Archive for May, 2010
Regular readers will know that I have a keen interest in student voice, and to get student voice really right you’ve got to know what you’re doing when you come to questionnaire design.
With student, parent and staff voice so important the majority of schools will be doing at least some form of questionnaire this term – but you’ve got to really careful in your design otherwise you’ll get bad results that will set you on the wrong track. To avoid yourself falling into this trap, here’s a brief guide for how to run effective questionnaires.
Step 1 – Do You Really Want a Questionnaire?
A questionnaire is a powerful tool, but it’s not the only tool to get meaningful feedback on things. Structured interviews, focus groups and data analysis can also provide many meaningful insights – you need to pick the right tool for the job. Generally data analysis is best when the data is reliable – it shows what people actually do rather than what they say they do. But data isn’t always available. Structured interviews can be a really interesting way of exploring a topic, and focus groups work well if there’s a strong social dimension to the question you’re asking.
Step 2 – Don’t Over Specify
Let’s take an example. You want to know what activities your students would like to do during lunch break. A classic question would then be to ask if they wanted to do Football, Basketball, Rounders or Cricket. Classic, and wrong. Those might be the only options we could think of, but it’s certain that the students will have other things they’d like to do as well. You can get around this by having an Other box (and I’d recommend you do this anyway). But to some extent that destroys the power of questionnaires – to give you the actual numbers of people who think certain things. Much better to do a bit of research before you write your questionnaire – chat to a few students and make sure you have an idea of the options they’d like, then make it scientific by getting exact data on how many people want what. Then you don’t fall into the trap of You don’t know what you don’t know.
Step 3 – Don’t Lead, and Don’t Allow People to Hedge
Most people will know not to write leading questions like “Don’t you think homework’s rubbish?”, but it’s equally important to force people into making a choice. Otherwise you’ll just have hordes of people plumping for the middle option. If you use a point scale in your questions make it 1 to 4 rather than 1 to 5 so there’s no middle ground.
Step 4 – Allow Plenty of Opportunity for Long Answers
Longer answers are often neglected on questionnaires, and while they don’t provide easily analysable data they do give you an insight into why people think things, rather than just what they think. So only 80% of people hand in their homework. That’s interesting in and of itself, but it becomes actionable by senior manegement when you start to understand why that 20% don’t. Once you know it’s because they forget, or because they do too much outside school, or there isn’t a comfortable place to work it becomes something you can actually fix.
Step 5 – Ask Enough People
The classic technique of cosmetics firms “90% of women thought Pantene gave them shinier hair” … based on a survey of 20. You find me enough sets of 20 or 30 people and I reckon I can get the questionnaire to say pretty much anything. The data gets more reliable the more people you ask. If you don’t get many responses it will still give you valuable information on the kinds of things people can think, but not what they actually do think and in what proportions.
Step 6 – Make Sure The Group Isn’t Disporportionate
I remember overhearing at a governing training session about a governor from a primary school who was trying to find out the best time for their parents evening. So they interviewed parents at the school gates, and they found the best time was during the day. They scheduled it for then and had a small revolt on their hands. The working parents who perhaps picked their children up a little later or had siblings walk them home weren’t present, the school got a skewed result and ended up drawing the wrong conclusion. You can never quite rule out a biased sample (and there’s so many ways to be biased – can the parents even speak English to take part?) but you just have to try and to avoid it wherever possible.
Step 7 – Test It First
Who would have thought a questionnaire could be so complicated? But even after all this work people can still interpret questions in unexpected ways. The best way to go is to test the questionnaire on a small sample first (say 10 or 20 people) just to make sure you’re getting the kinds of answers you were looking for.
That’s it! Questionnaire nirvana!
For those looking for a bit more information there’s a really good (and short) book on the topic you can get here.
Plus, if you want to know how to do your questionnaires on the cheap, I’ve done a post about it here.
Smart cars, 5ps, and governing bodies. The government certainly thinks that when it comes to governors, less is more. The 21st century schools white paper set out a vision for governing bodies to be smaller, more focussed and more strategic, but is it really the case that smaller is better? We go through some of the arguments below – but more importantly what do you think? To help get a bit more of a conversation going we’re changing tack this week and hosting the discussion on the UK governors forum.
Small is Beautiful
You all recognise the situation – an important topic comes up and 2/3 of the discussion is spent with people bickering across the table about whether there are any typos in last meeting’s minutes. In a governing body everyone is equal, and it’s only right that everyone should have their say – but when there’s 15 of you who *all* want to have their say it becomes a talking shop, not the school’s strategic body.
Here are just a few of the benefits of having smaller governing bodies:
- You only have to keep the most dedicated and able governors who are able to challenge the head effectively
- It becomes by degrees easier to run effective meetings that focus on the key strategic issues
- There’s less of a requirement for induction and constant training – a huge burden on a school with 16+ governors
Bigger Can Be Better
The obsessions over the size of governing bodies is wrongheaded, and a distraction.
Yes, we all know that sometimes large governing bodies can be a bit unwieldy. Yes, in smaller governing bodies it can sometimes be easier to get decisions made quickly. But making quick decisions is only a virtue if they’re the right decisions. Better to make the right decision slowly, than the wrong decision quickly. All those stakeholders who would be stripped out in your leaner, meaner governing body are just the ones who are there to help you make the right call, and help you see problems from every angle.
But there’s issue to take with the question of whether smaller makes more effective in the first place. Many governors are unconvinced, and there’s no research to prove it’s the case. Often schools need large governing bodies to get through the large amount of tasks now heaped on them by central government, and to stay quorate at committee meetings. Far better to focus your attention on mandatory induction training for governors or any other of a whole host of other areas to help you improve governance than worrying about whether you have 12 or 15 people.
What do you think? Have your say on UK Governors.