A new report has revealed the factors that are top of mind for Australia’s parents when choosing a school.
The latest report from the Independent Schools Australia (ISA) surveyed more than 2,000 parents with children enrolled across all three school sectors. It found that school rankings were a factor among less than one-third of Independent school parents (31%) and less than one in 10 Catholic and government school parents (8% and 9% respectively).
Over two-thirds of parents pointed to good communication, moving quickly to online learning, the quality of remote learning programs and familiarity with technology, as integral to the success of the Independent sector in responding to a COVID environment.
Across all sectors, word of mouth from friends or other parents was the single biggest influence on parents’ choice of school, cited by 53% of Independent and government school parents and 58% of Catholic school parents.
The survey also found that 85% of Independent school parents believed the sector gave them the chance to choose a school in line with their values and beliefs, while 79% said their school met the needs of their children.
Children were also shown to play a major role in the decision about which school they attended, the report found.
In the Independent sector, this was strongest in the primary years (18% versus 12% for secondary).
The research found overwhelmingly that parents in the Independent sector believe their school is achieving what they want and expect, with a remarkable 82% believing Independent schools adapted well to the changing conditions brought about by the pandemic.
The private sector has continued to show strong growth in enrolments. A 2020 study found that since 2015, the sector has experienced the highest average annual enrolment growth of all sectors at 2.0% (1.5% Government, 0.3% Catholic and 1.4% overall).
“The report provides a greater insight into how parents choose schools and how satisfied they were with their choices,” said ISA chief executive Margery Evans.
“It reveals the information they rely upon, who influences their choice and - for the first time - the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on their perceptions of Independent schools.”
“We discovered around 87% of Independent school parents would recommend an Independent school to family and friends, pointing to educational excellence and good teachers as the main reasons, followed by a supportive and caring environment and good facilities,” Evans said.
Evans said the survey showed most parents “want more from education than just academic results.”
“They are looking for schools to play a part in their child’s personal development and provide skills that will be used throughout life, to build confidence, a love of learning and curiosity,” she said.
“However, learning the fundamentals of reading, writing and numeracy is critical, particularly in primary school.”
In an interview with The Educator, Evans said that while it is still too early to accurately assess the effects of the pandemic, there is no reason to expect any lessening of enrolment numbers.
“In the face of the challenges imposed by COVID-19, Independent schools have shown themselves to be agile and able to respond quickly and innovatively to changing circumstances,” Evans, told The Educator.
“Independent schools were able to rapidly deploy online learning, communicate effectively with families and respond proactively to financial issues that their communities might have been facing.”
What does 2022 hold?
Evans said COVID-19 has shone a light on a number of underlying issues affecting not just Independent schools, but society more broadly.
“First among these is student and staff wellbeing and the responsibility we share in caring for others. In a similar vein, issues of acceptable behaviours, respect and equity have come to the fore over recent months,” she said.
However, Evans said there is still much work to be done in this space.
“School leaders are facing the challenge, and opportunity, of addressing how they educate genuinely respectful, resilient and positive young men and women that will take communities and society forward with, as Aristotle once talked about, ‘practical wisdom and civic virtue’,” she said.
“This will require school leaders honestly taking stock and having some difficult but necessary conversations around students, staffing and school cultures”.
Evans said private school leaders across Australia have shown they can respond to complex challenges with innovation, nimbleness and a sense of collaboration both within their leadership teams and outward into their communities.
“The best realise their role is as a major resource and thought-leader for change rather than as a fixer and enforcer. The events of the last 12 months present a compelling opportunity to build even better schools”.