Page last updated at 15:58 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 16:58 UK

Parents doubt school cards plan

By Gary Eason
BBC News website education editor

children making music
The government is keen to include wellbeing in an overall school rating

Parents like the idea of report cards rating schools, especially if they include "soft" measures such as happiness, research suggests.

But they are "very cynical" about the willingness of England's education system to give objective information.

They are "extraordinarily suspicious" about jargon being used to hide bad news, research for the Department for Children, Schools and Families found.

Ministers plan to bring in report cards rating schools on a wide range of data.

These are still being discussed but would probably include an overall single grade, such as A to E.

League tables alternative

The expert group of head teachers and educationists which recommended scrapping the science Sats was also asked to consider the report cards, and backed the government's approach.

How nice pupils and teachers are
How health-oriented a school is
School stability - e.g. staff turnover
Flexibility in dealing with crises such as bullying or drugs

"DCSF should then actively promote the School Report Card as an alternative to achievement and attainment tables as the focus of public accountability for schools," it said.

The study of parental attitudes, School Accountability and School Report Card: Qualitative Research, was carried out for the department by Counterpoint Research.

It involved extended discussions with six groups of mothers and two of fathers of children in primary and secondary schools.

'Very angry indeed'

The report says the parents had contradictory views about school information and accountability.

Parents suspect that any piece of jargon will be used to hide or spin information

"Overall, they had a very high level of suspiciousness; many claimed that they would end up being blamed for any 'bad' decisions and that schools and the educational establishment would 'spin' information and close ranks and support one another in any crisis.

"This meant they were extraordinarily suspicious about anything they perceived as jargon in this context - 'hiding', 'trying to confuse us' and became very angry indeed, very quickly, when confronted with too much of it."

They also felt that there was precious little "real" choice - and what they really wanted to know was not "what's the best school?" but "what's the best school for my child?".

'Clear language'

They felt information on academic performance was readily available but not the sort of information they wanted, which included being able to chart schools' progress on these wider "soft" measures.

"They should be put in extremely clear, absolutely transparent, honest and 'upfront' language: these parents suspect that any piece of jargon will be used to hide or spin information and their reactions to terms such as 'narrowing gaps' and 'widening outcomes' was strong and very negative."

The parents "struggled to understand" two very basic, draft report cards provided by the department - one with more explanatory information than the other.

"The overall perception was that they had to work very hard indeed for information which they didn't know how to use."

The researchers concluded that report cards could be very valuable.

"However, in the current schools culture, parents are very cynical about the goodwill to produce and disseminate such a thing."

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