What do parents really think of our schools?

Adrian Elliott's picture
 17
A contributor to LSN recently suggested that parents no longer want the ‘status quo’ in schools. Leaving on one side whether the last twenty-five years in education has resembled any kind of status quo, the comment does raise the question of what parents really think about the education their children are receiving in state schools today. It’s a big task. There are around 8 million children in state schools in England, so we can assume the number of parents, step-parents and carers totals to be, at least, ten to twelve million.

Are they as unhappy as some writers on this site, many more in the national media and some politicians would claim and what evidence do we have of their views?

Since 1993 Ofsted has been inspecting up to 6000 English schools a year. In the majority of these, inspectors have put out a questionnaire to parents. Ofsted has received millions of returns and the most recent annual report of HMCI had this to say about the views of parents;

‘’Overall, parents remain very positive about the quality of education that their child receives. An
analysis of 315,182 parental questionnaires returned from 3,679 inspections shows that 94% of the parents who responded were positive overall about their child’s schooling. These results are consistent with the previous year, when 93% expressed a positive opinion overall. The lowest proportion of strongly positive comments came in response to the question, ‘The school takes account of my suggestions and concerns’, but even here 85% of parents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement.’’

Moreover, parental responses have been consistently positive over the twenty or so years.

But is an inspection the best time to canvass parents’ views? Might loyalty to the school or the desire to stick together in the face of a common enemy influence replies. Well, other surveys taken regularly, the British Social Attitudes surveys, for example, have produced similar responses with positive views from parents towards schools in the high eighties to low nineties.

What is striking is the difference between people who actually have children in state schools when surveyed and those who don’t (and may receive their opinions second hand through the media or local gossip). A recent You gov poll suggested about half the general population were not satisfied with schools. This might, of course, include parents who were perfectly happy with their own child’s schools but believed other schools to be inferior. There is evidence of this attitude in other large public services. Whilst patients are largely happy with the treatment received at their local hospital, there is a tendency to think that you’d be lucky to come out alive from the one in the next town.

I would suggest there is other evidence that, overall, parents are not as dissatisfied with state education as the media would have us believe. What are we to make, for instance, of polls which regularly show that teachers are amongst the most appreciated of professions by the general public. If schools were so bad would that still be true? – especially when their chief critics, journalists and politicians, tend to struggle in the relegation positions. Why have the numbers at independent schools not risen significantly in the fifty years since I left school? True, the private sector in this country is expensive but consider how much disposable incomes have risen during the same period.

So everything is hunk dory then? Of course not. Even if we accept that about 90% of parents are happy it still leaves almost a million children whose parents are not. Most schools are better than they used to be at seeking out parental views, at finding out what concerns them but many are not . Some heads are over sensitive to criticism (although, as elsewhere in the public sector the way some parents express their criticism does partly explain that).

Nevertheless a more balanced view of how well we are doing coupled with a determination to do better must surely be preferable to the hysteria of so many right wing columnists.
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Comments

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 10/05/2012 - 19:59

speaking of the hysteria of right wing columnists, can anyone fine any link whatsoever between this and reality?
http://www.spectator.co.uk/columnists/all/7806938/status-anxiety-staffro...
If so any insight into where on earth he posts these days would be very welcome. As someone who claims to be a bit of an expert on educational discussion forums I'm most intrigued.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 08:13

The writer of the article uses as his evidence the TES forums (shouldn't that be "fora" - a Latin scholar could perhaps supply the correct plural. Perhaps the writer could ask one of the pupils in his school). This is the place where teachers (and we can't be sure all the posters are teachers) let off steam - mostly anecdotal and therefore can't be verified - but is useful for judging the way the wind's blowing.

The writer uses teachers' complaints about educational jargon to show that such jargon has permeated the entire state education system. But if teachers are complaining about it then surely it's a sign that jargon such as "client group" for a class of pupils is NOT used widely by teachers who actually teach (as opposed to "executive principals" and the like whose classroom days are well behind them).

On the recent TES forum about words which should be banned from schools, one word was repeated constantly. It was Ofsted.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 08:31

Rebecca - thank you for the link to the Spectator article. It is is a useful study in how one thing (the use of jargon) can be used to attack something quite different. For instance, the author prefers the term "idiot" to Educational and Behavioural Difficulty (EBD). Perhaps he would like to resurrect the terms "moron" and "cretin" for acceptable use in schools. And consider this passage:

"Thus, teachers are more or less required to ‘celebrate diversity’, whether racial, cultural or sexual, but woe betide the old-fashioned sports master who tries to convey the importance of impulse control or deferred gratification."

Note how the writer has linked celebrating diversity with the need to encourage pupils to defer gratification. It does not follow that celebrating diversity leads to instantly satisfying one's urges. And a teacher does not have to be "old-fashioned" to suggest that working towards a long-term goal means putting off immediate rewards. Neither does the teacher have to be a "master".

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 11:31

Thanks for pointing this out Janet - yes it's clear now. I misunderstood because he said 'forget the TES'.

The TES forum is a very complicated place. You have to post there for quite a while to come to understand what goes on it. The back channel chat through the PM system is important too.

Many of the regular posters in key sections, in particular 'opinion', are either not teachers or are teachers with limited experience. There are a large number of posters who clearly are teachers and you can hear their voices coming through at times but they tend to only be able to post bits of their opinions. They struggle to have the airspace they need to develop and connect their thoughts and ideas over time for a variety of reasons the TES forum could and should address.

I think it's an absolute disgrace to TES that on each occasion when I have written to them to express my concern about the severe harassment which takes place on their forum and to offer to help them work on strategies which would overcome it they have chosen to reply their response has been to threaten me with legal action if I write about having been repeatedly placed on pre-moderation, repeatedly banned and having had my posts systematically and selectively deleted by their moderators.

It's implausible that they could have failed to see the evidence of what was going on which is all over the forum. If you go to the forums section and type in my username (weebecka) for example it's obvious to see that a substantial proportion of the posts I made are no longer there.

SJT's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 15:17

How many times have you written to TES? If they threatened you with legal action, why did you continue to pester them and why are you libelling them now?

You may not want to hear this but I can clearly remember you deliberately provoking many TES users and I think the moderators were actually very tolerant of your poor netiquette before they eventually lost patience and banned you.

Paul's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 16:46

"http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/05/what-do-parents-really-thi..."

Not true. They just didn't agree with you and you go off in a sulk when that happens.

"There are a large number of posters who clearly are teachers and you can hear their voices coming through at times but they tend to only be able to post bits of their opinions"

Projection at it's most extreme. What you are actually complaining about is that no poster took you seriously, believed you knew what you were talking about or was remotely interested in your idiotic attempts to "facilitate" discussion.

"I think it’s an absolute disgrace to TES that on each occasion when I have written to them to express my concern about the severe harassment which takes place on their forum and to offer to help them work on strategies which would overcome it they have chosen to reply their response has been to threaten me with legal action if I write about having been repeatedly placed on pre-moderation, repeatedly banned and having had my posts systematically and selectively deleted by their moderators. "

You asked for them to be deleted, mostly Some were deleted because you were personally libelling people (mainly the HMI who you blame for everything wrong in your school)

"It’s implausible that they could have failed to see the evidence of what was going on which is all over the forum. If you go to the forums section and type in my username (weebecka) for example it’s obvious to see that a substantial proportion of the posts I made are no longer there."

Indeed, they had the evidence of your posts and your PMs. Oddly, the deletions stopped immediately you left, and had started when you were arrived.

Don't worry though, I have all your posts nicely archived.

Paul's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 17:05

"How many times have you written to TES? If they threatened you with legal action, why did you continue to pester them and why are you libelling them now?"

The moderators of this forum don't want to moderate. This I applaud, but it means that the deluded fantasists of the world will abuse it.

Rebecca has very little grasp on reality (hence the repeated pleading in an attempt to claim the TES forum people are some sort of evil bullying Gove paid gang - some of those so accused were amongst the most firm Labour voters there).

It is interesting to note that they threatened her with legal action (assuming she didn't make it up). Given the nature of her libels and her behaviour towards other posters and the chaos she caused it's not surprising.

An 'expert' would be aware that forums can be liable for libels made on them.

The TES people are remarkably tolerant. The only thing that I object to is people flogging stuff and not being honest about it.

She also continually presented herself as a "facilitator" (to the extent that the phrase became and still is used for ridicule). This was (accurately) parodied as her saying "Very interesting. And what do others think" - but taking 3000 words over it.

What this nonsense means (11:31 post) is that she thinks the people who agree with her are the only 'proper teachers' and those who disagreed (virtually everyone) aren't 'not teachers' or have 'limited experience'.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 17:48

I wrote to them formally twice SJT.
Once when things were at their worst and once after the phone hacking scandal to see if their attitude had changed.

I did contact the moderators to ask for explanations when I was punished but did not receive any.

Apart from answering that direct question I shall leave this topic and not contribute further to this thread as it will clearly not be constructive for me to do so.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 07:46

On reflection I'm not sure that hysteria is the right word to describe a phrase like this

'Turns out plenty of teachers still attach some importance to good grammar, even if they aren’t allowed to teach it.'

A shorter word would do.

eJD8owE1's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 09:20

The comments in the Speccie article link to http://whelk-stall.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/how-to-be-callous.html

Janet, presumably, is of the opinion that criminals who destroy houses shouldn't be called nasty words. But then, it's not her house that's been smashed up, is it? It would be interesting to know how many people who excuse and condone appalling behaviour with the catch-all excuse of "oh, he has EBD, and therefore can neither be judged nor punished" are actually victims of it themselves, or would be happy for their own children to attend a school where that mindset operated. The victims of this "non-judgemental" attitude are, of course, not affluent middle-class children, whose parents ensure they're kept a million miles away from it, but other already disadvantaged children, most of whom just want to get on with learning.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 12:19

eJD8owE1 - it does not follow that because I don't damn children by labelling them "idiots" (or "cretin", "moron" or "mong") that I believe that criminals "shouldn't be called nasty words" (such as criminal, presumably). The term Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (EBD) is not used to excuse behaviour but to decide on appropriate action. To explain someone's behaviour is not to excuse it.

Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 11/05/2012 - 17:02

The best gauge of opinion lies not in what parents say, but rather in what they actually do.

7% of UK parents choose to go private (rising to 18% at 6th form level).

http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn106.pdf

23% choose private or home tuition:

'Nearly a quarter (23%) of schoolchildren aged 11-16 in England and Wales have received some private or home tuition according to the latest survey of 2739 students commissioned by the Sutton Trust and carried out by Ipsos MORI earlier this year. The proportion of students receiving tuition has increased from 18% in 2005 to 23% in 2011.

Although some children have home tuition paid for by their local authorities.......25% of children from the most affluent families who were surveyed said they have received some tuition during their education.'

http://www.suttontrust.com/news/news/private-tuition-booms-despite-reces...

Affluent parents pay a substantial premium to get their children into the catchment areas of high performing state schools:

'Property prices within the catchment areas of the country’s top 50 state schools are 35% higher than the rest of the UK and the most expensive catchment area among Britain’s top ten state schools is around The Henrietta Barnett School in Barnet, London, where the average house price is £655,429.'

http://www.thedigitalpropertygroup.com/blog/2011/09/23/school-catchment-...

Meanwhile, grade inflation puts a ceiling on the performance of top students (hence the need now for the A* grade):

‘Despite sharply rising school spending per pupil during the last ten years, improvements in schooling outcomes have been limited in the United Kingdom. Average PISA scores, measuring cognitive skills of 15–year olds, have been stagnant and trail strong performers such as Finland, Korea and the Netherlands……..

Evidence suggests that improvement in exam grades is out of line with independent indicators of performance, suggesting grade inflation could be a significant factor.’

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/50/37/47319830.pdf

Grade inflation disguises true differentials in exam performance between schools at the high end of achievement through according top grades to large numbers of students.

Thus, although many state schools undoubtedly offer a very good academic education, all the above evidence indicates that provision of decent educational opportunities within the state sector is uneven, requiring parents to take a variety of measures in order to ensure that their children get an education that they regard as satisfactory.

Interested's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 16:05

I think, Rebecca, that you assign too much importance to the TES Opinion forum. It is a political forum which seems mostly populated by people of the 'far right' and probably by very few teachers.

One of the clues is the nature of the comments from 'lefties'. They are almost always caricatures of the sixties Trotskyist, the sort of person much beloved of papers like the Daily Mail. You just never meet real people who think like that.

I had a PM 'discussion' with a BNP poster who claimed to be a Guardian reader but "pitied" me for my liberal views. She then had me banned despite my replies to her abuse being carefully polite.

Forums are often vehicles for political propaganda, especially those like TES with very small membership.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 16:20

'The best gauge of opinion lies not in what parents say, but rather in what they actually do'.

Exactly . 93% send their children to state schools and 77% have never spent anything on private tuition even though this could be for a very limited period to get over a short-term problem.

leonard james's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 16:27

But how many would go private if they could afford it?

Paul's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 17:08

So therefore Bognor Regis is a better holiday destination than a private island in the Caribbean ?

Tim Bidie's picture
Sat, 12/05/2012 - 17:16

'Even if we accept that about 90% of parents are happy it still leaves almost a million children whose parents are not.'

Make that more like over two million then.

'a more balanced view of how well we are doing coupled with a determination to do better'

Spot on.

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