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H ow ’ s T h e V i e w ?

How’s the view? Regular readers of this publication will know that an oft-visited theme of Alan Cowley’s work is Parental Engagement. Here he reflects on the new changes to governance within the Education Act 2011, the new Ofsted Inspection Framework, Parent View and how schools may have to adapt to avoid ‘special measures’


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H ow ’ s T h e V i e w ?


ou can’t say that you haven’t been warned. As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, successive governments have gone to great lengths to encourage schools to look more carefully at Parental Engagement as a tool for raising the achievement of all pupils. They have funded research programmes, reviews of research and reviews of best practice, but as a profession we have not embraced the idea as seriously as we need to. The current government appears to have run out of patience. The Education Act 2011 introduces changes to the governance of maintained schools that will ensure that the parent body is the largest single group represented on the school governing body when it is enacted in September 2012. Meanwhile, Ofsted have hit us with a triple whammy. The new Ofsted Inspection Framework has placed Parental Engagement firmly in the camp of Leadership and Management, they have opened the Parent View website, which asks parents to score their children’s school on some quite complex and subjective matters, and finally they announce that before long a ‘satisfactory’ inspection outcome will no longer be good enough. Things are certainly hotting up.

The new Ofsted Inspection Framework has placed Parental Engagement firmly in the camp of Leadership and Management

As one of the county’s leading advocates of Parental Engagement, I have long urged schools to take Parental Engagement more seriously. Part of the problem is that, in the main, attitudes within education as a whole can be slow to change. Quite simply many schools don’t realise that they have a problem because their approach to Parental Engagement is much the same (or even slightly better) than it used to be. The problem is that many schools have not thoroughly grasped the extent to which they had to change, or even perhaps why they had to change. I believe that this is actually an issue that is nationwide and pervades the whole fabric of the institution of education. For many teachers, school is their domain where they are the experts and they do not feel comfortable when they have to justify their actions to nonprofessionals. Sadly for them, the world has changed. In all walks of life, every client group wants a greater say in what goes on. Would these same teachers never think of questioning practice at their local GP if they thought that the treatment they were receiving could be improved? Now the government seems to have run out of patience and has introduced a range of measures that will result in most schools facing extremely difficult situations as they strive to manage the new reality. Let me explain why. Firstly, let’s differentiate between Parental Engagement and Parental Involvement; two terms that some treat as interchangeable but which I believe we should use to distinguish two totally separate functions describing parental interaction with school. In the 2006 report “Do Parents Really Know They Matter?”, written by Alma Harris and

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Many schools have not thoroughly grasped the extent to which they had to change, or even perhaps why they had to change Janet Goodall and published by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, the research team defined Parental Engagement as parents supporting their children’s learning in the home and Parental Involvement as being those activities where parents physically interact with the school, such as being a parent governor, PTA member or reading partner. All the research evidence shows that there is no actual benefit to the performance of a pupil if their parent takes part in Parental Involvement activity. However, when parents are encouraged to practise Parental Engagement, the performance of their children improves by an average of 15%. At the heart of this is the desire to close the achievement gap between high achievers and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. In spite of the best efforts of successive governments, in the words of Mr Gove, the ‘gap’ is becoming ‘a yawning gulf’. Whatever we are doing in our schools, it doesn’t seem to be working. We therefore need to try other measures if we are to change the status quo. Most

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H ow ’ s T h e V i e w ?

parents want their children to do better at school than they did. The most effective type of Parental Engagement is simply to help parents have regular discussions with their children in the home about what they do in school. Unfortunately, in spite of numerous reports and all of the publicity surrounding the relatively benign Parental Engagement, schools by and large failed to engage with their parent body in a meaningful way. The measures introduced by the current government place a greater emphasis on Parental Involvement, something that is altogether harder for schools to manage. I believe that this places a great deal of pressure on the relationship between school and home, especially those schools that have not yet tackled the easier issue of developing Parental Engagement.

It has to be in the best interest of every pupil that there is a harmonious relationship between school and home It has to be in the best interest of every pupil that there is a harmonious relationship between school and home; we should all be pulling together, working towards the same ends. When the Thatcher Government of the 1980s introduced Ofsted, they also introduced a mechanism by which, at the start of every inspection,


parents had the opportunity to tell the lead inspector what they thought about the school at a face to face meeting. In doing so we created a situation where parents were placed in a position of judgement over the school and its teachers. As Crozier points out in her research, this has served to create an atmosphere of distrust between the two groups. My concern is that the latest moves by government, if not managed well by schools, will create further friction and mistrust. Schools must therefore be

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proactive in addressing this issue and given that the new Ofsted Inspection framework started in January 2012, they need to act swiftly. In November 2011, Ofsted introduced a new website called Parent View in which they invite parents to rate their child’s school’s performance in twelve different areas. The first eleven questions ask parents whether they, “Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree, or Don’t Know”, to the following questions and statements:

H ow ’ s T h e V i e w ?

In November 2011, Ofsted introduced a new website called Parent View in which they invite parents to rate their child’s school’s performance 1. My child is happy at this school. 2. My child feels safe at this school. 3. My child makes good progress at this school. 4. My child is well looked after at this school. 5. My child is taught well at this school. 6. My child receives appropriate homework for their age. 7. This school makes sure its pupils are well behaved. 8. This school deals effectively with bullying. 9. This school is well led and managed. 10. This school responds well to any concerns I raise. 11. I receive valuable information from the school about my child’s progress. I think that most parents could be expected to answer six of these questions in a reasonably informed way (Qs 1,2,4,7,8,10). But how do we expect parents to accurately compare: „„progress „„standards of teaching „„appropriate amounts and

frequency of homework „„ the way the school reports to


„„ the leadership and

management of the school with little or no experience of other schools?

From September 2012 a maintained school’s governing body must be comprised of: „„persons elected or appointed

The final question is rather stark in that it does it only asks parents to respond with “Yes” or “No”:

as parent governors „„a person elected as a staff

governor „„a person appointed as a local

authority governor 12. Would you recommend this school to another parent? (Interestingly, there is no reason why this question can’t be asked in the same format as the first eleven questions, “I would recommend this school to another parent”.)

„„in the case of a foundation

And then we come to the changes to the school governing body that come into effect in September 2012. A seismic change in the structure of the governing bodies of maintained schools was introduced in the Education Act 2011. Looking at the various amendments for this clause during the path the Education Bill took to becoming the Education Act shows that the Act differs significantly from the proposed design (a design that even the final amendments show as being intact, meaning that the change was so ‘last minute’ it couldn’t be recorded).

Currently, a medium-sized secondary school could have perhaps four staff governors elected by both teaching and support staff. The local authority might send along at least two governors. Note the reduction in every classification other than parent governors. Parents will form the majority on governing bodies.

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school, a foundation special school or a voluntary school, persons appointed as foundation governors or partnership governors, and „„the headteacher of the school, such other persons as may be prescribed

The issue for schools becomes not if they can get enough parent governors, but who those governors are and what parent groups they represent. The Ofsted framework states that in

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HOW’s The View?

oints discussion p Possible SLT le b n we find relia „„ Where ca to us le ab en information to that suits the create a vision school and context of our e strategy for th then devise a l ta en n of a Par implementatio l ta and Paren Engagement olicy? p Involvement nities tif en y opportu „„ Can we id hi quality, gh to provide high vernor and impact staff, go ? parent training for tif en y funding „„ Can we id ng? relevant traini

order to be judged ‘outstanding’ a school: “has highly successful strategies for engaging with parents and carers, to the very obvious benefit of pupils, including those who might traditionally find working with the school difficult”. A “good” judgement requires that: “The school usually works well with parents and carers, including those who might traditionally find working with the school difficult, to achieve positive benefits for pupils.” Every school has those parents who can always be relied upon to sign up as governors or PTA members, parents who are at home in the school environment and school leaders can often make the mistake of thinking that this constitutes ‘Parental Engagement’. If we are going to seriously address the achievement gap, it is the parents who feel uncomfortable engaging with the school


environment with whom we have to develop relationships; it is those parents that Ofsted will be looking for as evidence of meaningful interaction when they are judging the quality of your Parental Engagement. For most schools this is no easy task. It takes time and a concerted effort to ensure that all parents, especially those who for one reason or another feel uncomfortable when communicating with school. It only takes one member of staff to get it wrong, be it a defensive teacher or a tired receptionist, and the whole policy can be totally undermined. It is for this reason that for the last five years I have been calling for schools to train their entire staff cohort, teaching and support, on the importance of Parental Engagement, and making efforts to have Parental Engagement as a compulsory unit on the curriculum for all Initial Teacher Training courses. You’d think that as an advocate for Parental Engagement, I’d be delighted with the latest legislation, but I’m not. Not that I am happy with the speed of the response that we saw from schools in adopting good practice in Parental Engagement over the last six years or so either; it just wasn’t enough. When I talk to school leaders about the changes, they seem pretty much in the dark about them. Few, if any, have recognised the need for action within their development plans. Effective change requires

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We have a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference to the life chances of pupils a vision, a strategy, a wellplanned training programme and the implementation of a communication strategy that brings all parents on board in a positive way. Some of this requires funding from budgets that may have little slack. As an SBM, the challenge could be to identify additional funding to facilitate what might be the most important programme your school has to undertake. In order to ensure harmonious and productive relationships with parents, most schools and their parents need to be shown the way. Let’s not forget, this is a two-sided issue. We have a wonderful opportunity to make a real difference to the life chances of pupils that the system has been failing for too many years. It would be a tragedy if we missed this opportunity.

Alan Cowley is a consultant with a wealth of experience and expertise in the areas of Parental Engagement, Community Cohesion and School Improvement. To find out more about the services he can offer to your school’s Governors and SLT, please contact him directly at: alan@ engagementineducation.

Parent View - Just4SBMs  

This article first appeared in Just4SBMs magazine, which is a specialist publication for School Business Managers in primary and secondary s...

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