raw data to a spreadsheet), how the results will be presented, how respondents will be able to access the survey, and how different members of your team (trust/schools) will be able to access the survey and results.
Quick, easy and often free, these tools are probably already a part of your daily life or the lives of your respondents. While cheaper, these tools often offer limited ways to analyse the data and present clear information. These are best for small surveys with 5-10 questions. The responsibility lies on you to ensure the quality of the survey questions and the end analysis.
External services often come with a price tag, but they bring their survey design expertise that can be catered to your needs, and support you in setting up and getting the survey to respondents, as well as in-depth ways of analysing your results.
Be focused and targeted about the content of your survey, making sure it is aligned with the goal you set. By keeping in mind what you want to gain from your survey, you can have a clearer idea of what questions to include and remove in your survey. Go to the Survey design page for more step-by-step guidance on how to design your survey.
It may seem there’s never a good time for running a survey, but by taking it step by step, you’ll find which time window works best for your trust and schools. Be aware of the larger picture and the time during which you’re running the survey. A few things you can take into consideration:
Find a time period that works best for your respondent group, which may be different for staff, pupils, parents, or governors. Similarly, think about what periods you should avoid for each respondent group - are they busy with planning for exams; are they out of school on holidays? Make sure your respondent group has the headspace to sit down for the survey and to recollect the information you are asking them to comment on.
To make sure you capture all voices, consider new joiners and whether they’ll have enough experiences to have formed opinions. Let everyone settle in in September before asking questions! Similarly, try to run a survey whilst everybody’s still at school and haven’t left for holidays (i.e. thinking about year 11 and 13 pupils finishing early). In our experience, late Autumn or Spring is a good time to run the survey for pupils taking into account both of these considerations.
Important milestones - strategy planning sessions, trust days, trustees' meeting
When will you start the work on analysing the results? Is there a deadline for when you would like to share the results of the survey? Is there a day when everybody comes together and you could dedicate time to complete the survey? Knowing the milestones that are important to you, you can work out a deadline or a start date and work it out from there.
Other happenings - Ofsted inspections, industrial action
Work around all dates you know of and be mindful about the events that may come up unexpectedly.
Taking into account your calendar and the time when you’ve decided to run your survey, consider how long to keep it open. At Edurio, our experience shows that around 3 weeks is a good time window that's long enough for everybody to find the time to complete the survey, without dragging it out too long (a limited window provides the sense of urgency some need!). There are some things to keep in mind:
Running the survey digitally will mean your respondents will need a smartphone, tablet or computer to complete the survey. Consider how to reach those respondents who may not have access to these tools:
The analysis and action planning will take time. This is the point where you risk having just asked stakeholders for their opinions without showing anything for it. How much time you will need will depend on the size of your organisation and the scope of the data you are collecting, as well as the depth of analysis you want to achieve. Here, you should also consider whether you will rely on any external support (data experts, school improvement experts, online tools) for the analysis of the data. In accordance with data sharing regulations in your region, you may need to ensure you outline clearly to your respondents what you intend to do with the data, including any third parties you may share it with.
Schedule time for analysis now while you’re in the planning stage, so you don’t lose momentum later.
To give you a sense of the type of input needed and allow you to set expectations around the time and effort required for analysis and next steps, read our sections "Survey analysis" and "Take action".
Repeatability is something to keep in mind during the planning process, but also in the design of the survey itself. If your question set is well designed and with a clear goal in mind, you will gain a lot of valuable information from asking these questions again and again, even multiple years in a row. This will provide you with a benchmark of data to be able to compare changes happening between the surveys (for example, year to year or term to term), to monitor the progress you are making in implementing various strategies to work towards your goals.
However, it is very normal for the context in your organisation and the education sector itself to shift. In these cases, the survey will likely change and be updated to a certain degree from year to year to include things that are relevant and exclude the topics or questions that are no longer relevant to your analysis and ultimately, decision-making.
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