I work for a polling company and have a background in statistics. The
vast majority of the work we do is not concerned with political
polling but undertaking social research (including surveys of
parents!) Anyway, some comments that might help.
1) Selection bias (also known as non-response bias) as you rightly
point out, has the potential to be a major issue here. The danger is,
that the people who do not respond are systematically different from
those that do respond. The higher the response rate, the less likely
that there will be selection bias. In large scale national studies, a
response rate of less than 60% is considered poor and a response rate
of more than 70% is considered good. These tend to be completed using
face-to-face in-home interviewing. Postal surveys or internet surveys
tend to have lower response rates. However, while percentage of
participation (normally refered to as the response rate) is related to
selection bias, this is not the whole story.
The more important question is, are those that respond likely to be
different to those that don't? Let me give a couple of examples of bad
surveys. Another company used a postal survey methodology to ask
teachers about levels of workload. They found a suprisingly low
average number of hours worked. What was happening was that the
overworked teachers were those who did not take the time to fill in
their (overly long) questionnaire. This obviously invalidated the
results. Second example. The national crime survey here switched from
a face-to-face survey to a telephone survey. To most people's suprise,
the estimates of victimisation (the proportion of people experiencing
different types of crimes) went up considerably. This could not be
ascribed to differences in the way that the sampling was undertaken.
The most likely reason was this. It is easier to refuse to undertake
research over the phone than it is to refuse when an interviewer comes
to your door. People who had been victims of crime were much more
likely to want to take part in the survey than those who hadn't
experienced any crime. So, less non-victims refused to take part in
the face-to-face survey than in the telephone survey, leading to
higher victimisation rates in the telephone survey and a prompt return
to a face to face methodology!
In other words, there is no magic threshold to reduce non-response
bias to an acceptable level. A survey with a response rate of 50%,
could, theoretically, have NO non-response bias if there is no
RELEVANT systematic difference between those who respond and those who
You have to ask yourself these questions - are there systematic
reasons why some parents would respond and some wouldn't, and are
these likely to be related to your findings. For example, are working
parents less likely to respond than non-working parents as they have
less free time. And if so, are their levels of satisfaction likely to
be different ? Or are their views on, say, after school clubs
different (probably)? Are dissatisfied parents less likely to respond
because they don't trust the school. Or, alternatively, are
dissatisfied parents more likely to respond, wanting to air their
complaints more than those parents who are contented, and don't really
see what the need is to provide feedback. Are single parents less
likely to respond? How would their views be different? How are the
questinnaires delivered? If the questionnaires were delivered through
a school-bag drop, are less questionnaires received back from parents
of younger children (who tend to be less good at passing on paperwork
There is no easy answer to non-response bias. While you could see if
the characteristics of those who were responding were different from
those who did not respond - however not if the survey is completed
anonymously as it should be - you would still have the question, what
effect will this have on our estimates?
Our common approach is this. Within a budget, make sure that you
maximise response as much as possible. Then always critically evaluate
your results, thinking were bias might occur and being aware of the
possible limitations of your results.
2) Yes! This question relates to precision rather than accuracy. This
is an important distinction, and you are right to ask it after the
The most common measure of sampling precision are confidence
intervals. These are determined by three factors: size of the
population; size of the sample; and the percentage of the estimate.
Getting the whole population (270 out of 270) would mean your
estimates are exact. (NB - though remember how you word questions will
have an impact on your results). The sample of 200 from a population
of 270 would mean that a result of 50% would be accurate +/- 3.5%, 19
times out of 20. For a sample of 150, confidence intervals for a
result of 50% would be +/- 5.3%. A sample of 100, would give accuracy
to +/- 7.8%, 19 times out of 20. (Confidence intervals are widest for
estimates of 50%, reducing more, the nearer to 0% or 100% you get).
Confidence intervals are routinely used on random samples. Please
note, however, they do not take account of selection bias, so there is
a common danger of ascribing too much precision to survey results.
3) That is up to you! Decisions on sample size are always a trade-off
between cost and precision. Opinion polls of the national population
are commonly based on a sample of 1,000 (and confidence intervals of
+/- 3%). Accuracy is normally considered less important for measures
of attitudes (eg. satisfaction) than of prevalence (eg crime rates),
as attitudes, by their very nature, are not exact. Beware of the
danger of false precision!
Two other things to consider. First, the confidence intervals given
above relate to your whole population of 270. If you want to conduct
analysis of sub-groups the confidence intervals will be broader. (E.g.
If population = 200, sample = 100, estimate of 50% +/- 6.9% BUT
Population =100, sample = 50, estimate of 50% +/- 9.8%).
Second, it is possible you have two choices: large sample/lower
response rate OR smaller sample/higher response rate. In this
instance, I would always go with the second. Selection bias has far
more potential to invalidate your results than lower precision due to
small sample sizes. So it may be more efficient to spend money on
sending reminder letters, phoning up non-responding parents etc, of a
sub-sample than getting a lower response rate from a 100% sample of
the population (a census approach).
4) Weighting might (or might not) make your sample more accurate, but
it won't make it more precise. Lets assume there is an equal number of
parents with children in K-8. but that your achieved sample is low on
the parents of kids at the upper end (6,7,8 say). Weighting the
results by grade is likely to make your sample more representative,
but will it make your results more accurate. If satisfaction is higher
or lower for parents with kids in 6,7,8 than the parents with kids in
K1,2,3, then weighting will make your estimates for satisfaction for
ALL parents more accurate. If there is no differenc in the results by
grade of kids, weighting by grade will have no effect.
BUT, again the danger of selection bias raises its head. If your
non-responders are different from your responders, then weighting will
not correct for this (ie. if responding parents of kids in Year 8 are
satisfied, but non-responding parents of kids in Year 8 are
dissatisfied, weighting would make no difference).
Weighting will not have any positive affect whatsoever on the
precision of your results. Indeed, without going into statistical
details, it is likely to lead to a reduction in your precision (ie.
increase your confidence intervals).
If you do decide to use a sample (and or weighting strategy) this
should be based on what is driving levels of satisfaction. As you
already have some data, I would look at this data to determine whether
the sampling strategy should be based on age of child, area, class,
Good luck! Hope this helps.