At a glance

IFF Research were commissioned by the Department for Education  (DfE) to conduct short, regular, online surveys in the 2020/21 academic year, to understand the views of parents and pupils on a range of education matters during a particularly challenging period. The data from the surveys allowed DfE to quickly gather feedback and insights on ever changing policy areas.

About the client

The Department for Education (DfE) is the UK government department responsible for children’s services and education, schools, higher and further education policy, apprenticeships and wider skills in England.

Department for Education

Challenges and objectives

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an ongoing impact on young people’s education. In the academic year 2020/2021, overnight, pupils moved to learning remotely, creating a new environment for learning. This presented some new challenges, as well as some new opportunities for parents, pupils, and teachers alike. As the pandemic progressed, and some pupils returned to school, this produced further new challenges such as the introduction of mass asymptomatic testing and COVID-19 safety measures in schools.

This shift in education delivery meant the DfE needed a flexible and fast-moving way of tracking how parents and pupils felt, and were behaving, towards policy changes related to schooling. The everchanging policy environment mean the DfE needed to be able to gain point in time insight with a representative sample of parents and pupils, to ensure policy making was led by the perspectives of those interacting with the education system.


The DfE commissioned the Parent and Pupil Panel (PPP), formed of secondary school pupils, primary and secondary school parents, and school leavers. Panellists were sent regular, short, online surveys between August 2020 and July 2021. Each survey was around 7 minutes long and consisted of a mix of wave-on-wave tracker questions and one-off questions. Some questions were asked of both parents and pupils where this was applicable. Topics covered included mental health and wellbeing, remote education, access to technology for home learning, catching up on learning, bullying, and safeguarding.

A representative sample of parents and pupils were invited to join the PPP via the National Pupil Database (NPD). The panel comprised of 12518 parents and pupils overall.

IFF produced highly visual reports after each wave of surveying, outlining findings per theme and presenting wave on wave differences where available. These reports enabled the DfE to keep up to date with current experiences of pupils and their families and adapt policy in response.


An example of how the PPP was used to inform policy is around COVID-19 testing within schools.

As part of the return to face-to-face education on 8th March 2021, schools were asked to facilitate asymptomatic testing three times on-site before transitioning to twice-weekly testing at home. The PPP asked several questions of secondary school pupils, which provided a clear narrative on the direction of travel of behaviour towards COVID-19 testing.

Between March and July 2021, there was a steady decrease in the number of secondary pupils reporting they had taken any COVID-19 test (at school, home, testing site) in the last 7 days. This mirrors what is to be expected, as the DfE shifted their guidance from in-school testing to at-home testing for pupils. In March, nine in ten (91%) secondary pupils had taken a test in the last 7 days compared to three-quarters (76%) in July 2021.

Source: PPP July 2021 Wave 10: AD12 “During the last 7 days, have you taken any test(s) to see if you have COVID-19 / coronavirus? (Please tick all that apply)” All pupils in March 2021/May 2021/July 2021 (n=1,531/n=1,537, n=1,511)

Between May and July 2021, when at-home testing became policy, not only were pupils taking COVID-19 tests less frequently, but they were also taking fewer of them. It was most common for two tests to have been taken at home, 68% took two tests a week at home in May 2021, down to 57% of secondary pupils by July 2021. Overtime, secondary pupils also became less likely to report their test results (81% in May 2021 to 73% in July 2021).

As the Asymptotic Testing policy developed and changed, the DfE were able to use the quick turnaround PPP findings to understand how pupils were acting in response to these changes. In this case, it appeared that whilst guidance remained the same in terms of testing regularly (twice a week), overtime there was a drop off in pupils testing, as well as reporting their test results. Testing for COVID-19 in schools was a key part of the government’s measure to tackle the virus at the time of surveying, so understanding the changing behaviours around this action was key for the DfE.

To read the full report covering a full spectrum of topics, please click here.

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