In October 2016, we attended the Education Select Committee’s parent consultation event on Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) along with a group of parents. We were glad of the opportunity to present a parental voice to government, and you can see our summary of the event and the topics discussed that we published at the time.
Following the event, the Education Committee has now published its report, which includes its recommendations to government policy-makers. We are delighted to see that the feedback from us and other parent voices has had an impact on the committee and forms key parts of its conclusions, and we are keen to work with all concerned parties to see them realised.
The committee's conclusions and recommendations
We are happy to see that the committee takes seriously the importance of parental engagement to education, recognising that parents are key stakeholders in their child’s schooling. Many of the decisions made by academies and the MATs that oversee them have an impact on parents and so parents do have a right to have an input.
The committee suggests government should clarify the division of responsibilities between regional schools commissioners (RSCs) and Ofsted in a way that is comprehensible to schools and parents. Parents said MATs are not sufficiently accountable to their local community and they feel disconnected from decision-making at trustee board level. There is too much emphasis on ‘upward’ accountability and not enough on local engagement. MATs should be seen to be accountable to the communities in which their schools are located. There must be more engagement with parents and clarity around the role of local governing boards.
Issues raised during the parent consultation event
- Parent governors – 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. Engagement with parents is key and governors should have an engagement and communication process including the parent association, newsletter and website.
- MATs relationship with their local community and parents – there is 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. MATs 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. Transparency is really important and MATs work well where the data is transparent and parents can make informed decisions based on it.
- Parents don’t always understand what makes a good MAT – Genuine engagement means giving information to parents in a way that they can understand.
We welcome the committee’s recommendation that MATs need to engage more effectively with local communities, and in particular with parents. We believe that this can firstly be addressed by all academies having an effective parent council or parent voice group, but that parent views need to be heard at local governing body level as well as MAT board level.
We wish to go further and suggest that RSCs and local authorities also need to effectively engage parents and local communities in the education landscape at this level too.
As a leading champion for parents in education, PTA UK would welcome the opportunity to work with all invested parties to increase the transparency, accountability and ultimately performance of all schools, so that all children have the best chance in reaching their potential.
See also the committee's summary and full report.