What do parents want?

Michelle Green, Chief Executive of Independent Schools Victoria, addresses the choices parents consider when choosing the right school for their child.

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the most important decisions you have to make as a parent. It can also be one of the hardest. Since every child is different, there’s no simple, universal answer. Deciding which school suits your child’s needs and your expectations will be based on multiple factors, some of them intangible.

Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) has asked parents their reasons for choosing a school, shedding light on some of those factors, and on parental preferences.

In surveys carried out over the past four years, 9,183 parents indicated why they chose an Independent school, selecting from 22 options.

The results were surprising. A school’s academic results and facilities, for instance, were well down the list of the top 10 factors parents took into account.

Most important to parents was the school’s emphasis on sound moral values, beliefs and attitudes. The second most common reason was a parent’s belief that the school best suited the needs of their child.

Other factors in play were the school’s reputation, its educational philosophy and the quality of its education programs.

Some were attracted by the atmosphere of the school. Academic results ranked eighth on the list of priorities. The school’s facilities and resources were rated ninth, with the size of the school at number 10.

The ISV research results correspond to a 2016 survey published by Independent Schools Queensland.In the What Parents Want survey, 1000 parents from 67 independent schools rated their top 10 selection attributes for primary and secondary independent schools.

For primary schools, parents ranked academic performance in 10th place, behind factors such as education and teacher quality, class size, school environment and values.

For secondary schools, academic results moved up the list to fourth place, behind education quality, a disciplined environment and career pathways.

What is clear from both surveys is that not only do parents make choices, but they embrace choice. And in making their decision, academic results, though important, are not the only factors taken into account.

The Queensland results also confirm what many of us know from personal experience: that, when looking for a school, our friends, family and colleagues remain influential sources of advice, as are school visits and school websites.

For many parents, the My School website is an important starting point in their search for a school, and the NAPLAN test results published on the site are one of the resources that influence their decision.

But it’s clear that parents are discerning enough to know that the definition of an excellent education – one that best suits their child – cannot be simply reduced to crude tables of standardised test results.

Nor can parental decisions be simplified to fit a stereotype – just as independent schools don’t fit a stereotype.

Instead, they are widely diverse. There are some 220 independent schools in Victoria, spread across the state. They are small and large, single sex and co-ed, with a range of fees. They follow 22 different educational, religious and philosophical approaches.

These schools are different because children are different.

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