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Parents see reform as 'series of shams'

Parents see government education policies as a sham despite official "propaganda" aimed at persuading them of their merits, according to the author of a new survey.

Cedric Cullingford, professor of education at Huddersfield University, says he was astonished by the strength of feeling among parents questioned on policies including the national curriculum, examination performance tables and greater choice of schools.

The survey, based on interviews with 65 parents from two regions of the country, revealed "a strong antipathy to the idea of market forces, the main thrust of government policy," Professor Cullingford says.

"All those ideas that should appeal to parents - their freedom to make choices, to have greater influence and greater knowledge - are perceived as a series of shams," he concludes in an outline of the survey in a new book, Parents, Education and the State.

The study appears to support some findings in a survey by academics at Keele University which suggested parents were unimpressed by moves to give them greater choice over their children's education. The main factor affecting such choices, it found, was proximity to the child's home, while examination results were much further down the list.

But the Keele survey also found that parental support for national tests had doubled since earlier research.

Professor Cullingford believes his survey reflects growing concern about the current direction of education policy. A recent meeting of the Primary Education Study Group, representing academics, parents, teachers and governors, was unanimous in its condemnation of government reforms, he says.

The new survey found parents regarded the national curriculum as disruptive and time-consuming. National tests were "a complete irrelevance," most despised examination performance tables, and school inspections by the Office of Standards in Education were meaningless to them.

New-style school reports brought in under the government reforms with information about test scores were equally unpopular. Parents found them unhelpful and longed for the more personal comments of older reports.

Parents interviewed for the survey last year took the idea of choice seriously and sometimes tried to avoid poor schools. But in practice, choice was severely restricted and often depended on having private transport to reach another area.

Professor Cullingford told The TES: "Despite all its propaganda, far from convincing parents, in almost every case they do not believe what they are being told.

"They hate league tables and think they are destructive and meaningless. They admire teachers and think they are doing a good job in the face of constant harassment by the Government.

"But they are becoming more and more angry about the way things seem to be getting more difficult for teachers to do the things they are good at - taking an interest in individual children, diagnostic assessment and being excited by creative opportunities.

"What the survey says is that we are going to be in dire trouble in 10 or 15 years unless government policies change. We will have lower standards and less motivated teachers and pupils."

Parents, Education and the State, edited by Prof Cedric Cullingford, is due to be published this summer by Arena.

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