Parents should be given more power to demand more from schools for their children, one of the authors of the Conservatives' general election manifesto said today.
Writing in a blog for the website Conservative Home, Rachel Wolf, the founder of the New Schools Network, a charity that supports people to set up free schools, and a former adviser to Number 10, said that over the next five years, families needed to be empowered to hold schools to account.
She said the Conservatives had already "done some important things" such as ensuring that children were "taught to read using better and more effective methods than a decade ago".
Parent engagement in schools
"But we haven’t empowered the parents to demand more for their children," she continued. "The NHS has been on a 10-year drive to help people take charge of their own health, including developing their own exercise programmes and detailed nutrition guides for children.
"We need the same in education. What should your children know? How do you hold your school to account? What is happening to pupils in other parts of the country?"
Ms Wolf also said that the government could not only measure its success in education by how it helped the most disadvantaged to achieve in schools.
“We have to remember – as we so often fail to do in education – that most people are neither part of the elite nor in troubled families," she wrote.
"We should measure our success in the next five years not only on whether we help the most disadvantaged but on how much better things are for most families in most areas of the country and opportunities that all children have to succeed."
Referring to the changing make-up of Conservative voters, she said parents she had spoken to belonged to “C1 C2 D” socioeconomic categories – groups that encompass lower-middle-class professionals, those in skilled manual work and those in unskilled manual jobs.
These were “the people who just voted Conservative” in December's general election and represented “the parents we have, in my view, most consistently failed in the last decade”.
She said that a recent report by Ofsted into “stuck schools” – those which have remained in a cycle of low performance and consistently received “requires improvement” or “special measures” judgements from the inspectorate – had highlighted how struggling schools can be too quick to blame parents for low standards.
“It was noticeable that many of those stuck schools blamed parental disengagement (Ofsted made clear they couldn’t verify if this were true). I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a school leader where the parents weren’t considered inadequate in some way – either too disengaged or too nagging,” she wrote.
“Of course some schools must cope with suffering children with very troubled families. But most parents are not troubled, and in the case of the Yorkshire school [she had visited] they were neither disaffected or disengaged. They were impotent.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The views and input of parents are already very important to schools. Feedback is actively sought out, and schools rely upon parents to support the learning of their children and participate in school activities.
"There is merit in the idea of finding new ways to further engage with parents and give them a greater stake in their schools. This may be particularly helpful in schools where parental disengagement is an issue.
"The challenge is to translate this aspiration into concrete steps which are genuinely helpful and which do not become yet another mechanistic and bureaucratic burden.
"Perhaps the government could start with the simple step of giving parents better information about schools by reforming performance tables so that they contain a broad range of data rather than a narrow and arcane set of performance measures based on tests and exams.”