Annual Parent Survey 2019

Our vision is that the contribution parents make to their child’s education is considered essential to their success by society, schools and parents themselves. To achieve this, and to strengthen parent voice in the discussion of education topics, we find out what parents really think about the issues that directly affect them.

Our Annual Parent Survey 2019, now in its fifth year, gauges parental views from a large sample size of 1,500 parents (1,200 in England, 200 in Wales and 100 in Northern Ireland). The survey is independently distributed to a cross-section of parents outside of our PTA membership. This ensures that the results really are indicative of what parents have to say when it comes to their child’s education and schooling. 

One of the areas we like to keep an eye on is levels of parental involvement and engagement, because they are key indicators of a happy school experience for a child, ensuring they have the best chance to reach their potential. We want to encourage more parents to get involved in more ways, and to consider how any barriers they may feel prevent them getting involved can be overcome.

Key findings 

1. Top ways parents support learning

There are plenty of options for parents looking to get involved at school. Parental engagement is a key indicator of a happy school experience for that child, giving them the best chance to reach their potential.

Even when parents haven’t tried common activities for engagement, many would consider them. So what do parents do to assist their child’s learning, how often, and what else are they willing to try? What stops them from getting more involved? Here’s what our research uncovered.

Top three ways parents engage with their child’s education:

  • Attending a parent consultation evening, where 75% have done so, and of those who haven’t, 63% would consider it
  • Being in contact with the school about an academic issue, where 47% had done so, and of those who haven’t, 73% would consider it
  • Being in contact with the school about a non-teaching issue, where 42% have done so and of those who haven’t, 74% would consider it

The main reasons parents say prevents them from getting more involved:

  • Not enough time (45%)
  • Unsure which skills to offer (29%)
  • Not being asked (27%)

2. Parents want to have a say on their child’s education, but research shows an accountability gap exists 

Despite three quarters (76%) of parents wanting to have a say on a range of issues at school level, only a fifth (18%) of parents of children in local authority maintained schools strongly agree that their school listens to them. In standalone academy schools this drops to less than one in ten (8%).

Half (50%) of all parents feel that schools need to be more accountable to them. Whilst 80% of parents trust school leaders, a substantially lower proportion trust leaders at Government, Local Authority, Education Authority or Multi Academy Trust level to deliver the best education for their children.

Our survey has also revealed that many parents have a lack of clarity about school governance models. While 91% had heard of an academy, only 51% felt they could explain what it is.

Our latest research shows:

  • 57% of parents say they trust MATs and local government leaders and even fewer (38%) say they trust central government
  • Half (50%) of respondents say their child’s school listens to their views
  • Only a quarter (27%) believe local authorities or multi Academy Trusts listen to their views
  • Fewer than one in four (23%) think central government listens to their views
  • Half (49%) believe their child’s school takes action based on their views/​feedback
  • Half (50%) say their child’s school should be more accountable to parents than they currently are
  • Only four in ten (41%) feel able to have a say on school decisions that affect their child’s education
  • Less than half (49%) of respondents said they had heard of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), and only one in five (19%) felt able to explain what they are
  • Among parents whose children attend a school governed by a MAT, only two in five (40%) feel they are able to explain what it is

Our position on accountability

There is an accountability gap between how much parents wish to input into education decision-making at all levels, and the amount they believe they are consulted or listened to. The further removed parents are from decision-making processes, the less they feel their voices are reflected in resulting policies. It is important and beneficial to have a system where every education level can be held to account for the service they provide and are open to input from all stakeholders, including parents. This leads to better policies and practices that are fit for purpose. 

This approach creates a culture of genuine partnership between home and school as well as a pathway for continuous school improvement. Decision-making transparency also guards against undesirable policies and practices, and helps to achieve the highest standards of ethical and child-centred leadership. 

Clear communication pathways between parents and those responsible for delivering education at every level are needed to achieve this. We would like the accountability gap to be narrowed by seeing government and schools include parent voice as a vital part of democratic decision-making processes, especially because parental engagement leads to better attendance, attainment and a positive learning environment. It is important that parents are provided with enough information to ensure that they can effectively interact with schools and the education system as a whole on matters that impact on their children’s experience of education.

3. Parents prioritise a curriculum which develops responsible citizens and good mental health and wellbeing

Following on from last year’s survey which told us that curriculum was the area parents would most like to be consulted on, we decided to delve deeper into this topic this year. This year’s survey found that the majority of parents are happy with the quality of education that their child receives from school and agree their child’s school offers a good range of after school clubs and other extra-curricular activities. Whilst most parents agree that their child’s school teaches a curriculum that meets their child’s needs, a significant minority feel that the choice of subject options available to my child at their school is too limited and less than half agree that my child’s school offers good careers advice.

Our latest research shows:

  • 63% believe that it is very important that the curriculum helps children develop good mental health and well-being; 59% of parents think that it is very important that the curriculum teaches life-skills such as self-confidence and the ability to cope with set-backs
  • 76% say that the school teaches a curriculum that meets their child’s needs, with 27% strongly agreeing
  • 75% are happy with the quality of education that their child receives from school
  • 88% say that it is important (and 56% say very important’) that the curriculum focuses on preparing pupils for the future job market; but around a third (34%) are concerned that the curriculum doesn’t do enough in this area. It is particularly important for parents of children secondary school (62%) and further education (63%) compared to those in primary school (47%)
  • 90% think it should help to develop skills that are useful outside of school; but over a quarter (28%) think insufficient time is spent on this
  • 90% say it should prepare pupils to become responsible citizens (62% saying this is very important); yet over a quarter (26%) say not enough focus is given to this
  • 89% think it should focus on introducing pupils to a broad range of subjects; but only 69% are satisfied that it achieves this
  • 89% say it should support pupils’ personal development by teaching life skills; but almost a third (32%) don’t feel the curriculum does enough on this
  • 64% would like it to support pupils’ spiritual development, and 58% feel the balance is about right
  • Three quarters (75%) agree that it should include RE/RSE lessons, and 61% say that the current level of focus is about right
  • 89% would like it to focus on developing good physical health, and the same proportion for developing good mental health and well-being; whereas two thirds of parents (66%) say that the focus on developing good physical health is about right but one third (33%) say there is too little focus on developing good mental health and well-being.
  • 68% agree their child’s school offers a good range of after school clubs and other extra-curricular activities
  • 43% agree that my child’s school offers good careers advice
  • 35% agree that the choice of subject options available to my child at their school is too limited

Our position on the curriculum

To give parents more of a voice on curriculum, we are calling on national governments, local authorities and multi academy trusts to genuinely listen to parent voice and views on ensuring that the curriculum is fit for purpose. Parents should be routinely informed about the curriculum their child is taught, especially when changes are made, and asked for feedback. It is especially important that parents can access a summary of the curriculum in academies or independent schools where they are not obliged to follow the national curriculum but can set their own core curriculum. The curriculum should be more aligned to equip children for life beyond school, and it needs to be clearer to parents how schools are achieving this. 

In addition, we would like to see a national roll-out of our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools. This will provide all schools with effective strategies to engage with all parents. Finally, we call for a consultative parent body in every school. Using our Blueprint as a framework, school leaders can seek dialogue with a representative cross-section of parents through a parent voice group such as a PTA or parent council, to fully understand how parents wish to be engaged on curriculum.

4. Parents still contributing financially to schools

We continue to track parental attitudes on the key issue of school funding to build a year-on-year picture of the effect tightening budgets have on parents’ finances and their child’s school experience. This year, the results show that over half of parents are concerned about the cost of sending a child to school, and most feel that the cost is increasing. We also found that parents whose child is eligible for free school meals (FSM) report that they are more likely to have been asked to make voluntary donations to their school fund, that a greater proportion of them are donating, and that they give higher monthly payments compared to their more affluent peers. Parents continue to report being asked to pay for things that used to be free, such as school clubs, concerts and sports days, while stretched school budgets are seeing money-saving measures normalised in many schools. Parents also tell us how they would like additional funds to be prioritised.

Our latest research shows:

  • 76% of parents think that the cost of sending children to school is increasing and more than half (51%) agree that they are worried about such cost
  • Parents’ concern about the cost of schooling continues to be highest in relation to uniforms (46%), school trips (44%) and school meals/​drinks (19%)
  • Parents of children who are eligible for Free School Meals (FSM) are more likely to feel costs are increasing (38% strongly agree vs 31% of parents whose children are not eligible) and to be concerned about them (29% strongly agree vs 15%)
  • Concern over the cost of uniforms is significantly higher for parents whose children are eligible for FSM (61% vs 44%); this is also true about the cost school trips (49% vs 43%) and the cost of school extra-curricular events such as concerts and sport days which parents are asked to pay for (20% vs 13%)
  • 38% of parents reported being asked by their child’s school for a donation to the school fund and 29% donate
  • Parents of children eligible for FSM (45%) were more likely to be asked to donate than those not eligible (38%)
  • The most common cost-cutting solutions that parents report seeing implemented by schools were being asked to pay for school clubs which used to be free (22%) and for events such as sport days or concerts (20%)
  • 55% of parents believe that any potential extra funding available to schools should be spent on learning resources (55%) and 43% think so of IT equipment

Our position on school funding

We commend all parent groups for the invaluable fundraising efforts they make on behalf of their schools. We welcome recent promises from the government to add substantially to school funding, but even then, academy trusts, governors and school leaders must continue to consult with their parent communities about how school funding is affecting them. This can be achieved most effectively by using a consultative parent body such as a parent council, and ensuring parental engagement is maximised through the adoption of our Blueprint for Parent-Friendly Schools.

Download our Annual Parent Survey 2019 Reports