Part of making a school outstanding involves listening carefully to what stakeholders are saying and learning from that.
Steve Howard MBE, principal of the British School - Muscat.

Devising school improvement plans with Kirkland Rowell surveys (The British School, Muscat, Oman)

Stakeholder surveys have provided the means to devise school improvement plans that address the chief concerns of parents, pupils and staff at the British School – Muscat.

“Part of making a school outstanding involves listening carefully to what stakeholders are saying and learning from that.” So says Steve Howard MBE, principal of the British School - Muscat.

The British School - Muscat is one of Oman’s leading private schools. It caters for 920 children, aged between three and 18 years, representing 47 different nationalities. It is a non-selective, co-educational, international day school that follows the English National Curriculum for English speaking pupils in Oman.

Many of the pupils attend the school for part of their education – typically between three and five years – while their parents are working overseas. Around half of the current pupils are British and over a third of the pupils in the school have English as an additional language – well above the UK national average.

Yet the school produces outstanding results at the end of Key Stage, at GCSE and at A Level. Such measures are important for parents wishing to compare the school to similar maintained schools in England and it’s vital for all parents to be confident that their children can qualify for subsequent education in the UK without disadvantage, says Steve.

The importance of self-assessment

Steve is a firm believer that self-assessment is a critical part of continually improving his school. “Without audit, it is not possible to have a focused plan,” he says. “If schools are not constantly assessing themselves, they can’t produce the analysis and plans needed to drive improvement.”

The British School - Muscat has used questionnaires to gauge stakeholder opinion for a number of years, but in 2009 it started using parent, staff and pupil surveys from
GL Performance’s Kirkland Rowell Surveys.

Kirkland Rowell Surveys have been based on extensive research to ensure that questions hone in on the issues that matter most to the various stakeholder groups. This guarantees that critical issues are examined, as well as helping to drive up response rates.

“Another big attraction is that the surveys can include questions tailored to an individual school, ensuring they explore issues that are pertinent to that specific establishment,” says Steve. That’s particularly useful for an international school such as the British School – Muscat, which operates in circumstances which are a little bit different than most.

The GL Performance team worked alongside the school staff in planning the delivery of the survey, and that was crucial in achieving a 75% response rate from parents – a phenomenally successful response for a postal survey. “The whole process, from design to report was remarkably smooth,” Steve says.

Using the results

The results of the surveys were mostly in line with Steve’s expectations: the parents were overwhelmingly supportive of the aims and ethos of the school, and the staff and pupils were happy to be a part of the school. There was, however, one surprise: the results showed some of the parents were a little frustrated with the school’s facilities.

“Some parts of the school were looking a little tired and because of the success of the school, we have rather outgrown our current site,” says Steve. “The survey results highlighted a potential issue, which we’ve been able to explore further and as a result, push ahead with a series of exploratory talks to move site.”

Because the British School – Muscat surveyed pupils and staff as well, it also became apparent that pupils didn’t share their parents’ concerns. “It really came across that the children love the quirks of the buildings, so it will be really important if we do move that we retain the school’s atmosphere.”

Once the surveys were returned, GL Performance quickly turned the responses into an easy-to-digest report, which weighted the findings against the measured perceptions and attitudes of stakeholders in ‘similar’ schools – in this case, independent schools in England. The report provided extensive detail about the results, including a full graphical analysis of results by gender and year group.

The ability to make comparisons with the results at schools that operate in ‘similar’ circumstances is critical to benchmarking those results. “The report gave us the chance to compare ourselves to schools in the maintained sector in England – the sector that most children will move into when they continue their education in the UK,” says Steve.

In 2010, the school repeated the exercise, mainly to see if the actions that the school had undertaken during the course of the year had been effective and if stakeholder satisfaction levels had improved as a result.

This time, the school chose to use the online versions of Kirkland Rowell Surveys. “The online surveys have a huge advantage for international schools, as they are far easier to administer and are much more cost-effective,” says Steve. “With the paper-based version, international postage fees increase the cost of the surveys significantly,” he adds.

Following the initial surveys, the school had undertaken several initiatives around the leadership and management areas within the primary school. “We were really pleased to be able to see the feedback from the later survey, showing that we’d achieved that,” says Steve.

While Ofsted doesn’t inspect schools outside the UK, the British School – Muscat was rated as “outstanding” by an independent team of Ofsted-trained inspectors in their last inspection during 2009. These inspectors visited the school and carried out rigorous analysis of how the school was performing, observing no less than 30 lessons.

The team of inspectors commended the use of self-assessment to drive improvement at the school. Indeed, its report noted: “Whole-school self-evaluation is highly accurate, and subject self-evaluations have helped staff to reflect carefully on how to improve … School improvement planning is highly effective and based squarely on the results of self-evaluation and surveys of the views of parents and other stakeholders.”

The British School – Muscat plans to repeat the exercise again in 2012, to make sure that it continues to improve and satisfy the needs of parents, pupils and staff alike.

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