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Appeal for inspection involvement

Geraldine Hackett reports on a new study suggesting parents would welcome a wider remit for some issues from OFSTED.

Parents would like to be able to talk in confidence to the inspectors due to investigate their child's school, according to the first research to focus on their views of the new compulsory inspections.

While parents do meet the leader of the team before the inspection takes place, some felt they could not raise specific issues in public. The survey of parents at 18 secondary schools carried out by Research and Information on State Education found that some had wanted to report on the poor teaching methods of individuals; inappropriate behaviour by some teachers, or their use of foul language or sarcasm.

The regulations request parents at the meeting with inspectors "to couch their comments in general terms as far as possible to avoid naming individuals".

However, a spokesman for the Office for Standards in Education said there was nothing to stop parents from setting out their concerns in a letter and handing that to the lead inspector.

Parents also have the opportunity to state their views using questionnaires that are sent out prior to the inspection. However, the forms are returned to the school, and parents were uncertain about the confidentiality of the information they provided.

The survey found that 77 per cent of parents said they had received the questionnaire. Most returned the questionnaire, but only about a third attended the parents' meeting. Parents wanted more notice of the time and date of the meeting: single parents, in particular, had problems attending evening meetings.

In one school, a parent noted that the meeting was dominated by a white, middle-class majority with no ethnic minorities represented, despite the school's large intake of diverse ethnic minority groups.

Nearly all the parents who attended reported that the inspectors were interested in their views.

Less than a quarter of parents obtained the full report of the inspection - schools are required to send parents a summary. Some objected to having to pay for it. (The school can charge for the cost of producing the report).

The survey found that parents wanted more information about the meanings of some parts of the report. Many parents, for example, are unsure of what statements such as "satisfactory, but below the national average" actually mean, says the survey.

There were complaints that heads had played down the report. One said: "Where the comment was made that the school was satisfactory, he indicated that it was really excellent. In some areas, the school is below average and that was not explained."

Only around a quarter of parents in the survey said they were surprised by any of the content of the report. Most parents said the report confirmed their opinion of the school. One parent complained that the report was full of statistics, yet offered very few explanations for the number of exclusions.

The majority of parents wanted a further meeting with inspectors after the inspection. One parent wrote: "Education is very complicated, with various levels being quoted. That is, it would be clearer to have the report verbally as well, and also for parents to ask questions raised by the report."

The following themes emerged from the questionnaire concerning aspects of school work which parents felt were important, but which were not the subject of inspection: * homework; * equal opportunities; * special educational needs; * standards of education; * bullying; * teachers who were not performing well; * sports participation; * examination results.

On the question of exam results, one parent wrote: "Emphasis on high exam results can be counter-productive and cause too much stress in teachers and children."

The research is based on 600 questionnaires returned from parents at 18 schools, and on interviews with 20 parents from 11 schools.

The OFSTED Experience: The Parents' Eye View : Some parents' experience of OFSTED secondary school inspections is available at Pounds 6 plus 50p postage from RISE, 54 Broadwalk, London, E18 2DW

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