Parents are the experts, let’s listen to them on exams and assessment

It's time for the voices of parents to be heard when it comes to assessent

Kerry-Jane Packman Executive Director of Programmes, Membership and Charitable Services, Parentkind

Whoever ends up with the education brief after this summer’s Conservative Party leadership contest, calls for assessment reform will never be far from their in-tray. Not only does there seem to be a growing consensus from education policy-watchers, we are provided with ever-clearer indications that parents have serious concerns and that the way their children are assessed needs an overhaul.

At Parentkind, we regularly poll parents about a range of issues, including our Annual Parent Survey that seeks the views of thousands of parents each year and tracks their responses. Our 2020 survey found that three in five parents were worried about their child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health at school and two in five children had experienced stress related to homework. The following year, the report found that 35% of children had experienced stress related to exams and 53% of parents reported that they were worried about the pressure that school placed on their children.

Quite simply, if parents and their children are worried, those making policy decisions should be worried too. Parents are the key stakeholder in education, and they will be best placed to understand how the current system might have negative implications for their children. When parents speak, we must listen.

Of course, our education system wasn’t designed to deal with the systemic shock of Covid-19. School closures due to the pandemic forced exams to be cancelled and meant teacher assessments were deployed to build a picture of educational performance and the performance of schools. Despite the fact that most parents were confident that exams would go ahead in 2022, parents preferred method of assessment was teacher assessed grades, with 76% of parents stating this to Parentkind. Covid-19, and its requirement for changes to assessment has led to a situation rather like the Wizard of Oz being revealed behind a curtain. Parents now know much more about what is taught and how it is assessed. Despite a return to normal exams this year, parents now know that a different way is possible.

Parents consistently tell us that education is more than just academic attainment. A report we published last year highlighted that 88% of parents consider that a good education for their child goes far beyond exam results. Parents want to see self-confidence, preparedness for the world of work or further study. They want to see improved resilience and problem-solving skills. All of these were things listed by parents with a wish to have them achieved by the time young people leave secondary school. Any new system of assessment would do well to consider this, rather than focussing narrowly on academic achievement.

We believe it’s fair to say that there is a feeling among parents that the assessment system is currently not capturing all the important skills that children and young people require. As things are, assessments provide a very narrowly-framed snapshot. Parents tell us that they want assessment to be captured with a wide-angled lens, taking in the full texture and colour of their child’s achievements. They want to see assessment reflect their child’s growth as a well-rounded and balanced human being.

Of course, the road to this type of assessment starts with a well-rounded curriculum that values arts, music, drama and sports alongside traditional academic subjects like English, Maths and the sciences. In Parentkind’s Parent Voice Report 2021, almost nine in ten parents prioritised introducing a broad range of subjects into the curriculum. It’s clear that parents believe that schools should start to incentivise a broader range of subjects to enable children and young people to receive an education that is more well-rounded and comprehensive. Only then will we allow children and young people to explore and develop their creativity and vocational skills alongside the rigours of traditional academia.

What’s needed is a conversation, and we’re just at the start of it. It is imperative that parents’ concerns are heard and addressed. After all, whether on the subject of assessments or wider education, parents are experts on their children. We all recognise and know how important education is. However, opening up the debate on assessment reform in order to improve it will only help children and young people. We’ll keep working to make sure that in that debate, parents are heard loud and clear.

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