What parents think of schools

By Caroline Roberts

June 2010

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‘Parent power’ is a phrase that has been increasingly used by politicians and the media in recent years. New legislation, initiatives and a general shift in attitude mean that parents have more influence in how schools are run than they did in the past.

The purpose of this review is to summarise what is currently known about what parents think of their children’s school by reviewing the most recent quantitative and qualitative research into their views. It will also draw on a range of research to identify what parents want and expect from schools.

The review focuses almost exclusively on research carried out in England in recent years.

Key points and conclusions

Despite the emphasis placed on academic results by policy makers, the research contains much evidence to suggest that they are not as important to most parents as is often assumed. Parents frequently say that they value factors such as good discipline, the happiness of their child and good communication between school and home more than exam results.

Ease of communication with the school and the provision of clear, accessible and regular information about their child’s progress is a priority for many parents. A shift towards parents wanting more regular updates electronically is evident in recent surveys. Opportunities for informal, face to face communication are welcomed, particularly among parents of primary school children.

Surveys also show that many parents are keen to be increasingly involved in school life and in supporting their children’s education outside school. They would welcome guidance from schools on how to achieve this.

There is general recognition among parents that there is a need for some form of standardised testing of children as they progress through primary school. However, there is some dissatisfaction with the system of National Curriculum tests currently in place. Parents’ concerns centre on the issue of the stress they can create for children and there are also doubts as to whether the test results are representative of children’s achievements.

Although recent research suggests parents of children with SEN are generally satisfied with the support their child is receiving, provision seems to be patchy and many parents are not yet as involved with their child’s education as they would like to be. Some parents feel that schools do not work with them effectively to support their children and do not take their views into account.

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