How Parents Pick a School - 2015 Survey

The single most important consideration for a parent when assessing, or choosing a school, is the quality of its teachers. This consideration was top in 2013, and it remains top in 2015.
How Parents Pick a School - 2015 Survey
By David Westley
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WhichSchoolAdvisor's annual school survey.

The single most important consideration for a parent when assessing, or choosing a school, is the quality of its teachers. This consideration was top in 2013, and it remains top in 2015.

As in 2013, this has caused us a little head scratching in that this is not information that schools readily publish or that is necessarily easily obtainable when choosing a new school. It is, however, something parents take a view on pretty soon after their children start.

Any school that is looking to grow its student numbers should use this fact and heavily promote the quality and tenure of their staff on their site (save perhaps for UK schools). It is likely to be a significant draw for many parents. Given this, it is surprising schools do not make it a bigger thing in their marketing. It is, or should be, their single biggest cost and, as an investment in quality, worth promoting.

When we followed up with parents for the last survey, you told us that you had no real way of finding out information on teaching staff save to ask the schools for it. Often you said the answers were too vague, and often also disappointing.

Asking other parents meanwhile was often confusing with different parents having different views.

That said, turnover of staff, where teachers are recruited from, the age of teachers (the younger, in general the less experienced - although, arguably, more passionate), are more objective criteria that there is a degree more access to - specifically in Dubai and Abu Dhabi which benefit from published reports from the KHDA and ADEC. Even in these two well served emirates however, KG information is unavailable.

The second most popular choice this year for parents assessing a school was a "Happy School". Again this is a benchmark that is pretty difficult to assess objectively, but clearly in Open Days and visits, parents are looking for signs of it. Once their children do start moreover, if the children are happy their parents are likely to commit for the longer term. 

The third most important criteria, and the only one that could be objectively measured if the information was made available by schools, is results in external examinations. Schools, particularly in Dubai, are increasingly making this information available, although has noticed it is readily available when a school does well, not so available when a school does not. If a school does not publish its examination results, or is delaying doing so, it is worth asking why...

Some schools do not like to publish results in general because examinations do not take into consideration their “value add”. If a school is not selective on intake, then clearly the results it gains will not be as good as those of a selective based school. However, we believe that parents are aware of this, and should be given the same information they would be in more developed markets around the world.

Quite naturally, the stage of education plays a considerable role in what parents consider important in a school. At KG very few parents are focused on external examinations (although surprisingly 4.96% of parents do rate it their single most important consideration). However, this rises through year groups, and at secondary it is the single most important consideration for 20% of parents, on a par with the qualification of teachers. Happiness still ranks higher at secondary - chosen by 23.68% of parents, but down from 28% at KG.

Finally culture makes a difference here. The nationality of parents matters to what is considered important. Twice as many Indian parents as UK parents look at the quality of facilities, for example - surprisingly or unsurprisingly as Indian schools tend to be less well served as UK curriculum schools. Three times as many UK parents meanwhile look at exam results compared to Indian families - unsurprisingly perhaps as university entrance in India is in general not based on school examinations, but university based exams. Finally Britons completely buck the trend of looking at the qualifications of teachers (only 10% do), slightly more than one-fifth of the number of US parents (where 45% do).


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Notes: The 2015 School Survey was completed by 676 families from across the UAE. The majority of respondents came from Dubai, then Abu Dhabi and finally Sharjah. Outside these three emirates the responses were not sufficient to be statistically significant. is keeping the survey running with the aim of being able to benchmark each school against a UAE norm. 


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