Narissa Bowles, Chair of Governors at Burdett-Coutts School in London, on the importance of giving parents’ and carers’ views to Ofsted
Before I was elected to the governing body at Burdett-Coutts & Townshend Foundation CE Primary School I, like many parents I’m sure, assumed that schools were little more than institutions offering education to children. In fact the choice of primary school for my child was driven mainly by the Ofsted rating, the published results of the school, and word of mouth from other parents in the locale. I visited and went to the open day, and cursorily thought that my child would be happy there – job done.
A sense of community
As a parent I was naive and unaware of how intertwined a school’s community is. I simply thought that my role was to bring my child in every day, follow the school rules and make sure homework was done. I would participate in a few school events and after six years she would move onto another school and we would do the whole thing all over again.
In the time that I’ve been a governor I’ve learnt that schools are their own community – each an interlinked microcosmic society where school leaders, staff and parents and carers work together with one thing in mind; the development and growth of the children.
It’s a community that is defined by having an interest in common. And as the children form that common interest, so do you consciously or unconsciously also become part of that, especially in a school like Burdett-Coutts where the community ties stretch back generations. We have current staff members and parents who went to school here and now their grandchildren attend the school. It’s a wonderful legacy, especially in an inner-city school.
At each school’s heart is the knowledge that everyone involved is there for one thing, the nurturing of children so that they can achieve and be the best they can be. I know I sound like I’m spouting Ofsted, school ethos and vision jargon, but it’s been a revelation to me.
The importance of gathering views
So why is it important to get parents’ and carers’ views? Put simply, it’s because we believe schools and the communities that they represent are unable to work effectively in isolation.
We constantly need feedback from all our stakeholders through an ongoing dialogue that’s open and transparent. That way we know what is and isn’t working. It also helps us find out if parents are aware of our plans for the future and what school leaders are doing, all of which impacts on their children’s future.
How we use Parent View
This is the second year that we’ve used Ofsted’s questionnaire, Parent View. In the first year our headteacher, Mrs Rosetta Dyer, effectively and strategically used the results to highlight gaps in parents understanding of what the school was trying to achieve. Then, when she engaged with parents, she focussed on every opportunity to address the gaps. This year we will analyse the data to see whether the gaps have narrowed or increased, or whether there is a new area that we should be focussing on.
Asking parents for their views not only gives school leaders the chance to gauge how they feel and to know their thoughts (I call it checking the ‘parental barometer’), it also highlights to parents that their opinions do matter. And it’s not just the views of parents and carers, but also the views of staff, children and the local community that are important too. I believe that, over time, asking stakeholders for their views will slowly but surely empower them as well.
Reviewing Parent View
The site itself is easy to navigate, especially if you’re familiar with using the web or a computer for work. For us the registration process proved to be the largest stumbling block in getting responses.
Many of our parents may have smartphones and can use Facebook or WhatsApp, but when confronted with a two-step email verification process to register they were unable to make any headway. Many of them didn’t even have PCs that they could access and struggled to understand that their smartphones could work in the same way.
When we first used Parent View we opened the ICT suite to help with the registration process and it took weeks of manpower to achieve 64 responses that year. This year we used the school’s iPads and the guest accounts, and we roped in our Year 6 leavers and the school council. We achieved almost the same number of responses, but in less than four days and only for about 20 minutes on each day. The children were very excited to be part of it and kept saying how simple it was to log on.
Our parent body have said that they found responding to the questions on Parent View very easy (especially for those where English isn’t their first language).
We’re aiming to get our parents used to filling in Parent View each academic year. And what is great for school leaders about the site is the immediate percentage analysis, which enables us to see pretty quickly the results following responses.
Have a look at Parent View and see how it could help your school.