Ofsted’s consultation on its new inspection framework is now out and is open until 5th April. This means that schools in England will be checked for standards differently from September.
We’ve heard positive sounds about the new focus on curriculum from many senior leaders, who Ofsted have commendably taken on the journey with them by holding over 200 engagement events before releasing their consultation.
But how much have the views of the most important stakeholders in the education of children – parents – been considered?
Why should the new framework consider parents?
Parents are children’s first educators: they bring a child’s learning to life and support their school work at home. Research by University College London, and more recently the Sutton Trust’s Parent Power 2018, have shown that many parents want to establish a relationship between school and home, and when they work in partnership, children thrive and achieve the best outcomes. It’s therefore important that parents are involved and kept informed about how schools are assessed and what Ofsted reports can tell them.
The National Audit Office's 2018 report into Ofsted's inspection of schools recommended, "Ofsted should build on its research and take action to engage more with parents and make inspection reports more useful to parents." Hearing parents’ views on the new inspection framework is an ideal way of further implementing the NAO’s suggestion.
Engaging the parent community on Ofsted’s changes is important because:
- Parents value curriculum. Parents ranked 'curriculum' as the top area of school life they would most like to be consulted on as part of our Annual Parent Survey 2018, with 56% of parents selecting that option.
- Parents need to be on board. In order for parents to trust and value Ofsted’s reports, they have to understand the assessments, and be able to have a say on how curriculum is taught at school level. Many parents choose schools based on how subjects are taught.
- Parents are cited in the framework. We are pleased to see that the fourth key judgement, Leadership and Management, requires schools to engage with their parent community. However, this is partially undermined by the fifth bullet-point in section 211 that suggests that school leaders may be thoughtful in “drawing boundaries and resisting inappropriate attempts to influence what is taught in the day-to-day life of the school”. Whilst any bona fide parent will appreciate the need for drawing boundaries, the challenge lies in the word 'inappropriate'. It is vastly subjective and open to interpretation, and thus may be used to prevent valid parental engagement whenever it is simply deemed 'inconvenient'. Parents must be part of the conversation on how Ofsted assesses this criterion. There are also wider implications on school accountability, which was addressed as recently as this week by the Public Accounts Committee that recommended more transparency for Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) towards parents and the community.
Were parents considered in Ofsted's pre-consultation process?
Appearing in front of the Public Accounts Committee, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman told MPs that the inspectorate gathered from parents that behaviour and education standards are what matter most to them, which is why they are redesigning their reports with that focus in mind. Although it is good to see that Ofsted has engaged with parents, the focus groups and surveys are not mentioned in their framework methodology, so it is unclear whether or not they were part of the inspectorate’s pre-consultation stakeholder engagement. In contrast, “16,000 people from the sectors Ofsted inspects” were invited to input. Parents should now have the chance to ensure parent views are part of the consultation responses, but we fear it will prove inaccessible to a great proportion of parents.
Why parents may struggle to respond to this consultation
We are pleased that Ofsted invites consultation feedback from parents. There are several obstacles in place that will prevent parents from realistically being a large enough part of the conversation.
- There are too many documents, and they need to be cross-referenced. Educators will be used to reading long documents and checking them against one another. This is a complex task, and not as easy for somebody who does not have a career background in education, like the vast majority of parents.
- The language is often alienating to parents. There are some technical education terms, (for example, ‘pedagogy’), but there is a decent balance of plain language too, so a good proportion of parents will be able to understand the documents. However, consideration should be given on how to canvas the views of parents who are less confident readers to ensure as wide a sample of the parent population as possible has a fair chance to input their views.
- Parents weren’t equal partners in the pre-consultation phase. It looks like the draft stage was reached with minimal input from parents. Consequently, the questions Ofsted is asking for feedback on may not be the right questions to put to parents, who would perhaps have benefited from a separate consultation.
Parents and teachers want the same thing: for children to thrive and reach their potential, to be happy and to have a rounded education. Parents are integral to ensuring the success of this. Curriculum is a vital part of any school’s programme, so at school as well as national level, parents need to know what it is, how it is taught, how it is monitored and how they can support it.
For these reasons, we would like to see Ofsted give further in-depth reflection on the importance of treating parents as partners in education and ensuring that positive partnerships between home and school are considered as part of its new inspection framework.
In responding to Ofsted’s consultation, we will invite parental opinion through a parent-friendly survey, so that representative parent voice is heard. We will also invite individual parents to have their say by providing further resources to make the consultation more accessible to them.