Parents are (not) always right … how benchmarking can help

Parents’ expectations of school performance and the quality of education provided to their children continues to increase.

This is driven, in part, by parents having greater access to information and a growing desire to obtain a quality education at a reasonable price. As a consequence, parents can develop both ill-informed and misleading views regarding performance.

Parents obtain this information and gain such views through various means including access to academic league tables, word-of-mouth information from other parents, their children’s opinions, views from the 12 to 15 percent of ‘glass half empty’ parents, the increased occurrence of first time independent school parents, fee level and fee increases.

Misinformed views are often in areas such as the emphasis placed on academic achievement, the level of bullying at the school, class sizes, range of subjects offered, the quality of teaching and student wellbeing.

It is therefore important for school leaders to have at-hand reliable and valid data that encompasses a research-informed measure of school performance across key areas. This will assist with operational and strategic planning, and also provide a basis from which to correctly inform parents. Benchmarking provides a meaningful reference against which indicators of performance and processes can be critically evaluated. Using a large representative sample of data, benchmarking is a powerful tool to inform strategic goal setting and track performance.

There are two types of benchmarking to consider.

Internal benchmarking involves comparing similar internal processes within your own school. For example, comparing your school’s teaching performance in 2019 to that of previous years. In this instance, the school internally measures teaching performance over time and compares the 2019 teacher mean score to the cumulative average of previous years. This is a proxy for measuring growth and ‘value add’ from intervention protocols, as the performance of the same stakeholders is being tracked over time (longitudinal analysis). The chart below illustrates this for parent ‘satisfaction with the academic program.’

One major advantage of internal benchmarking is that it can be conducted using a school’s resources and does not require any external data.

When undertaking internal benchmarking:

  • Track the same stakeholders over time.
  • Maintain the same methodology for data collection.
  • Maintain the same scoring and scales.

External benchmarking involves comparing your school performance to other like schools.

When undertaking external benchmarking:

  • Select benchmark comparison schools that are relatively aligned to your school in terms of size, school type, gender, culture, demographics and fee levels.
  • Achieve sufficient sample size.
  • Maintain equivalency of comparison areas.
  • Align scoring and scales.
  • Conduct validation and reliability checks for survey instruments.

Key benefits of external benchmarking include the establishment of baseline data, identifying industry average and best-practice scores, and being able to identify where your school is performing well or could improve.

Incorporating benchmarking as a school performance measure will establish a culture of excellence and continual improvement to the direct benefit of students.

Tony Pfeiffer is the Founding Partner of MMG Education, a leader in tailored school stakeholder research and performance benchmarking. Tony served on the board of a leading independent school for over nine years and has decades of corporate experience in senior executive roles.

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