Question the quality of your school

So, you’re a five-star quality teacher? And your school is of five-star quality too? Maybe you’re right. There’s a way to find out. Ask the learners, parents and fellow staff members.

A questionnaire—whether verbal or written—is a quality measurement tool. You might have had the telephonic one ... normally around supper time. A service provider asks you questions on a topic such as car insurance. Then there are the one-on-one interviews in which pre-set questions are asked. An example would be the principal who has an exit interview with a staff member who is leaving.

The written questionnaire is used worldwide by fine schools. It can be designed to focus on a particular group, such as learners in a particular grade or parents across the whole school.

Questionnaires help the school both to understand and to serve the community better. A well-designed questionnaire gives answers to these sorts of questions:

  • What is presently being done well;

  • What needs to be improved;

  • Problems that the school might not be aware of;

  • Improvement ideas that the school might consider implementing; and

  • Breakthrough or “blue sky” solutions to problems.

Educators might be wary of questionnaires. One principal commented: “They [the parents] will only find fault!” True, a meaningful questionnaire does pinpoint areas that need to be improved. Yet there’s the other side. Most parents normally don’t give opinions about the school. The reason is simple: they’re never asked. Ask them to give their evaluations and opinions. You could be pleasantly surprised by their level of appreciation for what you do.
Questionnaires usually contain both closed and open-ended questions.

Closed-ended questions
The closed-ended question asks for an answer that normally consists of a single word such as “Yes” or “No”, a specific bit of information or selecting one item from a list of multiple choices. Examples from a grade seven questionnaire are:

  1. Were you elected as a children’s councillor this year?  Yes ....  No ...

  2. What was your favourite subject in grade seven?  ...................................

  3. Tick your personal response to this statement: “I have enjoyed my year in grade seven.”

Open-ended questions
Open-ended questions invite comments, ideas, personal experiences and suggestions. They often start with words such as: How, What and Why. Examples from a grade seven questionnaire are:

  1. How could our school be an even better one?

  2. What is the most unforgettable thing that happened to you in primary school?

  3. Why did you choose (insert subject) as your favourite subject?

When compiling a written questionnaire, three basic rules are:

Rule one: Make sure that the question is easily understood. There should be no ambiguity or misunderstanding about what is being asked.
Rule two: Use plain words. Some of the people answering the questionnaire might have difficulty reading English.
Rule three: Do a dry run of the questionnaire with a few people. It’s a way of checking for possible mistakes and misunderstandings.

What questions should be asked in a questionnaire? Every school has unique issues, but there are aspects that are common to most. Here is a sample of common closed-ended questions in a parent questionnaire:

“Kindly indicate in the block alongside the question the number that best describes your response to these statements:

  1. My telephone calls to the school have been answered promptly.

  2. When visiting the school, I’m made to feel welcome.

  3. The principal has been approachable when contacted.

  4. Discipline at the school is sound.

  5. The school children are courteous.

  6. Incidents of bullying have been dealt with in an effective way.

Two sample open-ended questions to parents would be:

  1. Is there anything happening at the school that you would like to see either changed or stopped? If so, please indicate.

  2. Do you have ideas on how to further improve the quality of education given to the children? If so, kindly give your recommendations.

Quality schools aren’t afraid of assessing their levels of quality. Questionnaires help them to become even better.

Richard Hayward is attached to the South African Quality Institute, which conducts Total Quality Education programmes across the country. Please contact Vanessa du Toit on 012-349-5006 ([email protected]) or Hayward on 011-888-3262 ([email protected]) for more details. Poor schools are sponsored.

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