Guest blogger Fiona Millar: What do parents want from schools?
What do parents want from schools? Ever since league tables and inspection reports were introduced 20 years ago, parents have been allegedly "in the driving seat' when it comes to their children's education. But when were you last asked what you wanted from your child's school?
In the past few months, through a series of regional focus groups and a national opinion poll, commissioned by the charity Family Lives and the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning, I have been gathering the views of parents on everything from school choice, to the information they want from and about their schools, to their wider hopes and aspirations for their children, to what makes a good school.
Perhaps the most striking result was the unanimity amongst parents, regardless of background, type of school or children's ages. We found parents were knowledgeable, discerning and realistic about what is best for their children; exercising choice but within clearly understood limits.
Most are successful in getting their children into the first choice of schools, and broadly happy when they get there. Ofsted reports and exam results are hugely important but parents are trading this hard information against a wide range of vaguer, more impressionistic but equally important local knowledge. Impression of teaching quality, general reputation and proximity were the three most important factors in school choice.
Parents are hungry for more information than they are currently getting, about everything from behaviour, bullying, pupil progress, provision for SEN and their children's happiness, social and emotional development. There was even interest in the CVs and qualifications of teachers and a strong preference for getting most information from their local schools rather than central or local government.
Their concept of a 'rounded' education went beyond academic qualifications into the development of confidence, self esteem, respect for others and even an understanding of nutrition, cookery and managing a budget. There was also strong support for parents being able to trigger an Ofsted inspection when a critical mass of parents holds the same concerns about a school.
We came to several clear conclusions
- The system of school accountability needs to be developed to give parents more and varied information, in particular about behaviour, the well being, social and emotional development of pupils.
- School websites could be developed much more effectively to give parents information, possibly including forums in which the views of current and prospective parents can be shared.
- All parents should be entitled to a termly rather than annual report about their child's progress either by e-mail, post or via a school website.
- The parents of children with SEN need more, specialised and detailed information when choosing schools and once their children are enrolled.
- Evaluating the way schools work and communicate with parents should be a high priority for Ofsted inspectors.
The full report "A new conversation with parents: how schools can inform and listen in a digital age?" is published by Family Lives and the Pearson Centre for Policy and Learning.