Parents demand more power and information over schooling Triggering inspections and fuller picture of child’s progress among requests

Parents are hungry for information on a wide range of issues to help them exercise choice and support their children’s learning, a new report has found. Family Lives, Fiona Millar and Pearson have carried out a poll of nearly 1,000 parents looking at a range of issues, in particular what is most important to them when they are choosing a school for their child and whether they are successful in gaining a place at their first choice of school.

A national opinion poll was undertaken by Vision Critical, an independent polling company.  The survey was completed by the panel between 14 July and 19th July 2011 and was filled in by 1124 parents of 3-16 year olds across England from a representative mix of backgrounds. Family Lives also organised a series of focus groups in North Tyneside, London, the South West and the East Midlands, – four of the areas in which the charity has regional offices .  A mix of primary and secondary school pupils’ parents were chosen across rural, suburban and inner city schools, children’s centres and parents working with Family Lives. A total of 32 parents took part in the focus groups.

Parents interviewed for ‘A new conversation with parents: how can schools inform and listen in a digital age?’ said that they are not getting the depth and breadth of information they want from schools. Results show parents are calling for more meaningful, regular and comparable data both at school and pupil level, as well as the power to act on any concerns they might have.

Research for the report, commissioned by the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, was carried out by family support organisation Family Lives and education commentator Fiona Millar.

The report finds:

· Parents want a fuller, more frequent picture of their child’s progress: 45% of parents want more information on teaching quality but equally important was the need for additional information on their child’s happiness (42%), social and emotional development (44%), and the way bullying and poor behaviour is managed (46%). Whilst only 42% felt that they receive regular information on their school’s overall performance. 60% of secondary school parents wanted information about pupils’ progress not just final results.
Parents would prefer reports every term via email (36%), secure website they have a password for (32%) with some even wanting to receive certain information via text message (25%). However, nearly half (47%) of parents surveyed would still like to receive a report of performance in traditional letter format each term.

· Parents want more power to act: Over three quarters of all parents (77%) called for the power to trigger Ofsted inspections due to serious concerns over teaching standards, but 71% felt it should only happen when a number of parents hold the same concern. Meanwhile, 78% thought parents should be regularly surveyed by Ofsted with 72% believing that they should be able to meet inspectors.
· Parents rely on teaching quality and reputation more than exam results when choosing a school: While test and exam results (87%) came out as somewhat or very important, parents consider many other local and impressionistic factors. In fact, 97% of parents said that impression of the quality of teaching was very or somewhat important, followed by general reputation in the local community (94%), proximity (91%) and other factors such as their impression of the children currently at the school (91%) and their impression of the open evening (88%). Despite only half of all parents (51%) feeling very confident during the selection process that they would successfully secure their first choice of school, in reality nearly all parents (91%) reported that their child did indeed gain a place at their preferred school.

Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK said: “Parents recognise that while exam results are important, they are just one measure of success. The way we currently measure schools is focussed heavily around exams, but the message from parents is clear – they also want to include non academic information such as progression, discipline and how their children interact with others. This research underlines that parents really want to play an active part in education – we must think beyond one-way transmission of information and more about a dialogue: a conversation between schools and parents.

“It is encouraging to see that the government are already taking steps towards this. We would really like to see the government encouraging schools to share more data with parents to make sure that they have all the information they need to make informed choices. Pearson would also like to hear from schools seeking to make progress on this to investigate how we can help drive the process forward.”

The report makes recommendations including:

· More comprehensive information: Information on teaching quality, behaviour and progress held by schools, local authorities, Ofsted and local government should be shared in a standardised, accessible way

· More regular information: Schools should be obliged to provide more than an annual report of pupil progress

· More accessible information: Schools should consider ‘safe’ ways of sharing the views of parents and pupils on a wide range of issues within the school and wider communities

Fiona Millar, journalist and author of the report, commented: “Parents are clearly exercising choice, carefully using a range of hard data and equally important ‘soft’ information. Most are getting into their first choice of schools and are broadly happy with the provision there. However, it is also clear that they see schools as more than places where their children simply get academic qualifications. They are hungry for information about a much broader range of issues.

Over the last 20 years the school accountability system has given parents much of what they want, but that system needs to develop in different ways and parents voices should be carefully listened to as part of that process.”

Anastasia de Waal, Chair of Family Lives said: “We know how important it is for a child’s attainment and behaviour in school that their parents are actively engaged in their education. The recommendations in this report point schools in the direction to giving parents the information they need and want about their child’s education and, whilst challenging, every effort should be made by schools to engage in this new conversation with parents. It is key that Ofsted continue to measure schools on their effectiveness at engaging with parents.”

London data:
· Londoners have the least confidence in their school choices (42%) well below the national figure of 60%, while Scotland and the North were the most confident (68%).

· Those who were not confident in their choices said it was because they didn’t feel they had a choice (40%) or they didn’t grow up in the area (37%). Meanwhile more than a fifth (22%) of Londoners said they did not have enough information to make the decision

· When choosing only 32% of parents were very confident that they would get their first choice of school, however, 83% of London parents did in fact get their first choice of school. This figure compares to 91% nationally highlighting the higher level of competition for school places in the capital

· When choosing a school Londoners place more importance on certain factors than in the rest of the country:

· 37% of Londoners thought the number of pupils who go on to university or employment was a very important factor, compared to just 24% nationally

· 53% thought the subjects or specialisms taught in the school are very important compared to 39% nationally

· 38% thought that extracurricular activities such as sport, music and drama were also very important with, compared to 29% nationally

· 26% thought the way sex and relationships education is delivered in the school was very important compared to 14% nationally

National data:

· Parents rely on teaching quality and reputation more than exam results when choosing a school: While test and exam results (87%) came out as somewhat or very important, parents consider many other local and impressionistic factors.

· In fact, 97% of parents said that impression of the quality of teaching was very or somewhat important, followed by general reputation in the local community (94%), proximity (91%) and other factors such as their impression of the children currently at the school (91%) and their impression of the open evening (88%).

· Despite only half of all parents (51%) feeling very confident during the selection process that they would successfully secure their first choice of school, in reality nearly all parents (91%) reported that their child did indeed gain a place at their preferred school.

 

Case study

Yvonne, a London mother of two children. Here she talks about her experience of dealing with her children’s school. She said: “Schools are more than just places to get academic qualifications. Schools are places where they learn manners, learn skills, how to make relationships as well as getting academic qualifications. I don’t just want to know a piece of the story, I want the whole story.”

Q: Firstly, why do you feel there is a need for greater transparency in schools?

A: You need more information than how your child is doing academically. It’s about how your child is growing and developing in terms of confidence, self esteem and how they interact with other children. They might also have other interests outside the academic remit which require the school to assist the child or signpost needs to the parent. My has other interests outside of the academic work which I would like the also school to develop and celebrate.

Q: Do you feel an increase in communication and transparency would put pressure on schools to deliver a better service?

A: Yes, it would. My experience is that my class teacher is happy to talk. I do think it could put pressure on the school, but in my experience my child’s teacher wants to give them a full and comprehensive education. I believe teacher’s genuinely want to offer you the most information they can, but that schools have to help them do that.
I would like a report every term, but what I would also like is to able to have a one-to-one when needed.

Q: Should schools be inspected more frequently by Ofsted, and a greater emphasis put on the non-academic side of school (happiness, bullying statistics etc)

A: Definitely yes, Ofsted should take a more holistic approach to what they’re reporting to parents. I believe it is important that parents are made aware and are clear on the different lines of communication to enable them to voice opinions, views and concerns. If a school doesn’t want to accommodate different lines of communication then I believe that as a parent I would want Ofsted to come in more often. I want to know my child is displaying manners that we have taught to be good and the at the school alongside us as parents are helping him to develop a good self esteem and confidence so he can positively contribute towards his family community and society.

Q: Do schools focus too much on the academic side? Should they be informing parents about more than just how their child is faring in exams?

A: My son goes to school 5 days a week for 6 ? hours a day. I entrust him to people who have been trained and checked. My hope is not just his academic ability is addressed but a holistic approach is taken. When placing my first child in school, it was mainly academic information that I could get access to. Any other ‘inside information’ I received from a friend that knew a child at the school. It was only after my child had a place I understood what information you really want and need. I found the league tables and academic info useful but it was the extra information from other sources that made me decide on my place. When my second child starts school I will research it much more deeply.

Q: Are schools too shut off? Should they be more open for parents to come in and look round/chat to teachers etc?

A: I understand that schools must manage the flow of people coming in but I think they must accommodate this need. You have to have a sense of and feel secure with the place where your child will be spending most of their time. I always try to keep up with my child’s development and if I feel I need to discuss something I will make sure I get to see someone. But I do think that some parents wouldn’t have the confidence to do that.

 

Family Lives is a national charity that works for, and with, families. They offer a national helpline, Parentline (0808 800 2222), email and on-line chat support. All services are anonymous and confidential and Family Lives volunteers provide vital support for families. Family Lives listens to and empowers callers by helping them to identify the solutions that work for them.

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