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.