Satisfaction With Kindergarten

Kindergarten is the starting point for a long and happy relationship with your school; or so you hope ! When a primary school conducted a kindergarten survey to measure parent satisfaction it unearthed a few surprises.

Suspicion that everything was not rosy in the kindergarten patch prompted the principal of a primary school to contact me about ways to measure the satisfaction level of kindergarten parents. The principal had picked up negative vibes on the grapevine and she wanted quantitative data to determine if the problems were widespread and where intervention may be needed. 

Carpark comments suggested that parents were concerned that children were not learning enough, that there was too much play and not enough substance. Some parents were saying they wanted more information on what their children were learning, more reading, and more instruction on how they could help at home. Communication between home and school seemed to be a thorny issue. 

The school had put a lot of effort into a new orientation program for both children and parents and the principal was keen to know the impact of these initiatives on parents. Was the peer support program a success? Were relationships between parents and teachers good? Did parents feel welcome at the school? Did parents want to receive information by email?  Did they use the internet? Was the newsletter relevant?

It was time to do some market research.

Design of questions

The language used to talk to kindergarten parents and the concepts to explore are quite different from surveys for older members of the school community. The CMS kindergarten questionnaire was designed by CMS and a team of early childhood educators intent on gaining data for management decisions and staff training. 

Busy parents are deterred by a long, detailed questionnaire, so this is a simple but concise survey using multiple-choice questions. A few written-response questions are included to confirm the positive aspects of the school and uncover any areas of dissatisfaction. The survey takes 10 minutes to complete. 

The questionnaire evaluates the marketing strategies used by a school to attract kindergarten enrolments. It provides respondents with a range of options as to where a parent may have heard about the kindergarten. 

Finally,  the surveys enquires if the child is going to continue at the school the following year, and, if not, the reasons for withdrawal.

The best time to do a kindergarten survey

Just as kindergarten children are new to school life, so are most of the parents. They arrive with little understanding of school culture and routines, but with very high expectations. Typically kindergarten parents are completely preoccupied with their child, they are inward looking and anxious. It takes them a term or two to adapt to the rhythm of the school and relax in the new environment.

Ideally a kindergarten survey should be administered in Term 2 or 3 when parents have settled in, made friends, developed a relationship with teachers and formed an opinion of the school. This timeframe allows a school to take remedial action if needs be and to respond to any perceived problems.

If a parent is unhappy with any aspect of the school a principal needs to know about it as soon as possible, otherwise dissatisfaction has a tendency to circulate in the carpark where it gathers momentum. If you can arrest dissatisfaction early you are more likely to build a very happy band of parents who become your best advocates through word-of-mouth promotion.  

What the survey revealed

Overall, the parents in this case study held a positive view of their school, and when respondents were asked to write down what they would say to others to describe the school, the words - caring, safe, happy, friendly and helpful teachers - came up over and over again. 

However, there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that confirmed the principal’s suspicions. Problems centred largely on communication between home and school, timely announcements and follow-up about parents’ concerns. 

In the free response section parents offered helpful suggestions that related to practical issues in the playground, canteen and carpark.

Alarmingly, 17% of the families indicated they would not be returning next year. This enrolment exodus was a threat, especially as the school is located in a district with plenty of educational choice where each school must work hard to maintain its market share. 

Reasons for withdrawal were identified in the responses.

The survey allowed the principal to see herself through the parents’ eyes which proved to be different from her self-perception. Parents said they would like the principal to be more approachable and accessible. The principal realised she needed to be seen more frequently in the kindergarten area, to smile more, be friendly and chat with new parents.

An unexpected discovery was that parents with more than one child at the school used the survey to comment on other classes, other teachers, other problems and policies that related to older children. This provided a clear indication that these parents wanted a voice on other issues. As a result, the principal is planning to undertake a CMS Parent Survey across the whole school.

Effectiveness of marketing strategies for kindergarten enrolments

At the beginning of the year the school had undertaken a marketing campaign to attract kindergarten enrolments. This included advertisements in local papers, new signage and a letterbox drop. The principal was keen to gauge the effectiveness of these promotional tools, so the section of the survey that determines the success of these marketing strategies was of particular interest to her and her marketing assistant.

One question gave several options as to where parents had heard about the school. Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth came out on top. All responses were graphed so the school could see where it was getting a good response for its promotional effort. 

Putting the findings to work

The findings from this survey turn raw data into useful intelligence and provide valuable information that can be used in a number of ways to show:

Areas for improvement 
Feedback can be a catalyst for the school to question how things are being done, if needs are being satisfied, if service delivery could be better, and if the school’s outcomes are as desirable as the school would wish. 

A window into the respondent’s mind 
Parents are likely to be vocal ‘authorities’ about their school, so it is imperative to know their opinions– the good and the bad; what they want from the school and what they will say about the school to the outside world.

The pulling power of your competition
Information provided about other schools that students will be attending (in preference to yours) and their reasons for leaving, provides data on your competitors.  

Benchmark for further research
Market research should prompt change. Ongoing research from year to year can indicate a changing pattern of perceptions which can be an effective method of evaluation to see if the changes that have been introduced are having the desired effect.

Survey availability

The Centre for Marketing Schools Kindergarten Survey is available for sale as a package that contains a questionnaire, data entry, analysis and a report. 
Centre for Marketing Schools has a menu of affordable surveys designed especially for schools so you can examine the satisfaction levels of different sectors of the school community - parents, students and staff.

About the author
Dr Linda Vining was Director and Founder of the Centre for Marketing Schools (CMS). 
For more information on marketing strategies see Linda’s book  Purple Power for memorable school marketing
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