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Success spelled with the four Cs

Staff at Mullion School in Cornwall talk about pupils, parents and visitors rather than "customers", but rising pupil numbers and an array of external awards point to a high level of customer satisfaction.

In 1992, this 11-16 comprehensive was one of the first schools in the country to receive a Charter Mark, the award for public service excellence introduced as part of the Government's Citizen's Charter initiative. When the time came to re-apply for the award last year, the school was again successful.

Mullion has been taking regular soundings of views of parents, pupils and staff ever since it opened in 1978. It also produces a detailed handbook giving parents and pupils information on everything from the school's aims and philosophy to its policy on uniform (designed by a parent after consultation with other parents).

This tradition of two-way communication meant the school had little trouble meeting the Charter Mark standards, which stress the importance of keeping customers informed and taking their views into account.

A critical evaluation follows each key event in the life of the school, taking in the perspectives of all those involved. For example, after the school's biennial careers convention, parents, pupils and employers are all invited to complete an evaluation sheet. Similarly, pupils leaving the school are asked to complete a questionnaire that focuses mainly on personal and social education. Their replies have helped staff develop this part of the curriculum.

Visitors also receive an information leaflet with a pull-out sheet inviting comments and suggestions as to how the school might improve its response to visitors.

Ian Hamilton, Mullion's head, stresses that the questionnaires the school uses always relate to specific events, activities or processes. "The general 'are you satisfied with the service?' type of question seems to me to be bland to a fault," he says. While there is a great temptation to ask structured questions, he adds, it is often the open-ended invitation to comment that produces the most unexpected and useful replies.

But Mr Hamilton believes the parents' forum steering committee of the Mullion School Association provides an even more useful bush telegraph. Meeting once a term, this forum has looked at mixed-ability teaching, sex education and drugs education and other issues which parents have raised.

Like the school's guiding principles of the "four Cs" - co-operation, courtesy, care and concern - the parents' forum has been around for much longer than the Citizen's Charter and Charter Mark schemes. Some schools, it seems, are not new to the concepts behind these and similar customer service initiatives - only the language that shrouds them is new.

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