Parental Engagement Questionnaire: the Dos and Don’ts

Time to read: 9min 7 Oct 2022

Looking to improve your parental engagement but not sure how? A parental engagement questionnaire is a great place to start.

And with mountains of research supporting the link between parental involvement and student success, listening to parent opinion is key to improving learning outcomes.

Despite this, according to ParentKind’s recent Annual PTA Survey, only 50% of parents feel they’re able to have a say on decisions affecting their children’s education.

Parents are unquestionably one of your school’s most important stakeholders, so why not seize the power of this inexpensive tool to understand and listen to their concerns.

After all, a simple parent engagement questionnaire can form the foundations of a winning school improvement strategy.

So, to help you put your best foot forward, we’ve broken down the essential components of an effective parent survey. Consider it a foolproof formula for success.

Why are parental engagement questionnaires important?

Did you know that the impact of parental engagement on pupil progress is equivalent to adding two or three years to that student’s education?

If it was ever in doubt, energising parental involvement is key to improving learning outcomes.

And to do so, your school first needs to understand your parents’ opinions. This is crucial, especially when it comes to making decisions that will impact their child’s life at school.

Encouraging parent feedback not only garners trust but also helps your school make informed decisions that serve the whole school community.

Parent surveys also enable time-strapped parents to voice their opinion or concerns without having to come into school. This is important, as parents’ work demands and financial situation can affect their ability to do so.

With this in mind, parent surveys can give voice to those unable to participate in other areas of school life, such as joining a parent council or volunteering at school.

For schools, parent surveys are a cost-effective way to turn feedback into action, helping you make data-backed decisions with minimal admin time required and increasing parental engagment. Using free online survey tools like SurveyMonkey, you can gain quick insights with automatic charts and summaries.

Effective parent surveys can help staff determine parent satisfaction, attitudes towards participation, opinions on school life, and much more.

Different question types (and how to use them)

There are multiple questions you can include in your parent survey to gather actionable insights. If you aren’t already familiar with these, here are some of the most common question types.

Multiple-choice questions

Fairly self-explanatory, multiple-choice questions enable parents to choose one or more options from a list of answers as defined by your school. They’re easy for parents to fill in and equally easy for you to analyse, producing quantifiable results.

Rating Scale

Rating scales require parents to provide answers according to a scale, the range of which is determined by your school. There are different types of rating scales. Themes can cover:

  • Satisfaction level
  • The extent to which you agree with a statement
  • How far you would recommend a service?
  • How often you partake in a particular activity?

Likert scales

Likert scale questions enable you to gauge parents’ opinion. More often than not, Likert scale questions take the form of ‘’do you agree or disagree’’ or ‘’how likely or unlikely’’. These are great for analysing attitudes on a range of subjects.

Matrix questions

Matrix questions give parents the option to respond to multiple statements in one go. Aim to use Matrix questions in conjunction with Likert or Rating Scale questions for maximum effect. Avoid using too many statements as this could confuse respondents, making the question harder to digest.

Open-ended questions

Open-ended questions give parents greater freedom to express their opinions, as they aren’t required to choose from a predetermined list of answers. These types of questions usually take the form of a comment box. Open-ended questions are harder to analyse as it’s not as easy to quantify written answers. On the plus side, parents can respond in their own words, giving you more actionable insights.

But what are the dos and don’ts of a parent survey?

What makes a good parental engagement questionnaire?

 1. Use open-ended questions sparingly

Open-ended questions aren’t as quick and easy to answer as close-ended questions. They generally require more thinking time, with parents providing feedback in their own words.

Open-ended questions also provide qualitative data rather than quantitative. While qualitative questions enable you to gain more detailed answers, they are harder to quantify and can require lengthy analysis. Bear this in mind when deciding which question types to use.

And for best results, why not combine the two. Start by leading with a quantitative question followed by a comment box, giving parents the option to voice their opinion in more detail. This can help you gain invaluable additional insights.

2. Try to keep your questions as neutral as possible

Avoid asking biased survey questions. Biased survey questions are worded in a way that favours a particular answer. Some of the most common examples are listed below:

Leading questions: Push respondents to answer in a specific manner. This is largely as they already contain information that the survey creator wants to confirm. For example: are you satisfied with the school’s educational curriculum?

Loaded questions: Loaded questions contain an assumption that the foundation of the question is valid. For example: How do you drop your kids off at school? This assumes every parent or carer does so, excluding those who, for whatever reason, are unable to.

Absolute questions: Frame questions as a yes or no answer without accounting for other actualities. For example: Do you read with your child every day? Reframing this question to ‘How many days a week do you read with your child?’ gives you greater insight.

3. Be mindful of asking sensitive questions

There may be questions that some parents feel uncomfortable answering. Where possible, only include questions of a sensitive nature where necessary.

In such cases, be sure to specify why you need them and how the respondent’s private information will be used and stored. Assurances of confidentiality will go a long way to engendering trust between parents and the school.

Sensitive questions may include:

  • What is your annual income?
  • To what level do you consider yourself to be religious?
  • What is the highest degree or level of school you have completed?

Where possible, include a ‘prefer not to say’ option to accommodate parents who may feel uncomfortable.

Notably, research by SurveyMonkey found that forcing recipients to answer questions can cause respondents to quit your survey or select a random answer. As such, be mindful when deciding which questions require an answer. Consider making most of your questions optional.

4. Focus on the structure of your survey

The structure, while often overlooked, is key to a successful parent survey. Aim to structure your survey in a way that guides your respondents in a logical and easy-to-follow manner.

Try adopting the funnel technique:

1. Start with broad general questions to pique parents’ interest and capture their attention with easy-to-answer questions.

2. Place the most difficult questions in the middle. These should be more specific questions that take more time and effort to answer.

3. End with easy-to-answer general questions. These could be common demographics questions or other ‘about you’ options.

5. Consider offering an incentive

Besides communicating the value of your parents’ input, and the impact their responses will have on decision-making in school, consider offering an incentive to drive parental involvement.

Ultimately, the more responses you get the better. And offering an incentive not only encourages respondents to take part but thanks them for their time.

An incentive could be monetary or non-monetary.

Monetary incentives may include a gift card, experience, or coupon. Non-monetary incentives could constitute a family day out, school stationery or even a charity donation.

For guidance on providing incentives, be sure to check your school, or trust’s, policy.

6. Take it one question at a time

Otherwise known as a ‘’double-barrelled’’ question, asking two questions at once can confuse respondents.

For example: what do you think of our new school garden and five a side football pitch?

In such cases, parents may only respond to one part of the question in the answer, or may even skip the question altogether. Instead, simply split the question into two to avoid confusion.

7. Test before you go live

It may seem obvious, but be sure to test before you publish or post your survey. Consider sharing your survey with colleagues in advance. A second pair of eyes can be a massive help when it comes to proofing.

You could even send your survey across to parents involved in your PTA ahead of publishing to view it through a parent’s eyes.

It also gives you a chance to test for usability, helping you maximise the flow and edit the order or length of the survey if necessary.

How to promote your parental engagement questionnaire

The primary goal of any parent survey is to reach as many people as possible.

While there are many channels you can use to communicate with parents, keep in mind parents are busy and, where possible, should be reached where and when they feel most comfortable.

Consider promoting your survey using the following channels:

1. Send via email

A tried-and-tested option, emails are a great way to reach parents directly – minus the printing and postage costs. Before send, always ensure your email database is up-to-date.

And be sure to try and test different send times to see what works best for your audience. To improve your parental engagement through effective email communication, download our best practice guide for communicating with parents via email.

2. Feature on your website

Consider creating a dedicated page on your website or documenting your survey in a blog post. This gives you the chance to whip up some extra noise and, more importantly, communicate the hows and whys of the parent survey in more detail.

From there, you can link parents to related pages on the website that detail further involvement opportunities, such as parent support pages, forums, or volunteering activities.

3. Publish on your school communication app

If your school is currently using a mobile app, consider notifying parents via in-app messages or push notifications. With push notifications, parents receive updates in real-time direct to their mobiles, ensuring your message reaches home.

What’s more, apps like School Gateway enable you to include in-app links to the survey, granting parents instant access straight from their mobiles for maximum convenience.

4. Post on your social media

Not all parents will be reachable via email. So, consider promoting your survey across your social media channels.

To maximise engagement, you could decide to lead with your monetary or non-monetary incentive. And, if possible, consider using eye-catching imagery to pique interest. Canva has some great free customisable templates you can use to save time.

5. Share at parents’ evenings

Consider promoting your parent survey at parents’ evenings.

Teachers may want to broach the subject with parents at the end of each session. This enables staff to personally address any concerns the parent or carer might have with regards to confidentiality and how their data will be used.

It’s also a great way to reach parents who may be unresponsive by email. This way, if you plan on printing out copies, you can save on postage costs.

Want to explore these ideas in more detail? Visit our ‘channels for effective communication in schools’ blog for more insights.

While not totally exhaustive, our best practice tips help form the basis of an effective parent survey.

Focus on creating clear questions and having an understandable, appropriate, and complete set of answer choices. Great questions and great answer choices lead to great research success.

To start putting your plans into action, download our free checklist of ’10 tips for creating a successful parental engagement questionnaire‘.

Download your free checklist

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