Saturday school is a long-standing tradition in boarding schools up and down the country, but with changes to family life in recent decades, many schools are re-considering the six-day school week. One of these is the 700-pupil Pocklington School, an all-through, co-educational independent day and boarding school in a picturesque village 12 miles from York. The Headmaster approached MTM to find out how pupils and parents felt about Saturday lessons, and school life in general.
Pocklington School was founded in 1514 as a school for boarding boys only and, although day pupils and girls were subsequently welcomed, it is very much built on a boarding school ethos, with the traditional Saturday school a requirement for pupils aged 11 to 18. Soon after joining Pocklington in 2019, Headmaster Toby Seth carried out a survey of parents on a number of issues, including whether or not they felt a six-day timetable suited the needs of their families.
‘50% did not, and this got us thinking,’ says Toby. ‘One expects 10-20% of parents to be disgruntled, but 50% is a substantial number,which warranted further investigation.’
Having had previous experience of MTM’s market research expertise in other schools, the headmaster approached the MTM team to research the opinions of Pocklington School’s parents and pupils.
He asked MTM to provide him with the information he needed to make a decision on the future of Pocklington’s school week and, at the same time, he was keen to find out how current parents felt about life at the school in general. Another question to be answered was why some parents who enquired at the school did not eventually choose Pocklington for their children. This information would be of use to Toby as he put in place plans to evolve the school in the future and to ensure its continued success in retaining current pupils and recruiting new ones.
Over two-thirds of parents said that Saturday school was not important to them. They did however list benefits, including keeping their children occupied and instilling a good work ethic
To provide the headmaster with the evidence he needed, MTM took a qualitative research approach, briefing our experienced market researchers to carry out 50 semi-structured, in- depth telephone interviews with parents of day pupils (boys and girls):
An MTM Parental Survey of 30 current Pocklington parents with children mainly in Years 5 to 11, to find out what they felt to be the advantages and disadvantages of Saturday school, and how they would feel if the school took the decision to end Saturday academic lessons and move to a five-day school week while maintaining sports on Saturday.
An MTM Non-joiners Survey of 20 parents whose children did not attend Pocklington although they considered it, to discover which schools they chose and why.
MTM concluded that Pocklington School is highly regarded in the local area as a ‘well- rounded’ school, inclusively providing a high standard of education for all types of children. Parents praised its focus, not just on academics, but also on developing pupils’ personal strengths.
They were complimentary about the school’s leadership, pastoral care, facilities and grounds. The overall perception was that pupils at the school were very happy.
On the issue of Saturday school, over two- thirds of the parents surveyed said that it was not important to them. They did however list various benefits, including keeping their children occupied, instilling a good work ethic and helping boarders to feel involved in the school at weekends. Two of the disadvantages mentioned were that it made some children more tired and that the obligation to be in school limited some children’s opportunities to take part in non-school weekend activities.
‘Following MTM’s helpful Saturday school research, additional parent forums and full consultation with staff, we will be moving to a newly conceived five-day academic working week in September 2021,’ reports Toby.
‘This is exciting because it will offer higher quality additional teaching and learning time and an improvement to our already excellent pastoral care provision, as well as the opportunity to maintain our excellent co- curricular programme.’
MTM’s research provided the information the headmaster needed to make this change.
‘It was helpful to have an independent view of parents’ opinions,’ he says.
‘Working with MTM was a very positive experience – the team were professional, objective and constructive and I would certainly recommend MTM to other school leaders with significant decisions to make.’
To find out how MTM can help your school to achieve its goals, just get in touch with the friendly MTM team.