On 24 October we held an informal engagement event with parents. The event was advertised through our website, social media and targeted at parent groups. Attendees discussed topics within the scope of the inquiry with Committee members and staff.
The following is a summary of comments made during the event, divided into six topic sections. Direct quotes from attendees are included in italics.
Several attendees did not know who RSCs were, even though they had been or were currently parent governors. They were also confused about how Ofsted and RSCs work together.
One attendee did not know how they could contact RSCs and another thought RSCs were only engaged with underperforming schools.
It would be good if parents had a shortlist of MATs to choose from but in reality the RSC often decides which MAT the school will join when they are forced to become an academy.
The burden of RSCs is now very large and parents don’t necessarily know what they do.
The information on RSCs is not necessarily provided but can be found if parents know where to look for it.
Parents are only concerned with RSCs if a school is doing badly. The question is do these parents know the role of the RSC. The answer is a resounding no.
Several attendees said that the governance structure of their MAT was not fit for purpose and that local governing boards are too remote from the trustee board.
Parent governors are important, but don’t get high up enough through the MAT governance structure to make real impact.
It can also be bad having parent governors who are not experienced enough or even competent.
Engagement is key and governors should have an engagement process including parent association, newsletter, website, etc. Communication is key.
Most parents don’t understand the change in governance and some don’t care.
There was some concern that the larger MATs are too far removed from parents in the local area.
With the absence of local authorities, parents felt that they needed to be more involved in the education process.
We need more systematic routes for parents to get involved at different levels of the education system - class, key stage, governance, MAT level. Parent forums are a good way of achieving this.
Barriers to engaging parents include: time, disadvantaged background, mystified by the education system and disincentives from other parents.
Engaging parents is hard work but it is vital that there is local oversight.
The impression is that academy authorities are “playing lip service”. Parents are given the chance to have their say but by then decisions have already been made.
Many attendees said that MATs have expanded too quickly and that schools have been coerced into joining without proper information.
One attendee’s school was in a state of limbo as the school had been ordered to become an academy but had not yet found a sponsor. The local authority was not involved and they said the RSC would not speak to parents. The parent was worried that the school would soon be unable to run as parents are pulling their children out of the school and teachers are leaving.
The lack of local authority involvement was also a cause for concern as MATs outsource certain departments, such as human resources.
Leaving a MAT seems impossible. Parents would not know how to go about this unless the MAT was failing.
Several parents remarked they did not know who the CEO of their child’s MAT was.
Some attendees felt that the senior leadership team was recruited to reflect the MAT’s ethos but they said this was not necessarily a bad thing, especially where schools were previously very poorly managed.
Ofsted should be able to inspect and assess MATs as a whole and not just as individual schools.
Representation at the local level is a token because the power actually lies at a higher level
Parents don’t always understand what makes a good MAT. Speed of growth is not necessarily something parents are aware of. If they don’t understand this it can make it difficult for them to engage.
Transparency is really important and MATs work well where the data is transparent and parents can make informed decisions based on it.
Genuine engagement means giving information to parents in a way that they can understand.
27 February 2017