At a time when the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, has committed to improvements to the My School website, new research shows local sources of information continue to be the most important for parents who send their child/children to an independent school.
The key findings of Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ) third What Parents Want survey were released last week, examining the decision-making process parents undertake when choosing a school. More than 1,000 parents from 67 independent schools across the State took part in October last year, with previous surveys undertaken in 2006 and 2010.
The findings showed parents ranked My School as the 7th most frequently sought source of information, falling behind the most influential of family, friends and colleagues, other parents with children at the school, the school website, and the school open day.
This data indicates that parents appear to be recognising My School's NAPLAN results only tell a small part of a school's story and perhaps what parents really want to know about a school isn't currently available on the site. Depending on the success of the announced improvements, it will be interesting to see if this changes in the future.
The findings also indicated that parents are becoming more discerning when it comes to choosing a school for their children, starting the decision making process earlier and being more likely to consider a greater range of schooling options.
Approximately seven in every 10 parents started thinking about schools for their children at least two years before they commenced – an increase from approximately five in every 10 parents in 2010.
The proportion of parents considering all three schools sectors (State, Catholic, and independent) increased from 17% in 2006 to 23% in 2010 and 28% in 2014. The number of parents considering only independent schools – 48% in 2014 – is down from 56% in 2010 and 61% in 2006.
Eighty-five (85%) of parents with children continuing at their school did not consider changing school. However, this was down from the 89% reported in the 2010 survey.
This trend, whereby parents increasingly consider a wider range of schooling options, is no doubt being driven by the availability of information on schools. This is not only through the My School website but the publication by governments of Year 12 results, destinations of students after they leave school, and other information such as attendance rates, retention of teachers, and parent satisfaction surveys. In a short period of ten years, transparency on the outcomes achieved by schools has taken a mighty leap forward.
Publication of schooling outcomes is a highly contested area of public policy. How best to measure student outcomes? Should we only report gains in student performance? Is it right to compare and rank schools?
No matter what educators might argue about the rights and wrongs of the publication of school outcomes, it is clear that parents are in a powerful position to access a wide range of information about schools they might be considering for their children.
They have also sent a consistent message about what they expect for their children. They want schools to prepare students to fulfil their potential in later life, good discipline, and encouragement of responsible attitudes to school work. They want high quality teachers, strong academic performance, and an emphasis on developing students' sense of community responsibility.
Queensland's schooling system offers choice to many parents; clearly they are embracing that choice. It is vital that these are supported through equitable and fair policies.
All schools, along with the Federal and State Governments, have a responsibility to provide parents with educational options and quality schooling opportunities that will help all students reach their full potential – just as parents want.