Parents must be included in the national conversation about assessment reform

Insights from Parentkind's Parent Voice Report 2021

Kerry-Jane Packman Executive Director, Parentkind

Almost all parents say that a good education for their child goes beyond exam results. When we asked the question for Parentkind’s Parent Voice Report 2021, nearly nine in ten respondents agreed. Last year, our survey gained a deeper understanding of parents’ views about the value of education and the role of assessment. 

Taking a holistic view of parental participation in education, our report reveals that parents are strongly supportive of school and engaged in their child’s learning. Over three quarters agree that the school teaches a curriculum that meets their child’s needs, and almost as many are happy with the quality of education their child receives. Parents instinctively understand the essential role they play in their child’s learning. Almost nine out of ten agree that it is important to support their child when they are preparing for tests, assessments or exams, as well as to help them to make informed career choices. 

The picture becomes more nuanced when we look at what parents view as the role of education. Parents told us that the most important of the skills and capabilities a child should leave primary and secondary school with is self-confidence, which came well ahead of a good knowledge of key subjects in both phases of education. It’s interesting to note that being prepared for further/higher education or for the job market was parents’ second choice at secondary level. 

They also say they want a curriculum that helps to develop skills that are useful outside of school (such as critical thinking and problem-solving), prepares pupils for the future job market and includes vocational subjects for a rounded education. All of these aspects are prioritised above a curriculum that helps develop an in-depth knowledge of certain subjects.

What’s going on comes to the fore when we look at parents’ responses on social mobility. There, we find that nearly two thirds of parents agree that their child’s school should do more to nurture non-academic pupils to develop practical and technical skills. Although parents tend to be optimistic that their child will have a better standard of living than them, they are more likely to be concerned that school is not preparing their child for the modern day job market, which in turn explains why they want that to be a priority focus for the curriculum. They recognise that preparedness for the workplace is a top essential skill that students leaving secondary school need to have. A final dimension to parents’ views on how school will affect their children’s futures is that although more than half rate it, a worryingly large minority of one in ten parents disagree that the school provides good careers advice.

A major influence on parental opinion on education appears to be their child’s wellbeing. We have seen a significant rise in the parent-reported incidence of mental health concerns amongst their children in 2021, compared to 2020. The top five issues parents report their child to have experienced are homework-related stress, anxiety, exam stress, bullying and the pressure to constantly engage with social media. 

When asking parents more broadly about their child’s mental health, over two in five told us they want any additional school funding to be spent on child mental health services, making it parents’ second biggest priority after learning resources. Almost nine in ten agreed that it is important that the curriculum focuses on developing good mental health and well-being, with as many as three in five saying it is “very important.” We also found that exam stress is the top mental health issue that parents are concerned about, above anxiety, homework-related stress and bullying. Over a third of parents say their child has experienced exam stress. Understandably, it is much more of a concern for parents of children in secondary or further education, though experience of it is reported by almost one in five primary parents. Worryingly, parents of a child with SEND are also much more likely to report that their child has experienced exam stress.

During the last two academic years, we asked parents for their views on the use of teacher-assessed grades when the pandemic caused formal exams to be cancelled. This was prompted by our coronavirus surveys, where the arrangements for exams featured highly in areas of concern parents had. They would also consistently worry about their child’s preparedness for exams following the disruption to their learning. With exams expected to return for summer 2022 cohorts, where results will be proportionally lower to counteract the grade inflation of the last two years (but still higher than in 2019), parents will continue to closely monitor the situation. Parents want to see a level playing field for each year group and fairness between cohorts. On top of surveys and polls, Parentkind also ran a focus group to involve parents in assessment reform. Their views were included in the evidence we presented to the Independent Assessment Commission’s New ERA report. 

The overall picture that all of our work with parents gives us is one where they support their school, enjoy a positive partnership with teachers and feel invested and involved in their child’s learning (in fact, many wish to be even more so). However, they recognise the reality of a current school system that doesn’t serve the needs of every child, and leaves too many learners looking to begin further or higher education or enter the workplace when they have already been branded as failures. They sense, too, that change is coming, and are aware that education reforms will encompass assessment.  

Parents want the reassurance that their child’s education is preparing them to become rounded and resilient young people, with an adaptable skillset and an aptitude to thrive as citizens in the workplace of tomorrow. Conversations about a curriculum and assessment process that serves all students are already underway among educationalists. Parentkind will ensure that parent voice is heard and that parents are recognised as a key stakeholder in that conversation.

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