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An investigation into Ofsted’s approach to Parental Engagement within the inspection frameworks introduced in January and September 2012

18 March 2013 Alan Cowley and Delia Cowley Engagement in Education Ltd, to be published on web domains: www.engagementineducation.co.uk www.parentalengagement.co.uk

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Foreword, Forewarned & Forward




The Investigation


Key Issue 1: specific and implied reference within Ofsted reports to Parental Engagement as a relevant strategy for school improvement. Executive summary


Key Issue 1: specific and implied reference within Ofsted reports to Parental Engagement as a relevant strategy for school improvement. Full report


Key Issue 2: Parent View. Executive summary


Key Issue 2: Parent View. Full Report


Key Issue 3: Is there a consistency of approach to Parental Engagement from reports produced before September 2012 and those written subsequently? Executive summary


Key Issue 3: Is there a consistency of approach to Parental Engagement from reports produced before September 2012 and those written subsequently? Full report


Recommendations: The Way Forward


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Foreword, Forewarned & Forward It is now almost 10 years since the publication of Charles Desforges and Alberto Abouchaar’s landmark review of literature looking at the impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment. The document demonstrated beyond doubt what research had been telling us for years: that when parents support and encourage their children’s learning, sometimes through the most subtle interventions in the home, the benefits to pupil achievement are massive right across the ability range and especially so in pupils from working class backgrounds. In spite of that, and several other government-backed initiatives aimed at promoting the benefits of Parental Engagement, little progress has been made – the achievement gap continues to widen – hundreds of thousands if not millions of pupils have been denied access to the life chances that could have been theirs if those of us in schools had taken some form of determined action to adopt and apply the research advice. We’re not pretending that the successful promotion of Parental Engagement isn’t complex. On the contrary, the initiative is plagued by a host of deeply embedded fears, attitudes and assumptions on both sides. One thing is clear, whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t worked and as the professional in the parent/school relationship, it is incumbent upon schools to take the lead. The latest throw of the dice – and in our opinion, potentially the most promising - has been the inclusion of Parental Engagement in Ofsted’s new inspection framework. There is no doubt that Ofsted have an excellent record when it comes to providing motivation within the education system. Our only concern is that as individuals drawn from the education system, Ofsted inspectors might be so imbued with the prevalent view within schools - that parental engagement is about schools passing information to parents and involving them in a range of social and money-raising functions – that they inadvertently maintain the status quo rather than guide schools to a strategy by which all parents could engage in home-based activity that have a clear and positive impact on children's learning outcomes. In May 2011, we started an online campaign in response to Ofsted’s consultation document on the new inspection framework, and in particular the way that Parental Engagement was featured in the draft framework. Whilst we were obviously delighted that at long last Parental Engagement had been mentioned specifically within the draft framework, we were a little concerned about the wording of the criteria relating to it. The draft framework underlined the importance of meeting the needs of ‘all pupils’; indeed, we counted 9 such references. No one could argue with this objective. However, when it came to parents, the draft framework said that inspectors would be looking at " how well the school ensures equality of opportunity for all its pupils, promotes the confidence and engagement of parents...". We thought that the omission of the word ‘all’ with regard to parents was a significant one and seemed to crystallise all that was wrong in education’s approach to Parental Engagement. The illogicality of developing an education system that caters for the needs of individual pupils, yet fails to recognise that when those pupils grow to adulthood and have children, these new parents would still have a range of needs, surely cannot escape policy makers? Our campaign involved school leaders, officers in professional associations, the CEOs of educational trusts and charities, and politicians. What part it played in the shaping of the

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framework, we will never know but we were delighted that the published framework introduced a gradient of Parental Engagement development. We have never yet encountered a school leader who did not think that they were ‘doing Parental Engagement well’. We’ve met hundreds however, who, after attending one of our courses, realised how woefully inadequate their understanding of Parental Engagement had previously been.

When we received numerous requests from readers of our Parental Engagement website about Parent View, Ofsted’s online survey, we decided that now was the time to investigate. Within this report we will use 3 terms when describing schools’ partnerships with parents. The terms Parental Engagement and Parental Involvement have historically been seen as interchangeable, and indeed, within the education system of the USA, still are, but in 2008, Alma Harris and Janet Goodall, in their research ,’Do Parents Know they Matter?’ commissioned by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, made the following observations: 

Parental engagement is a powerful lever for raising student achievement in schools. Where parents and teachers work together to improve learning, the gains in achievement are significant.

Parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of pupils through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school. It is their support of learning within the home environment that makes the maximum difference to achievement.

Many schools involve parents in school-based or school related activities. This constitutes parental involvement rather than parental engagement. Parental involvement can encompass a whole range of activities with or within the school. Where these activities are not directly connected to learning they have little impact on pupil achievement.

Parental engagement is heavily linked to socio-economic status, as well as parental experience of education. Parents of certain ethnic and social groups are less likely to engage with the school. Schools that offer bespoke forms of support to these parents (i.e. literacy classes, parenting skill support) are more likely to engage them in their children’s learning.

(The underlining and different font size are not part of the original document and are used by the authors of this report purely as a means of emphasis to illustrate two points. Within the wider focus on Parental Engagement all 4 points are of equal importance.) In making this vital distinction, Harris and Goodall provided us with a clear way forward: in terms of raising achievement, it is Parental Engagement that makes the difference and it would make good sense for schools to focus their energies in this area. Naturally, given traditional attitudes towards school/home and home/school realtionships, Parental Involvement provides another interface through which relationships can be built with some parents, but by definition not those who lack confidence in their relationship with their child’s school. This is why Stakeholder Engagement is also important. This refers to a process of ensuring that as an institution you can demonstrate a meaningful strategy that Engagement in Education Ltd 2013

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enables you to consult with people who are affected by your school, or who have an effect on you. Amongst these are parents. As part of your strategy you will have addressed barriers to participation – a pre-requisite to Parental Involvement, and more importantly, Parental Engagement. Let us remind ourselves of two issues and four important points: 1. We know that many of the barriers to the establishment of Parental Engagement lie within some traditional approaches within the education system and our cultural approach to education. These barriers can be classified as either ‘simple’ or ‘complex’. a. Simple barriers are concrete things that can be rectified easily. b. Complex barriers require attitude and concept change. 2. Parental Engagement is defined as parents supporting their child’s learning in the home through such methods as having regular at home discussion about school. Parental Involvement is when parents volunteer their time to the schools as governors, PTA members, reading partners etc. c. Parental Engagement has the capacity to raise the attainment of the child of the parent by up to 25% in any one year. d. Parental Involvement will benefit the school as a whole and specific children being supported but there is no measured benefit in attainment for the child of the parent.

Forewarned At the time of publication, the UK government’s strategy regarding the role of parents and their children’s education, lays greater emphasis on Parental Involvement than Parental Engagement, the most obvious example being the establishment of Free Schools. As far as Parental Engagement is concerned there are no obvious initiatives we can point to. One policy strand that the government would perhaps point to here, is that schools have been given greater responsibility for their budget, and if school leaders think Parental Engagement is important they will spend money on it, which is why the inclusion of Parental Engagement in the Ofsted Inspection Framework is so important. As well as monitoring and driving up standards, Ofsted act as one of the most effective mechanisms for change in education. For good or bad, as far as schools are concerned, if Ofsted is reporting on it, they’ll be doing it. Which is why the way in which Ofsted report on Parental Engagement is so vitally important. As far as school leaders are concerned, Ofsted will set the standard. It is therefore vital that Ofsted get it right.

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Forward All of us involved in education want to see standards rise, and government statistics tell us that year on year our pupils and students are attaining more highly. They also tell us that in spite of this, year on year the achievement gap widens. To quote Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, in the 2010 publication The Future of Teaching: “Our schools should be engines of social mobility, helping children to overcome the accidents of birth and background to achieve much more than they may ever have imagined. But, at the moment, our schools system does not close gaps, it widens them. Children from poorer homes start behind their wealthier contemporaries when they arrive at school and during their educational journey they fall further and further back. The achievement gap between rich and poor widens at the beginning of primary school, gets worse by GCSE and is a yawning gulf by the time (far too few) sit A levels and apply to university.” If we’re to finally get to grips with the task of closing the achievement gap, ‘more of the same’ would not appear to be the best way forward. We know that Parental Engagement works, we know that it can raise attainment and achievement, we also know that it works effectively for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – the very pupils we need to target. We know that there are barriers and that these barriers exist on both sides of the relationship between school and home. We know that some of those barriers are complex and are buried deep in our traditions and expectations. As an organisation that works with schools in this field, we know that changing entrenched attitudes to create a positive environment for communication between home and school is easier than you might think – we all want what’s best for the children. That is why the way that Ofsted manage the reporting of Parental Engagement is so very important.

Alan Cowley Delia Cowley March 2013

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Methodology Our investigation started in November 2012. The current version of the new Ofsted inspection framework had been in operation just 8 weeks and few reports had been published. As none of the changes impacted upon Parental Engagement, we based our initial investigation on an in-depth analysis of a random sample of 66 Ofsted reports undertaken in maintained primary and secondary schools between January 2012 and July 2012. From these we devised our hypotheses and an interim report was issued based on our findings from this sample on 11 February 2012. The interim report was shared with Ofsted and some of the professional associations. We then tested our hypotheses with an in-depth analysis of a further 156 Ofsted inspection reports undertaken in maintained primary and secondary schools between January 2012 and 29 January 2013. This made a total of 222 reports. In our research, we noted: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Name of school Local authority Date inspection started Number of pupils on roll Number of parents who responded to the Ofsted questionnaire Ofsted’s mention of Parental Engagement in ‘Key Findings’ Ofsted’s mention of Parental Engagement in ‘What does the school need to do to improve further?’ 8. Ofsted’s mention of Parents and carers in ‘Achievement of pupils’ 9. Ofsted’s mention of Parents and carers in ‘Quality of teaching’ 10. Ofsted’s mention of Parents and carers in ‘Behaviour and safety’ 11. Ofsted’s mention of Parents and carers in ‘Leadership and management’ The only criteria set within the random selection was that the overall percentages of ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘satisfactory’ and ‘ inadequate’, should be the same as those reported in the annual report of the chief inspector for schools for August 2012: ‘outstanding’ = 21%, ‘good’ = 49%, ‘satisfactory’ = 28% and ‘ inadequate’ 3%. Due to the small total number of schools within the interim sample adjudged to be ‘inadequate’, the interim sample was increased to include more than 3 times the original number so that a more accurate picture of reports for schools in this group could be ascertained. When ‘inadequate’ schools are compared directly with other schools, data is taken from the 4% within the original sample. Where we identify trends within the ‘inadequate’ schools group, this is through the inflated number mentioned above. The changes in the inspection framework introduced in September 2012 had little impact on the judgement regarding Parental Engagement, there were however changes in practice relating to how parents’ opinions are gathered. Parents are no longer sent the paper questionnaire at the start of the inspection. Greater emphasis is being placed on Parent View as a vehicle for gathering information. Where schools have their own surveys of parental opinion, they can be shared with Ofsted.

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As previously stated, our records contain the name of each school within our survey. Each school was allocated a unique number and it is that number that we refer to within this report to maintain anonymity.

The Investigation We were looking for three key issues and any other significant trend that appeared within the data. The three key issues were: 1. As evidenced in the inspection reports, to what extent do Ofsted inspectors understand the nature of Parental Engagement and its potential for improving learning outcomes of all pupils. 2. Is Parent View a meaningful aid to inspection? a. Do parents have sufficient understanding of educational processes to provide meaningful feedback via Parent View? b. Is Parent View structured in a way that allows inspectors to ascertain the % of completed questionnaires submitted by parents “including those who might find working with the school difficult� ? 3. Has there been a consistency of approach to Parental Engagement from reports produced before September 2012 and those written subsequently?

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Key Issue 1: specific and implied reference within Ofsted reports to Parental Engagement as a relevant strategy for school improvement Parental Engagement: Executive summary A. There is a confusion evident within the inspection reports about the definition of Parental Engagement. In those inspections where Parental Engagement is defined accurately, schools are provided with a new strategy for improvement and an untapped, free resource. Those inspectors who confuse Parental Engagement with Parental Involvement invariably only recount the views of parents. Others believe that Parental Engagement happens when schools ‘inform’ parents about progress. B. Parental Engagement is rarely used as a strategy for school improvement within the ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section of a report, but all the evidence and research tells us that it could be one of the most effective strategies in raising achievement. C. The majority of Ofsted reports mention parental opinion as gleaned from surveys and interviews but fail to explore Parental Engagement. This indicates a confusion within Ofsted between Stakeholder Engagement and Parental Engagement.

Parental Engagement: Full Report 1.1

Within the majority of Ofsted reports there is confusion between Parental Engagement, Parental Involvement, and Stakeholder Engagement (Parental Partnership). Parental Involvement and Stakeholder Engagement (Parental Partnership) are necessary in establishing the confidence needed to develop Parental Engagement. Great care should be taken with these labels so that schools have a clear picture of their progress in each area. 1.1.1 Parental Engagement is defined as parents encouraging and assisting their own child’s learning at home. This range of activity has been shown to have a clear and positive impact on learning outcomes for the children of the parents concerned. Examples from our survey would be parents discussing a school activity, reading with their children, or making regular use of their child’s learning journal to discuss what happens in school. 1.1.2 Parental Involvement is defined as parents contributing to the education of the wider pupil population. This range of activity has been shown to have no positive impact on learning outcomes for children of those parents concerned but, depending on the nature of the activity concerned, a positive benefit for children. Examples from our survey would be parents working in a classroom as a reading partner, being a school governor or member of the PTA. 1.1.3 Stakeholder Engagement is defined as a clearly constructed strategy aimed at building good working relationships with people who are affected by your school or who have an effect on you. In this instance we are looking at Parental Partnership. In itself, Parental Partnership has no direct, positive impact on pupil outcomes. However, when schools

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develop effective Parental Partnership it is easier to communicate with parents and break down the barriers that deter some parents. Examples from our survey would be schools employing parent support workers to establish good relationships with parents unused to the school environment, and parents’ consultation meetings that are flexible enough to take account of work and family commitments. 1.2

We know from decades of established research that Parental Engagement is a successful way of raising pupil achievement and attainment. It therefore follows that Parental Engagement should be a strategy for school improvement.


Ofsted is responsible for inspecting and regulating education and training for learners of all ages. The framework for inspection is a key device for school improvement, therefore a major influence and motivator within individual schools. Within the inspection process Ofsted look for evidence that opportunities for learning are being maximised. In their 2003 review, ‘The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review’, Charles Desforges and Alberto Abouchaar reported: “In the primary age range the impact caused by different levels of parental engagement is much bigger than differences associated with variations in the quality of schools. The scale of the impact is evident across all social classes and all ethnic groups.” Clearly, schools that are not engaging parents in their children’s learning cannot be maximising the learning potential of their pupils.



Parental Engagement is defined as parents supporting their children’s learning in the home. In spite of this the need to engage parents to improve outcomes for pupils was mentioned in only 15.4% of the ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section of the Ofsted reports. In their research of 1996, Sui-Chi and Wilms discovered that: “To be precise, the most significant factor was ‘home discussion’. Regardless of social class, the more parents and children conversed with each other in the home, the more the pupils achieved in school”. Desforges and Abouchaar tell us that: “…’at-home good parenting’ has a significant positive effect on children’s achievement and adjustment even after all other factors shaping attainment have been taken out of the equation.” Clearly, the research tells us that Parental Engagement can be viewed as an escalating set of options. On the first step - the base level - parents ensure that

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their children take education seriously, see school attendance as a priority, and they work hard in schools without disrupting others; those children will make significant progress. In order to convey those messages, parents and children need to talk about school whilst at home. Naturally, if able to do so, the majority of parents will take their engagement in their child’s education further by such activities as reading with them at home, putting maths into the context of daily life, or ensuring that they watch a television programme associated with something they are learning in school. To some degree or other, all parents are capable of this level of engagement. 1.6

54% of the Ofsted reports that did not mention Parental Engagement within the ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section, contained comments within the main body of the report that could have used Parental Engagement as an effective and obvious strategy for improvement. For example, within the section on Leadership and Management:

“Attendance has been below the national average but the school has worked hard to improve it and to reduce persistent absenteeism. Attendance is now at the national average. However, persistent absenteeism is still high, as is the number of fixed-term exclusions. Senior leaders are well aware of this and, together with the governing body, are beginning to consider a range of alternative strategies to deal with the very small minority of students whose behaviour puts them at risk of exclusion.” Yet in the ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section the aims read: i. reducing the number of fixed-term exclusions by developing a range of alternative strategies for dealing with the very small minority of students whose behaviour puts them at risk of exclusion ii. improving further students’ attendance and reducing the level of persistent absenteeism. School 5 Clearly, there must be at least a proportion of the parent population with whom the school had not managed to engage effectively, and the addition of this point could have enhanced the school’s strategy for improvement. 1.7

Parents are mentioned in 45.6 % of the Key Findings. However, in only 18.9% of the reports are Parents linked with learning outcomes for children.


The views expressed by parents within the 45.6 % of reports mentioned above are not always endorsed by the inspection team. Where the opinions of parents and inspectors are the same, comment is usually made within the report. However, when views are wildly different, no comment is made. So where parental opinion coincides with those of the inspectors it is seen to be valued. Where it does not, it is ignored. This sends the wrong message to parents about the worth of their views and value of the time they spent completing the online

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survey. Where parental views wildly differ from those of the inspection team clearly there is a breakdown in communication between school and home about pupil progress, teaching and learning, safety and behaviour, or leadership and management. Perhaps some comment could be made about this as a target within ‘What this school has to do to improve’. 1.9

The Parent View findings could be displayed as a separate table within the report rather than as a comment within each section. This would avoid direct comparison between the views of inspectors and the views of parents.

1.10 If parents are to be taken seriously as partners in their children’s education, the fact that they do not seem to be aware of how well their children are performing should be mentioned in ‘What this school has to do to improve’. 1.11 Too many of the comments relating to parents within the main body of the reports seem to be formulaic and refer to perceptions of bullying and safety. 1.12 There is an over-reliance on generalities such as “parents and carers think very highly of the school”. Such statements usually accompany reports where the school is awarded a ‘good’. Interestingly, as mentioned in para 2.21, in 83% of those schools deemed to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, parents said that pupil achievement and teaching were ‘good’. However, in none of these schools was this mentioned in the Key Findings. 1.13 Within the leadership and management section, positive reference is often made to how the school ‘informs parents of progress’, indeed, the use of the word ‘informs’ is seen across the range of school outcomes within the inspection process. This suggests a very one-sided approach to ‘partnership’ and we need to ensure that Ofsted reports do not appear to give tacit endorsement to practices that restrict the development of relationships between school and home. There needs to be some level of differentiation that leads at some point to parents and carers being recognised as partners involved in an open dialogue. 1.14 There is a lack of consistency in approach and understanding reflected in the majority of Ofsted reports as to what Parental Engagement is, how it can be evidenced, and how it can be used as a vehicle for school improvement. 1.15 Parents are mentioned in just 11.3% of the inspection reports within the ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section. This still leaves 67.7% of all schools that could use Parental Engagement as a strategy for improvement for whom it has not been raised as an issue. Very few schools would not benefit from improved Parental Engagement. Where positive guidance is supplied by Ofsted, it is excellent. One target from a ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section, read: “increasing communication with parents and carers to help them better understand and appreciate school changes and be more actively involved in their children’s learning.” Engagement in Education Ltd 2013

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School 56 1.16 Within the main body of the report, where Parental Engagement is reported correctly, it not only aids the school concerned but others can also learn from their good practice. For example: 1.16.1 “the school helps children to develop communication skills and that they are well supported to assist their learning.” 1.16.2 “The learning journals in the Early Years Foundation Stage are particularly effective in showing parents and carers how well their children are doing.” School 23 1.16.3 “The school runs a helpful programme of events to support parents and carers in helping their children to learn” School 25 1.16.4 “...many read at home with their parents and carers. Questionnaire responses strongly agreed with the view that the school helps children to develop communication skills and that they (Parents) are well supported to assist their learning in the home.” School 53 1.17 Too many reports fail to mention Parental Engagement as a strategy for improvement even when it should be obvious. For example, in one school where the results from the Parent Questionnaire were very positive, the comment for Leadership and Management said: 1.17.1 “Attendance is below average and is adversely affected by extended holidays taken in term time.” And one of the points mentioned in the same school’s ‘What this school has to do to improve’ section reads: 1.17.2 “Raise attainment and accelerate progress in reading in the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1, by adopting a more systematic approach to the teaching of phonics across the school.” School 33 Both of these issues call out for the improvement of Parental Engagement. The quote contained within para 1.16.4 clearly demonstrates how reading issues can be effectively tackled. In 2008 a DfE survey of parents found that 98% of parents want their children to do better at school than they did. Reading is traditionally one area where parents have helped by giving additional practice in the home. In some homes that is not possible, English may be a second language or the home language is a spoken, not written, language. There are many schemes that seek to improve reading Engagement in Education Ltd 2013

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development through language development classes for parents, and story-telling classes. Schools should be encouraged not to accept the status quo and, if necessary, find creative ways of making a difference. 1.18 Some reports demonstrate outmoded thinking by the use of judgemental vocabulary. “The school works well with parents and carers, with a parent support adviser successfully engaging with those who are hard to reach.” School 50 The fact that the support adviser had successfully engaged with the parents concerned demonstrates that they were not ‘hard-to-reach,’ but that the school had not been using the correct strategy to meet the needs of those particular parents.

Key Issue 2: Parent View Parent View: Executive summary A. Parent View should and could be a useful tool to inform school development. Indeed, Ofsted say that this is one of its purposes. Unfortunately, the overall tone of the questionnaire is seen to invite negative responses. It is therefore understandable that school leaders do not like it in its present form. Parents also have concerns about its negativity, which was the main reason the Ofsted Parents’ Panel gave for not completing it. As long as Parent View appears to invite negativity, it has the potential to provide a source of friction and distrust between schools and home. This does nothing to promote the development of Parental Engagement. B. Parent View asks questions that most parents are not equipped to answer. Other questions have no definitive answer, such as: “My child receives appropriate homework at this school.” C. Schools are now expected to engage with parents “including those who might

find working with the school difficult, to achieve positive benefits for pupils.” Although it is relatively easy to introduce measures to ascertain the % of parents completing Parent View who fall into that category, whilst maintaining their anonymity, there is no way of doing so given the current format of Parent View.

D. Parent View needs to be part of a positive strategy to engage parents. All the evidence suggests that neither parents or teachers trust it in its current format. However, the questions within Parent View could be easily modified to make it a useful tool to inform school improvement and Ofsted inspections, which all can trust.

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Key Issue 2: Parent View Parent View: Full Report 2.1

The Ofsted Inspection Framework grade criteria for a school adjudged to be ‘Good’ for Leadership and Management states: “The school works well with parents, including those who might find working with the school difficult, to achieve positive benefits for pupils.” Underlining the expectation that schools need to engage with parents from all social and cultural backgrounds and educational experience.


Neither Parent View, nor the almost identical parental questionnaire that was circulated to parents before inspections (withdrawn and replaced with Parent View in September 2012) has a mechanism for ascertaining if the questionnaire has been completed by “those who might find working with the school difficult” or parents who are more at home within an educational environment.


If Parent View is to be used as a source of relevant and worthwhile information, some mechanism must be found for ascertaining if those parents who traditionally have found it hard to work with schools, are submitting their views.


Parent View is virtually identical to the paper-based questionnaire that it used to supplement and now replaces. This report was written using Ofsted inspection reports that were compiled using the paper-based questionnaires and Ofsted Inspection reports that used Parent View only.


Parent View returns have been historically low since its introduction in November 2011. Parental questionnaire returns have also been low. Many schools today have insufficient Parent View returns for Ofsted to be confident in publishing the survey results.


The questions Parent View currently asks, do not provide Ofsted with any evidence about the quality of Parental Engagement within a school. The questions are better suited to measure attitudes to Parental Involvement. This confusion between Parental Engagement and Parental Involvement is evident throughout the Ofsted reports we have studied.


Parent View is an unpopular tool with both parents and schools but the source of this unpopularity has not been definitively ascertained.


Parent View contains inherent weaknesses that provide little in the way of robust measurement. Opinion is sought on issues that, without guidance, most parents would be unqualified to provide.


Although the Ofsted inspection framework requires schools to work with parents “including those who might find working with the school difficult, to achieve positive benefits for pupils”, there is no mechanism within the questionnaire to ascertain:

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(1) whether any of those parents responding might be from those who find working with school difficult (2) the % of families that have responded (3) the gender of responders (4) the ethnic background of responders (5) if the views of absent parents have been gathered indeed, no way at all of indicating that a reply has been received by any of the groups associated with educational deprivation, nor indeed whether they are parents at all. 2.10 Parents and carers should be viewed as important partners in the education of their children. Ofsted’s emphasis and reliance on Parent View as a means of exploring the quality and extent of Parental Engagement seriously limits meaningful action on behalf of the school, and inhibits parents from offering opinion. 2.11 Ofsted’s own research conducted with their parents’ panel (407 members) in 2010 revealed that the main reason (31% of the panel members) that parents did not give their views during an Ofsted inspection was they “couldn’t find anything negative to say”. Parents evidently see Parent View as an instrument by which they are expected to express negativity about their children’s school. By providing this mechanism, Ofsted is inadvertently perpetuating the ‘us and them’ mentality that has blighted attempts to improve Parental Engagement. 2.12 Surveys are excellent tools for collecting some forms of information and totally inappropriate for collecting other forms. Key indicators of the quality of Parental Engagement should be identified by Ofsted and the onus put on schools to monitor that those indicators are being met, the extent to which they are being met, and the evidence that they are being met. 2.13 Parental response to Ofsted parental questionnaires is expressed as a simple number. We have assumed that each pupil has just one parent/carer and expressed the Ofsted number as a %. Given these circumstances, the average school’s response is 34%. It is far more likely however that many if not most pupils will have more than one parent/carer. This being the case it would be more accurate to state that parental response averaged between 17 – 34%. 2.14

Using the one pupil: one parent formula: i. 23% of schools in our study had responses from a number greater than 50% of the parent population. ii. 25% of schools had responses from a number less than 20% of the parent population. iii. The lowest % return from any one school was 0%. iv. The highest % return from any one school was 90.4%.

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2.15 The average % of parent questionnaires returned for inspection prior to September 2012 was remarkably similar for schools that went on to achieve one of the top three categories. Outstanding = 37.8% Good = 37.7% Satisfactory =38% The average % of parent questionnaires returned for inspection prior to September 2012 for schools that were judged to be ‘inadequate’ was 29%. Whilst we have insufficient data to draw conclusions from these figures, they are certainly worthy of further investigation. 2.16 In March 2012 a request made under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000, revealed that in the four months since its introduction, the total number of responses on Parent View was 19,032. The total number of schools on Parent View was 22,288. We’re reliably informed that, although the total number of responses has increased, it still averages the equivalent of single figures for each school. 2.17 The overwhelming research evidence produced over decades clearly illustrates that Parental Engagement can raise pupil attainment by up to 25%. This is achieved by enabling ‘at home discussion’ about school between parent and child which reinforces the understanding that school is important. However, when the switch from paper questionnaire to Parent View took place, the statement, ‘This school helps me to support my child’s learning’, was removed. This statement had been the most closely associated with the quality of Parental Engagement and its removal suggests a lack of understanding on Ofsted’s behalf about what Parental Engagement is. 2.18 Established research tells us that the relationship between school and home can be an uneasy one. In her study written in 2000, ‘Parents and Schools: partners or protagonists?’, Crozier makes frequent reference to the tensions that exist between parents and teachers. In its current format, Parent View encourages the maintenance of those tensions. 2.19 Ofsted’s own survey, ‘Engagement with the inspection process’, conducted in 2010 by interviews with 407 members of Ofsted’s Parents’ Panel, revealed that when parents were asked for the main reason why they did not give their views during an Ofsted inspection, the most popular answer (from 31% of panel members) was that they “couldn’t find anything negative to say”. We could easily assume from this statement that Parent View is seen by some parents as an opportunity to be negative and as they can’t find anything negative to say, they say nothing. But, if some parents see Parent View as an opportunity to ‘have a go’ at the school, and they are dissatisfied with the school, why are they not completing the survey?

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On the other hand, if some parents see in Parent View as an invitation by Ofsted to make negative comments rather than give their honest views on various aspects of the school, they may decide not to participate in the survey. This is evidenced by the fact that Parent View offers parents the opportunity to register their dissatisfaction anonymously, yet so few have taken the opportunity to do so. Also, even in schools that Ofsted finds to be ‘inadequate’, levels of parental satisfaction can be extremely high. 2.20 Parents from different backgrounds, with different levels of education and different experiences of life, will have different ways of forming opinions about different aspects of their child’s education. However, there are some questions within Parent View to which providing definitive answers is difficult. For example: a. ‘My child makes good progress at this school’ b. ‘My child is well taught at this school’ c. ‘My child receives appropriate homework at this school’ d. ‘This school is well led and managed’ e. ‘I receive valuable information from the school about my child’s progress.’ All require a depth of knowledge and understanding of the education system that is beyond the experience of most parents. Indeed, debates regarding what or what is not an appropriate amount of homework could rage between the most knowledgeable of educationalists. As far as measuring a willingness to promote Parental Engagement in a school, the following approach would be far more useful. f. ‘My child understands what she/he has to do to improve in all subjects’ g. ‘This school provides me with regular opportunities to support my child’s learning.’ h. ‘This school helps me to understand the important role I have to play in my child’s education.’ i. ‘I have received clear information about the school’s approach to home study and information about tasks set are communicated to me in advance.’ j. ‘I am provided with advice about how to help my child consolidate learning.’ k. ‘If ever I am confused about something that is happening in school, I find it easy to phone someone to get an answer.’ All of these are indicative of high quality Parental Engagement, can be ascertained by parents talking to their children, and provide the basis of the all important ‘home discussion’. As they can be answered by all parents, regardless of their educational experience, they are also less likely to be seen as threatening by parents from disadvantaged backgrounds. 2.21 Parent View asks parents for opinions on matters they have insufficient experience to answer. Our evidence from the pre- September 2012 reports found that:

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in 60% of those schools Ofsted said were ‘satisfactory’, the majority of parents who answered the questionnaire said both the quality of teaching and pupil progress were ‘good’ in 83% of those schools deemed to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, the majority of parents said that pupil achievement and teaching were ‘good’ the data from one of the schools used in the previous bullet point , provided survey replies in numbers equivalent to 63% of pupil households within the school. The majority of parents responding to the survey clearly have no way of making sound comparison between either the performance of their own child with children from other schools, or indeed the performance of their child’s school and others.

2.22 If Ofsted wants to encourage Parental Engagement, which we know has a positive impact on learning outcomes, and also ask parents to adopt the role of ‘critical friend,’ which has no impact on learning outcomes, we need to seriously consider how we categorise the various roles we invite parents to play. The situation is confused by interchanging use of the phrases ‘Parental Engagement’ and ‘Parental Involvement’ to describe all aspects of the schools’ relationship with parents. If we simply adopt the phrase ‘Parental Partnership’ as a generic/umbrella term to describe all aspects of a school’s interaction with parents, we could then use phrases Parental Engagement’ and ‘Parental Involvement’ more precisely to describe those functions ascribed to them by Harris and Goodall, and save confusion. 2.23 If we want to gather a genuinely accurate picture of the views of the various parent groups that might exist within a school, there are other methods that could be explored to gather the information. Firstly, by changing the nature of the questionnaire (as discussed in 2.20) a greater number of parents could be encouraged to participate. The expectation on schools to be responsible for the meaningful development of Parental Engagement could be further promoted by placing the onus on schools to provide the evidence of how they help parents to respond to the questions within Parent View. This responsibility would give schools the opportunity to carefully consider the parental aspect of Stakeholder Engagement. 2.24 A key part of the Ofsted inspection is based upon RAISEonline data, which gives specific information about the performance of various groups within the pupil population. This can be further explored by Ofsted as individuals belonging to key groups could be identified, and short phone conversations with those pupils’ parents could be made by the inspection administrator thus ensuring that the entire span of the parent population had been sampled.

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Key Issue 3: Is there a consistency of approach to Parental Engagement from reports produced before September 2012 and those written subsequently? Consistency of approach: Executive summary A. The change of Ofsted’s Inspection Framework has produced no discernible change in the way that Parental Engagement has been reported.

Consistency of approach: Full Report 3.1

Reports written before September 2012 use information gathered from the anonymous, paper, parental questionnaire circulated by the school on behalf of Ofsted. The report usually acknowledges the opinions expressed by parents on each of the 4 major areas of the report.


Reports written since September 2012 no longer use the paper parental questionnaire but rely on those submitted online through Parent View. Where schools have conducted their own survey of parental opinion, these can also be used as evidence.


Since September 2012, where surveys conducted by schools are not available, parental opinion can only be garnered from Parent View. The responses to Parent View are very low and for many schools Ofsted realise that they are too low to be considered. Given that inspections can now be conducted with 24 hours notice, this does not allow parents sufficient time to complete an online questionnaire if they have not already done so.


From our sample, since September 2012, an average of 10.04% of the total number of parents eligible have responded to the online Parent View questionnaire. A sample of equal size taken from inspections within our survey undertaken before September 2012 averaged 33.9% of the eligible parents responding to the paper questionnaire.


As most of the comments about parents within the Ofsted reports we sampled are based on parental opinion on behaviour, safety, the quality of teaching, pupil progress, and leadership and management – and not on Parental Engagement, the fact that these opinions are now in short supply further restricts parental input in the inspection process.


Parents are told that they are free to contact the Ofsted inspection team through the Ofsted administrator should they wish to discuss issues in greater depth. This can be facilitated through face-to-face meetings or via the telephone.


Any variation within those elements in the reporting of Parental Engagement between the pre-September 2012 inspection framework and the post- September

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2012 framework that we have chosen to monitor, was limited at most to a few percentage points and were not considered to be significant. 3.8

We conclude that Ofsted inspectors have been consistent in their approach to Parental Engagement but that in the vast majority of cases this approach shows a lack of what Parental Engagement is, and what its capacity can add to the strategic improvement of learning.

4. Recommendations: The way forward 4.1

Inconsistencies in the interpretation of what Parental Engagement is, and how it can be used as a strategy for school improvement, abound within Ofsted reports. References range from some very good examples of how it can be used positively as a means of transformation, to what can only be described as a second thought and based on what should be considered as outmoded thinking. Whilst we are sure that new additions to the inspection framework are monitored by senior managers, we can find little evidence of this within the reports we sampled. We would like to see: 4.1.1 4.1.2 4.1.3


a systemic review of Ofsted’s understanding of Parental Engagement and its benefits, an understanding by Ofsted inspectors of what Parental Engagement is, a uniform professional development programme for Ofsted inspectors that delivers the concept change that is needed to promote Parental Engagement.

Ofsted inspectors should be able to submit examples of good practice for other inspectors to read so that they can keep themselves informed of strategies that schools are using to successfully promote Parental Engagement. We would like to see: 4.2.1


an online reference resource of good practice, updated by Ofsted inspectors and freely available to all.

Parent View seems to be more in keeping with an attitude that Crozier identified as one that sets parents up as ‘informants’ against teachers, and evidence strongly suggests that this is not a role parents are happy with. It certainly provides the potential for distrust when we should be looking at the encouragement of harmonious relationships. We would like to see: 4.3.1 4.3.2


Parent View re-developed as a tool for meaningful informationgathering to inform school improvement, Parent View re-designed so that it asks questions that parents feel they can answer and therefore respected by all parties for the integrity of its questions and the answers given, a commitment by schools as part of their Stakeholder Engagement strategy to support parental understanding of the issues raised within

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Parent View and to use the opinions submitted as part of their school improvement agenda, Parent View accessed anonymously and securely by parents via password access to the school website with a link that uses their children’s MIS data to inform Ofsted if parents meet the criteria of one of the groups associated with disadvantage.

A first step to the successful introduction of Parental Engagement is an examination of simple barriers and complex barriers. The inclusion of Parental Engagement within the inspection framework has the potential to be one of the greatest aids to the acceptance and adoption of Parental Engagement as a strategy for school improvement, and Ofsted should be roundly applauded for this. However, unwittingly, Ofsted appears to have fallen into the trap of not ensuring that simple and complex barriers were removed before their delivery of the framework started. We would like to see: 4.4.1 4.4.2 4.4.3


Parent View redesigned into what is seen by all parties as a positive tool that does not act as a simple barrier to participation, within inspection reports, the reporting of how Parental Engagement delivers positive impacts for children’s learning outcomes, the acknowledgment of the importance of Parental Involvement and Stakeholder Engagement in the development of Parental Engagement through examples of best practice.

One of the issues we commonly find with CPD in schools is that staff are routinely given ‘training’. The need to ensure that ‘learning’ has taken place is every bit as important in the education of an Ofsted inspector as a school pupil. We would like to see: 4.5.1


greater evidence that professional development provided for Ofsted inspectors with regard to Parental Engagement includes a range of learning styles that enables the absorption of new concepts.

In our bid to close the achievement gap, parents remain our great, untried, free resource. Given all that we know about Parental Engagement, all educationalists and politicians should be working to ensure the effective delivery of Parental Engagement.

End of full report

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Profile for Parental Engagement

Ofsted and parental engagement  

A research paper into the quality of the reporting of Parental Engagement by Ofsted, following the analysis of over 220 Ofsted reports cond...

Ofsted and parental engagement  

A research paper into the quality of the reporting of Parental Engagement by Ofsted, following the analysis of over 220 Ofsted reports cond...