Surveying the sixth form: usable results from short surveys.
The Gryphon School is a mixed Church of England academy for ages 11-18, with 1,640 students including 440 in The Gryphon Sixth Form. The LRC is in the centre of the school and is on two levels. Downstairs there are 17 computers and workspace for 90 students. Upstairs is a Sixth Form-only space which has of 53 computer stations as well as a workspace for around 10 students. The LRC is busy from 8.15 am to 5.00 pm every day, with around 100 Sixth Form students choosing to study in there every lesson. It is run by three members of staff, The LRC Manager and two part-time LRC Assistants.
Why take a survey?
There are a variety of reasons why you might take a survey. I undertook my first Sixth Form survey in November 2012 after joining The Gryphon School in the Spring of that year. I wanted to gauge what the Sixth Form thought of the LRC, when they used it and if they felt any improvements needed to be made.
In 2012 the outcome of the survey helped me to persuade the Senior Leadership Team that I needed more computers for Sixth Form use in the LRC and we had another 10 installed over the Easter break. The results of the survey were clearly displayed in the LRC, so that the students, importantly, could see that we had taken notice of it. In 2012, 18.3% of students undertook the survey, and although a relatively modest sample, the Senior Leadership Team took into account their comments when reviewing the School's facilities.
In 2015 the survey was completed by 47% of students, equally split between Year 12 and Year 13, providing a much better picture of the Sixth Form's views.
You should always be prepared for the varying responses you may get. Students are prepared to state their opinions freely especially when given the opportunity to do so anonymously, but they usually provide fair and useable feedback and ideas. Remember the purpose of the exercise is to find out what they think of the area and the service provided and if possible to improve it by looking at the feedback gathered.
What to do?
Be clear about your questions--identify what information you are trying to find out and how it will be useful. To be truly successful, don't ask questions that are not meaningful, relevant or easy to understand and answer--students may not have the time to complete something too lengthy or irrelevant.
Are you going to take an online survey or a paper one? If you go for the paper version be prepared for the amount of effort it will take to analyse the results. I think it is far better and more current to do an online survey, having analysed paper surveys myself and experienced the huge amount of time it has taken to collate the results. Online, the results are generated pretty instantly for you.
I used Survey Monkey, which the School subscribes to, but I know there are other sites available. This made devising and rolling out the survey to the students a fairly straightforward and quick task. I discussed the questions with the Head of Sixth Form, who is my Line Manager and when we were happy I transferred the questions to Survey Monkey. We are able to email students to their school email address, so the link to the survey was sent out and the students were asked to complete it. With Survey Monkey you can have multiple choice questions as well as ones where the students can enter text, so giving them an opportunity to air any issues. We made sure that the survey was anonymous so that they felt able to voice any concerns openly. Of course, as I have said before, this does mean that you must be prepared for all types of responses--both positive and negative. You might also need to make sure that the survey can be completed more than once on each PC, especially if you are getting the students into the Library during tutor times to complete it, otherwise this will cause problems.
The latest survey (March 2015) was undertaken by 201 of the 428 students in the Sixth Form. This is around 47%, which is very good and it also worked out that the split between Year 12 and Year 13 students was fairly even. The main aim of this survey was to establish if the students felt that the noise in the LRC was at a level that allowed them to work. We circulated the survey after a 4-week exam shut-down period, which included mock AS & A Levels, when the LRC was a silent working area and the Lower School were not allowed to book or use the LRC for classes. As you can imagine, this required a fair amount of understanding by the Lower School who also use the LRC extensively. However, it was felt necessary to see whether it would help the Sixth Form to have a silent working space and the LRC is clearly the most obvious and appropriate place for this to happen, particularly as it is a supervised space and naturally quieter than other areas of the school.
The results of the survey showed us two things; one that the students felt that the LRC was quiet enough to work in and secondly that it was even quieter during the exam shut-down period. In addition it confirmed that the students were frustrated by the upstairs computers because they were slower to load than they would have liked. Students have high expectations when it comes to technology and are used to home, non-networked PCs which will always be much quicker.
I tried to keep the survey quite short; we went for 13 questions in the end. The first ten were multiple choice answers and the last three were questions where they could enter responses, but didn't have to. Questions 5 and 6 were for my purposes, as often students in the Sixth Form don't have the time to read fiction books and I wanted to see how many still did. (See 2015 Survey Questions on p.204.)
Once the allotted time to complete the survey has passed (we gave our students a week), you can close the survey and collect the results. These can be exported into many different formats if using Survey Monkey; csv file, power point or excel. There is also the cloud function, which gives you a spread of words that occur most frequently in the text responses. The cloud print out for my question 'Are there any improvements that you would like to see in the LRC?' is shown opposite.
Results of 2015 Survey
What happens next?
First of all I met with my Line Manager, who is the Head of Sixth Form, to discuss the survey and then we met with the Headteacher to share with him the results and to see if we could resolve some of the issues raised. The survey also tied in with a Year 12 Parent Survey and some of the issues were the same, in particular the speed of the computers upstairs, so we felt this might reinforce our campaign to get them upgraded.
The School is encouraging students to bring their own devices (BYOD), ie laptops, i-pads, tablets into school rather than rely on the technology in school and it was suggested that desks and power sockets replace half of the computers upstairs so that students could use their own devices. This remains an option for the future, particularly as the BYOD initiative grows in popularity. However, over the Summer of 2015 the computers upstairs in the LRC were replaced and the LRC is top of the list for new computers, although the national cuts in funding for post-16 students has put the School under pressure, despite its size and successes. To support BYOD, 30 lockers have been purchased over the Summer and are in the LRC for students of all Year Groups to use to store their devices securely and charge them (if they bring their own charger).
Taking surveys takes some time and effort, but with Survey Monkey it is minimal. It is a valuable tool, which helps you to identify whether you are providing the service that the students want. The School often requests parents to undertake surveys, so it is part of our culture here. The Sixth Form students like to do surveys as they can express their opinions openly but anonymously. Ultimately if they see changes introduced as a result of a survey they have done, they feel the exercise was a worthwhile use of their time.
It is also important that when you make any changes after a survey that you pass this information onto the students, so that they can see the importance of the exercise in improving the facilities/service on offer in the school. We informed the Sixth Form of the upgraded computers and new charging lockers during their assemblies at the beginning of this academic year.
2015 Survey Questions
1. What year group are you?
Year 12 / Year 13
2. When do you use the LRC? Tick all that apply.
* Before school
* At break
* Lunch time
* After school
* In study periods
3. Do you think the LRC is quiet enough during lesson times to work in?
YES / NO / UNSURE
4. Did you feel the LRC was quieter during the Y12/Y13 PPE's?
5. Do you read fiction books?
ALWAYS / SOMETIMES / NEVER
6. If you answered always/sometimes to Question 5, where do borrow/buy them? Please tick all that apply.
* Buy from bookshop.
* Buy from charity shop/car boot sale.
* Borrow from friends.
* Borrow from public library.
* Borrow from school LRC.
7. Do you always manage to get a computer to work at when you need one?
ALWAYS / SOMETIMES / NEVER
8. Do you think that more computers are needed in the LRC?
YES / NO
9. How good do you think your LRC is?
10. Are there any improvements would you like to see in the LRC?
11. Please use the space below to make any relevant comments about the LRC.
12. How would you organise the LRC in order to maximise student achievement?
Julie Hoskins is LRC Manager at The Gryphon School in Sherborne, Dorset.
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|Date:||Dec 22, 2015|
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