All schools need a strategic plan to clarify the priorities the Board expects the Principal to lead, especially now that the Education Amendment Act 2018 has introduced a whole new planning and reporting framework. But how can a school best ensure it understands and responds to the needs and priorities of its community when developing the plan?

The situation

An Auckland secondary school with a growing roll needed to refresh its 5-year strategic plan. In doing so, the Principal and Board of Trustees wanted to ensure that they had an up-to-date and robust understanding of their community’s perceptions, priorities and expectations of the school. In the past, the school had conducted its own community consultation, but had a mixed experience with this. They found this had taken a lot of internal resource, and they didn’t know how much they could rely on the results. Did the feedback genuinely reflect the views of the whole school community? On the other hand, there was a bit of scepticism about whether an external researcher could really deliver a better result – or whether the school could afford it.

This time, the Principal contacted Buzz Channel to discuss and we worked through the situation with him to develop a tailor-made approach.

The approach

Tailored approach

Through discussions with the Principal we designed a transparent consultation and engagement process to involve people from across the school community, allow them to share their perceptions and expectations, and keep within the school’s budget.

The process gathered feedback from students, parents, staff and staff from contributing schools, to understand how the school is performing on the six identified aspects of school life:

  • Academic
  • Co-curricular
  • Hauora
  • Facilities
  • Staff development and progression
  • Diversity

Part way through the research, the school was confronted with an unexpected crisis that deeply affected students, staff and parents. This was a traumatic experience, and our team needed to act sensitively and with great empathy. We took stock, paused the research process, and adapted the plan to suit the school’s changing needs.

Initial explorations through focus groups

An initial stage of qualitative research was conducted, to engage the school community in the research process, provide in-depth understanding of the key areas of interest and concern among stakeholders, and provide valuable input into survey development for the follow-up stage.

Buzz Channel facilitated focus groups with:

  • Junior students (Years 9 and 10) & senior students (Years 11 to 13)
  • Junior parents & senior parents
  • Staff
  • Staff from the local contributing primary schools.

Online surveys

An online survey was designed and distributed to all students, parents, and staff members in the school community via an email invitation. This received a high response rate, which gave the school confidence that they had heard views from across their communities.

The resulting data also gave us an opportunity us to establish (using Key Driver Analysis) the relative importance of a range of factors on people’s overall perception of the school as an education provider. This meant the school knew which things to focus on to have the greatest impact on parents and students’ views of the school.

The outcome

Feedback from across the focus groups and surveys was compiled into an attractive report that was delivered to the Principal and BOT for their use.

The results are now being used to help lead the school into the future while also assisting in:

  • making more informed decisions with the community in mind
  • understanding areas of concern, priorities, challenges and strengths
  • serving the community better
  • improving the school’s processes, systems and communication
  • building a more engaged school community.

This piece of research has been vital in informing the development of the school’s new 5-year plan so that it considers and responds to the needs of its community. The community has been effectively engaged in developing the plan, the Principal and BOT are confident that they can rely on the feedback to develop their plans, and they know which things to prioritise.

Further, we managed to keep within the school’s budget, respond sensitively to an unexpected and traumatic incident, and convince the BOT that using an external agency to conduct the research was a worthwhile investment. The Buzz team was thrilled with this outcome! And, judging by the testimonial below, so was the school.

School testimonial:

“In 2018, the Glendowie College Board of Trustees implemented a full community consultation. The school and Board were aware of the time and expertise required to do this well and so looked to a professional consultancy business to run the consultation on behalf of the school. Using an external researcher also helped the Board assure our community of the independence of the research.

 The college chose to go with Buzz Channel and were extremely happy with the service provided. Buzz Channel had the expertise and appropriate digital tools to conduct a wide range of qualitative and quantitative research quickly and effectively. They provided excellent advice before and through the consultation process. They were responsive to needs and adapted well as what we want changed through the process. This included adapting to a community crisis which cut across the school.  Buzz Channel were sensitive to the potential impact of this on the consultation and were highly professional in providing the extra service to support the school.

 The final report was thorough, well communicated and highly helpful for the Board to develop its 5-year strategic plan. Importantly, they saved staff at the school losing hours of valuable time conducting surveys, trawling through the data and summarising it into a final report.  

The Board originally saw this as a one-off investment but are now committed to using external researchers again thanks to the quality of service provided by Buzz Channel.”

How schools can use research

Over the last few years we’ve worked with several schools, helping them use research to understand how they’re performing, how they’re perceived and what they should prioritise. Generally, this work has aimed to meet one or more of the following objectives:

  • help with the school’s strategic planning by identifying the community’s needs, priorities and current perceptions of the school
  • investigate in more detail a specific idea, service, or challenge facing the school, for example an in-depth investigation into an online learning portal or the school’s communication channels.
  • build relationships with the school community and ensure the school’s leadership/governance teams remain connected with the needs and priorities of their community.

If your school has similar needs, we would love to discuss and develop an appropriate approach – please get in touch with us at