Weighing up school choice: what information do parents rely on?

Parents rely on a wide range of people and information sources to guide what school they choose for their child.

But it’s the people closest to them that have the greatest influence, according to the results of a major survey of Queensland independent school parents.

These insights and more are drawn from a survey of 3,638 parents of children at 115 Queensland independent schools commissioned in 2018 by Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ). This is the fourth survey in ISQ’s long-running What Parents Want series.

  • When parents were asked to short-list the top three most influential information sources that guided their decision-making on school choice, the following made the top five:
    1 –  Family, friends and colleagues (67%)
    2 – Other parents with children at the school (54%)
    3 – School open days (47%)
    4 – School website and social media (40%)
    5 – Family members already attending the school (24%)

Families who attend an Open Day or undertake a school visit as part of their decision-making process value meeting school staff.

  • According to the survey findings, the staff parents most want to meet, in order of importance, are:
    1 – Classroom teachers
    2 – Principal
    3 – Students
    4 – Deputy Principal
    5 – Parents of current students.

Not surprisingly, parents of boarding students nominated the Boarding Master/Mistress as the most critical staff member to meet face-to-face.

In the survey parents were asked to identify the extent to which 43 factors, categorised by school type, curriculum programs, school characteristics, services and people, contributed to their decision.

  • Analysis of their answers revealed the top 10 reasons why parents choose independent schools:
    1 – They prepare students to fulfil
    their potential in later life
    2 -High quality of teachers
    3 – The school seemed right for child’s
    individual needs
    4 – Good discipline
    5 -Teaching methods/philosophy
    6 – They encouraged a responsible
    attitude to school work
    7 – The reputation of the school
    8 – The emphasis the school placed on
    developing a student’s sense of
    community responsibility
    9 – The range of subjects offered
    10 – The size of the school.

Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network Executive Officer Sue Kloeden welcomed the survey findings saying she hoped independent schools would use the valuable insights to inform the way they engage with current and prospective parents.

“But education isn’t simply a one-way transaction. It’s a partnership between schools, parents and children,” Ms Kloeden said.

“Parents rightly expect the best for their children, but these expectations must be matched by engagement. International and national research findings over the past 40 years have repeatedly confirmed that parents who are supportively engaged in their child’s education have a positive influence on their learning outcomes and wellbeing.”

Other 2018 What Parents Want survey insights and series trends include:

Children have their say

1 in 2 parents (53%) said their choice of school was totally or highly influenced by their child’s opinion.

Social media 

For the first, time parents were asked about the influence of social media. 1 in 3 parents (33%) indicated school-generated social media was very or extremely useful. However, parents still ranked traditional school information sources such a school visits, websites and prospectuses ahead of social media.

Young generation Y parents

Generation Y parents in their early 30s and younger are more likely than other generations to: find school social media very useful; weigh up all schooling sectors; be influenced by a school’s external appearance and facilities; and less likely to start thinking about school choice before or from their child’s birth.

My School

More parents are now using the My School website to inform their decision-making with almost 1 in 5 parents (18%) – up from 8% in 2010 – identifying it as one of their most influential sources of information. This was particularly true for parents of primary school-aged children.