Ofsted and parental engagement

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A research paper into the quality of the reporting of Parental Engagement by Ofsted, following the analysis of over 220 Ofsted reports conducted between September 2012 and March 2013. The report contains recommendations for Ofsted's inspection process, the training of inspectors and for the development of Parent View.


  • Engagement in Education Ltd 2013 Page 1

    An investigation into Ofsteds approach to Parental

    Engagement within the inspection frameworks

    introduced in January and September 2012

    18 March 2013

    Alan Cowley and Delia Cowley

    Engagement in Education Ltd,

    to be published on web domains:



  • Engagement in Education Ltd 2013 Page 2


    Foreword, Forewarned & Forward 3

    Methodology 7

    The Investigation 8

    Key Issue 1: specific and implied reference within Ofsted

    reports to Parental Engagement as a relevant strategy

    for school improvement. Executive summary 9

    Key Issue 1: specific and implied reference within Ofsted

    reports to Parental Engagement as a relevant strategy

    for school improvement. Full report 9

    Key Issue 2: Parent View. Executive summary 14

    Key Issue 2: Parent View. Full Report 15

    Key Issue 3: Is there a consistency of approach to

    Parental Engagement from reports produced before

    September 2012 and those written subsequently?

    Executive summary 20

    Key Issue 3: Is there a consistency of approach to

    Parental Engagement from reports produced before

    September 2012 and those written subsequently?

    Full report 20

    Recommendations: The Way Forward 21

  • Engagement in Education Ltd 2013 Page 3

    Foreword, Forewarned & Forward

    It is now almost 10 years since the publication of Charles Desforges and Alberto Abouchaars landmark review of literature looking at the impact of parental involvement, parental support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment. The document demonstrated beyond doubt what research had been telling us for years: that when parents support and encourage their childrens learning, sometimes through the most subtle interventions in the home, the benefits to pupil achievement are massive right across the ability range and especially so in pupils from working class backgrounds. In spite of that, and several other government-backed initiatives aimed at promoting the benefits of Parental Engagement, little progress has been made the achievement gap continues to widen hundreds of thousands if not millions of pupils have been denied access to the life chances that could have been theirs if those of us in schools had taken some form of determined action to adopt and apply the research advice. Were not pretending that the successful promotion of Parental Engagement isnt complex. On the contrary, the initiative is plagued by a host of deeply embedded fears, attitudes and assumptions on both sides. One thing is clear, whatever weve been doing hasnt worked and as the professional in the parent/school relationship, it is incumbent upon schools to take the lead. The latest throw of the dice and in our opinion, potentially the most promising - has been the inclusion of Parental Engagement in Ofsteds new inspection framework. There is no doubt that Ofsted have an excellent record when it comes to providing motivation within the education system. Our only concern is that as individuals drawn from the education system, Ofsted inspectors might be so imbued with the prevalent view within schools - that parental engagement is about schools passing information to parents and involving them in a range of social and money-raising functions that they inadvertently maintain the status quo rather than guide schools to a strategy by which all parents could engage in home-based activity that have a clear and positive impact on children's learning outcomes. In May 2011, we started an online campaign in response to Ofsteds consultation document

    on the new inspection framework, and in particular the way that Parental Engagement was

    featured in the draft framework. Whilst we were obviously delighted that at long last Parental

    Engagement had been mentioned specifically within the draft framework, we were a little

    concerned about the wording of the criteria relating to it.

    The draft framework underlined the importance of meeting the needs of all pupils; indeed,

    we counted 9 such references. No one could argue with this objective. However, when it

    came to parents, the draft framework said that inspectors would be looking at " how well the

    school ensures equality of opportunity for all its pupils, promotes the confidence and

    engagement of parents...". We thought that the omission of the word all with regard to parents

    was a significant one and seemed to crystallise all that was wrong in educations approach to

    Parental Engagement. The illogicality of developing an education system that caters for the

    needs of individual pupils, yet fails to recognise that when those pupils grow to adulthood and

    have children, these new parents would still have a range of needs, surely cannot escape policy


    Our campaign involved school leaders, officers in professional associations, the CEOs of

    educational trusts and charities, and politicians. What part it played in the shaping of the

  • Engagement in Education Ltd 2013 Page 4

    framework, we will never know but we were delighted that the published framework introduced a

    gradient of Parental Engagement development.

    We have never yet encountered a school leader who did not think that they were doing Parental

    Engagement well. Weve met hundreds however, who, after attending one of our courses,

    realised how woefully inadequate their understanding of Parental Engagement had previously


    When we received numerous requests from readers of our Parental Engagement website

    about Parent View, Ofsteds online survey, we decided that now was the time to investigate.

    Within this report we will use 3 terms when describing schools partnerships with parents.

    The terms Parental Engagement and Parental Involvement have historically been seen as

    interchangeable, and indeed, within the education system of the USA, still are, but in 2008,

    Alma Harris and Janet Goodall, in their research ,Do Parents Know they Matter?

    commissioned by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, made the following


    Parental engagement is a powerful lever for raising student achievement in schools. Where parents and teachers work together to improve learning, the gains in achievement are significant.

    Parents have the greatest influence on the achievement of pupils through supporting their learning in the home rather than supporting activities in the school. It is their support of learning within the home environment that makes the maximum difference to achievement.

    Many schools involve parents in school-based or school related activities. This constitutes parental involvement rather than parental engagement. Parental involvement can encompass a whole range of activities with or within the school. Where these activities are not directly connected to learning they have little impact on pupil achievement.

    Parental engagement is heavily linked to socio-economic status, as well as parental experience of education. Parents of certain ethnic and social groups are less likely to engage with the school. Schools that offer bespoke forms of support to these parents (i.e. literacy classes, parenting skill support) are more likely to engage them in their childrens learning.

    (The underlining and different font size are not part of the original document and are used by

    the authors of this report purely as a means of emphasis to illustrate two points. Within the

    wider focus on Parental Engagement all 4 points are of equal importance.)

    In making this vital distinction, Harris and Goodall provided us with a clear way forward: in

    terms of raising achievement, it is Parental Engagement that makes the difference and it

    would make good sense for schools to focus their energies in this area.

    Naturally, given traditional attitudes towards school/home and home/school realtionships,

    Parental Involvement provides another interface through which relationships can be built

    with some parents, but by definition not those who lack confidence in their relationship with

    their childs school. This is why Stakeholder Engagement is also important. This refers to a

    process of ensuring that as an institution you can demonstrate a meaningful strategy that

  • Engagement in Education Ltd 2013 Page 5

    enables you to consult with people who are affected by your school, or who have an effect

    on you. Amongst these are parents. As part of your strategy you will have addressed

    barriers to participation a pre-requisite to Parental Involvement, and more importantly,

    Parental Engagement.

    Let us remind ourselves of two issues and four important points:

    1. We know that many of the barriers to the establishment of Parental Engagement lie


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