Thank you to the 316 parents who completed our survey and helped to inform our response to Ofsted's crucial consultation, which closed last Friday (5th April 2019). With Ofsted changing the way it inspects schools from September, it is vital that parents have a voice in shaping its future framework.
There is no doubt that Ofsted is an extremely influential organisation in the education system. However, what impact is Ofsted trying to achieve as a regulator? And does the inspection framework drive change in a way that improves the education and school experience of children? There has been a plethora of responses from those working in and with schools that express concern with the proposed framework which will not have escaped the attention of many parents. Ofsted states clearly that its goal is to provide clear information to 'users', i.e. parents. The responses we received to our survey suggest that there is work to do here.
A particular concern is the overall tone of the framework may continue to result in keeping parents at arm's length, and we hope that Ofsted will address this in their final framework. The new Ofsted framework has to work for parents as well as policy-makers and teachers. Parents are the first educators of children, and children are most able to reach their potential and thrive when homes and schools work closely together in a mutually-supportive and trustful way. The data we gathered in our survey indicates a certain level of dissatisfaction among the parent community with the current way in which Ofsted operates, and the content of its reports. Parents want to be consulted on polices that affect their families, such as behaviour, the broader curriculum and the personal development curriculum. Ofsted should report back on how schools achieve this and how this has enabled parents to support their child's learning within and outside of school.
There is also some uncertainty demonstrated by parents as to exactly what Ofsted's remit is, and how they can engage with the inspectorate. Better communications with the parent community must be considered, by, for example, providing more resources for schools to share with its parent body.
Language throughout the document needs to steer towards better collaboration between home and school - not away from it. In particular, the leadership & management judgement section.
For parents, schools and schools leaders to be able to value and trust Ofsted, we need to be assured that schools will be inspected accurately, that the inspection process doesn't negatively impact upon teaching and learning, and that reports are helpful to parents.
Key findings from parent survey
This was the top issue parents told us they wished to be consulted on in our Annual Parent Survey 2018. In our more recent survey, we found:
- 83% of parents agree or strongly agree that Ofsted's proposed shift to include an assessment of curriculum and away from a focus on exam results is a good approach. 8% disagree/strongly disagree
- 87% would rather teachers spent more time teaching the curriculum and less time gathering data on pupils' progress
- 81% are supportive of Ofsted's idea to separate out personal development from behaviour and attitudes, with three out of ten parents (30%) strongly agreeing to this measure. 6% disagree or strongly disagree
- Almost three quarters (73%) wish to be consulted on the personal development curriculum that is taught in schools.
We suggest that Ofsted gives some thought as to how information on a child's progress against the curriculum is presented to parents. Parents want to be assured that schools are delivering an education that gives their child the best start in life. The majority of parents are interested in the curriculum with this goal in mind – they want one that includes personal development and life skills, and they see teachers as the experts in delivering it. Engagement with parents should include a focus on conveying the depth and breadth of the curriculum and schools need to be accountable if they decide to narrow what is on offer. Parents value the split between the Behaviour and Attitudes and Personal Development judgements. However, Ofsted needs to ensure that Personal Development does not merely become a tick box exercise in schools.
2. What parents want from Ofsted
Parents want Ofsted to do more to meet their needs and expectations, so that they can view its reports as useful and trustworthy.
- 91% of parents have looked at an Ofsted report within the previous two years, but 90% of parents disagree (and almost half [48%] of parents strongly disagree) that "Ofsted reports tell parents everything they need to know about a school," where only 4% agree
- 80% would like Ofsted reports to include feedback specifically about how well a school engages its parent community, where only 6% said they would not find this useful
- 68% agree or strongly agree that schools previously judged 'good' should be inspected under the full inspection criteria at their next inspection, rather than a reduced criteria which happens currently, though this is not currently being considered (and 66% said the same for schools previously judged 'outstanding')
- 59% disagree that Ofsted does enough to take the views of parents into account when inspecting a school and only 17% agree. Therefore, over half of parents responding to our survey believe that the inspectorate can do more to engage with parents during the inspection process
- 62% agree that an Ofsted inspector should be available to talk to parents in person at the school on the afternoon before the scheduled inspection begins, but 23% disagree
- 85% agree that Ofsted should inspect Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs), where 50% strongly agree, and only 3% disagree or strongly disagree. Ofsted inspecting MATs as well as their academies may go some way to giving parents peace of mind that their child's academy's trust is operating well, transparently, and with the best interests of the whole school community at its heart. Greater accountability to parents built into the school system would also address many of those concerns.
We strongly encourage the inspectorate to consult with parents, such as through focus groups, to determine what further information they wish to see in reports, as well as on how they can tailor reports to be accessible and useful to the majority of parents. We would like to see Ofsted give serious thought to including a judgement on how well a school engages its parent community in its reports.
In meeting parents' needs during the inspection process, Ofsted should consider how working parents might be able to access inspectors, as many of our respondents identified this as a concern. This would also ensure that inspectors hear from a wider cross-section of parents. Parentkind suggests building consultation with parents into the extended period of on-site preparation. Gathering evidence from parents during inspections could be done through a consultative parent body such as a parent council or parent teacher association (PTA), which Ofsted should consider adding to the final draft of its Schools Handbook.
The relative inaccessibility of the consultation that has just closed, and the technical complexity of the questions, stimulated us to liaise directly with Ofsted in helping parents to understand what the consultation was about and why it mattered to them, as well as how they could have their say on it. We hope for future consultations that the inspectorate will consider a simplified process or separate questionnaire designed specifically for parents. As the National Audit Office (NAO) noted in its 2018 report, Ofsted's inspection of schools: "Ofsted and Parentkind have found that parents would like more opportunity to comment on schools, and for more views from parents to be included in Ofsted's inspection reports. Ofsted's focus group research indicated that parents found the writing in inspection reports "generic, clichéd and impersonal", and that parents believed that schools were able to 'game' the system. It also found that parents would welcome a stronger 'parent voice' in inspection reports. Parentkind told us that its research showed that parents valued having an independent inspectorate but considered that inspection reports lacked a parent voice."
There is still some way to go for Ofsted to take parents with them on this journey towards a new inspection framework, and reassure them that their views are taken into consideration, and that the reports are created with their needs in mind. An independent regulatory impact assessment of Ofsted and its effectiveness together with an impact on holding schools to account for the benefit of the public would go a long way toward achieving this, whilst also reflecting on other challenges such as the possibility of some unintended negative behaviours of schools as a result of the inspection process.