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Survey dissemination, school hierarchy and teacher voice

Kevin Proudfoot

Can we obtain a greater insight into management in schools by asking those whose are being managed? Given the widespread silencing or marginalisation of teacher voice (Courtney and Gunter, 2015; Stevenson and Gilliland, 2015), this may be particularly important. Yet garnering the views of teachers en masse can be fraught. Perhaps a school leader is approached, permission is granted and dissemination of a survey occurs, all through the conduit of a school’s hierarchy…

‘Doubts can remain as to whether a teacher has given true consent and if they have been honest in their responses’

Will teachers want to participate? Protestations might be made about the integrity of the study: questions about its independence from the school hierarchy, doubts about the absolute assurance of anonymity, scepticism that care has been taken over evaluating every possible implication ethically.  Even if they do agree, doubts can remain as to whether a teacher has given true consent and if they have been honest in their responses.

There may be another option. In a recent study (Proudfoot, 2017), the use of a university department teacher training alumni email database was explored as a means of garnering teachers’ views on performance management. This form of contact meant that teachers could be consulted away from their school context. As anticipated by Lambert and Miller (2014) and Smith and Bers (1987), respondent rate proved low due to the use of an alumni database (9.8%). Yet the number of respondents (n.323) meant this approach yielded sufficient data for a reasonable analysis to be conducted. Similarly, the use of an alumni database allowed for a wide respondent range, with Cook et al (2000) emphasising the value of this as a counterbalance for a lower response rate. But above all, a low respondent rate was offset by the advantage of an approach which was able to bypass school leadership structures. Profoundly negative attitudes towards school managers were shared by responding teachers. Open responses were offered which described assessment fraud, bullying, managerial incompetence…would these have been shared in a school-sponsored enquiry?

And this is only one possible approach. Online professional networks, social media, union databases, offer other comparable methods. What matters is the principle…a more direct interaction between researcher and respondent.



Cook, C., Heath, F. and Thompson, R.L. (2000) ‘A meta-analysis of response rates in web- or internet-based surveys’, Educational and Psychological Measurement, 60(6), pp. 821–836

Courtney, S.J. and Gunter, H.M. (2015) ‘Get off my bus! School leaders, vision work and the elimination of teachers’, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 18 (4), pp. 1–23

Lambert, A. D., & Miller, A. L. (2014) ‘Lower response rates on alumni surveys might not mean lower response representativeness’, Educational Research Quarterly, 37(3), 38-51

Proudfoot, K., (2017) ‘How does neoliberal performance management affect teachers’ motivations to ‘improve’?’, Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Cumbria

Smith, K. and Bers, T. (1987) ‘Improving alumni survey response rates: An experiment and cost-benefit analysis’, Research in Higher Education, 27(3), pp. 218–225

Stevenson H and Gilliland A, (2015) ‘The teachers’ voice: teacher unions at the heart of a new democratic professionalism’. In: Elvers J and Kneyber, R, (eds.), ‘Flip the system: changing education from the ground up’, London: Routledge