The happy parent


By Heather Styche-Patel, Head of Strategy, Marketing and Research


On average 20% of parents with children at independent senior schools, and 22% of prep school parents, are ‘completely satisfied’ with their child’s school.  In our recently published research paper “What drives parental satisfaction?”[1] we conclude that there are five key areas that are most likely to drive parental satisfaction:

  • Leadership and management
  • Value for money
  • Quality of teaching and learning
  • Individual care for pupils
  • Communication and feedback

These factors significantly predict overall parent satisfaction, in particular leadership and management.  Some parents are reassured by a clear ethos, vision and future plan for the school.  In terms of leadership, the visibility of the head and the senior team is critical.  Whilst parents rarely comment on competent leadership, they frequently comment (unprompted) on heads they perceive to be dynamic or indeed those that are felt to lack visibility and ‘gravitas’.

“The Head is not visible enough, directly or indirectly.  One assumes shyness, but it could be [a case of being] pompous or aloof.  What is the Head’s agenda for the school, what are the aims and dreams?  The parents need to know.”
Parent, senior co-ed day school


Why does parental satisfaction matter?

Understanding what parents think of your school is important for many reasons, but perhaps the key reason is that if they are happy, they will be advocates of your school.  Word of mouth and personal recommendations are widely acknowledged to be the most trusted form of marketing for any service or brand.

A recent study conducted by Ernst & Young[2] reported that 84% of UK consumers are influenced by word of mouth from their peers; interestingly this was also true of 16-24 year olds who are more influenced by word of mouth from peers (39%) than by social media (28%).

Our research highlights that choice of school is no exception.

Almost 50% of all families who are initially prompted to consider a school do so after a recommendation from a friend or family member or from local knowledge of the school’s reputation.

Not only will happy parents help to promote your school, they are also more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt if things do go wrong and will be more likely to defend the school if it is criticised, i.e. they have a higher tolerance of failure.


The importance of managing expectations

We know that parental satisfaction occurs when expectations are met.  Furthermore, delight and enthusiasm are achieved when these expectations are exceeded.  We regularly ask parents to choose the words that best describe their child’s school from a list of adjectives.  When a school has exceeded parents’ expectations they are more likely to describe it as ‘encouraging’, ‘dedicated’, ’nurturing’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘dynamic’.

Increasingly as customers, the notion of a ‘good’ experience is less likely to prompt us to tell others about the service or product, but extraordinary experiences – where our expectations are exceeded  – will more often result in self-initiated advocacy of that service.  Additionally, where our expectations of a service are exceeded we are also likely to be less price sensitive.

Once again, our research highlights that parental experiences of schools are no exception; when parents feel that the school has fallen short of meeting their expectations, 26% of them cite ‘value for money’ as an area for improvement and only 8% would ‘definitely recommend’ the school.

Having an understanding of what parents expect when they join your school and ensuring you meet, if not exceed, these expectations will drive parental satisfaction over the long term.


Find out more about our parental satisfaction research


Our SchoolPulse attitudinal and perception survey, investigates parents’ motivations when choosing a school; their relationship with their child’s school and their views on all it offers, both inside and outside the classroom.  Through these surveys, parents tell us the things they care about the most and the aspects of the school they would like to see change.

We are now taking bookings for SchoolPulse surveys for the 2018/19 academic year

Commission a New Joiner Survey to find out how many of your new starters chose your school as their first choice and to understand what they value the most about your school.

New Joiner Surveys are run at the start of the academic term and cost £695 + VAT.  Find out more about our New Joiner Surveys >

RSAcademics conducts SchoolPulse parent, staff and student surveys for schools in the UK and worldwide.  Find out more about the different SchoolPulse surveys available >

If you would like to commission a SchoolPulse survey for your school, or school group, for the 2018/19 academic year, please contact Heather Styche-Patel, Head of Strategy, Marketing and Research:



notes and further reading

[1] The research draws on aggregated data from our SchoolPulse parental satisfaction surveys from 75 independent schools (pre-preps, preps, senior and all-through schools) and encompasses the views of 16,000 independent school parents.

[2] EY (2017) If brand + trust = value, how are you solving the equation? [online] Available at:$File/ey-if-brand-plus-trust-equal-value-how-are-you-solving-the-equation.pdf

Over 250 school leaders joined us at our recent nationwide expert seminar series where we shared our research findings into what drives parental satisfaction. The research is part of our Ten Trends report and is now available as a limited edition standalone publication.


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“The analysis, honestly and positively, shared our shortcomings and then, with warmth and understanding, suggested steps forward. We would certainly work with RSAcademics in the future and can recommend them without hesitation.”

Dr David BurnettHeadmaster, The Royal School Dungannon