Lord Nash is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools.
Earlier this month, we published our Education White Paper, setting out this Government’s vision to transform England’s schools and make sure that opportunity is extended to every single child everywhere, wherever they live and whatever their background.
It is a vitally important document that shows our determination to produce knowledgeable, skilled and confident young people ready to compete with their peers across the world. As a Government, we have high expectations for every child. We know that parents have high expectations for their children, too. But the truth is that for too long parents have been sidelined in our education system, when in reality they should be at the heart of school life.
The White Paper sets out our vision for a system which will empower pupils, parents; school leaders and governors, by making every school an academy. It puts power in the hands of those who know best – teachers and headteachers and their governing boards, rather than bureaucrats and officials. And we are creating a dynamic school-led system where parents have a more significant voice in schools and play an active role in their child’s education.
High quality governance and leadership is especially important as we devolve more power from local and national government to schools – and it is critical to our vision of an autonomous school-led system. We want schools to be able to make the decisions about what is right for them – and this includes the expertise and experience that they need on their governing board. That is why we were clear in the White Paper that those on governing boards should be those with the right mix of skills to help improve schools and support leaders and not people chosen simply on the grounds that they represent one particular group, be that parents, the Local Authority or staff.
Unfortunately, this has led some to suggest the changes around reserved places for parent governors signal an end to parents acting as governors. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We want parents to be more involved in their child’s education – not less. We are not, and never have suggested parents should no longer sit on governing boards, and I know that many parents already play a valuable role in governance, and parents will always be encouraged to be governors or trustees.
Many parents have skills that make them very effective governors. All boards are and will continue to be free to appoint them as they see fit. But we want to enable academies to move from a model where parents are elected or appointed to governing boards for means of representation to one where they are chosen for their expertise. That means that academy trust boards should be able to appoint all their trustees for their skills, insight and knowledge rather than who they represent.
We don’t want parents’ voices to be restricted to only those serving on a governing board; I want parents to be at the very heart of our school system. We want to make sure that all parents are given the channels to make their voices heard, and I want them to feel confident that where the quality of their child’s education isn’t good enough – they have the routes to take action.
That is why our White Paper outlines a range of ways we are enabling parents to be more engaged with their children’s education.
We will introduce a new expectation on every academy to put in place arrangements for meaningful engagement with all parents, so that they not only listen to but also act on their views and feedback. Many multi-academy trusts are already creating parent councils at each academy to engage meaningfully with parents while leaving the board of the MAT itself to focus on fully skills-based governance. This new expectation will compliment more regular surveys of parental satisfaction with their children’s schools, which we will publish. We are also launching a Parent Portal to provide information on school performance, guidance on how the school system works and how to raise complaints. This new website will act as a one stop shop for parents so they know exactly how they can get involved in their child’s education.
We’re also making it easier for parents to navigate their way through the admissions process, and ensuring parents of children with special education needs play a stronger role deciding what support is best for their child.
Let me reassure parents that they not only have a valuable role to bring to governance, but that they are vital to our education system as a whole. Every parent deserves to know that their child goes to an excellent school – where they are being stretched to their full ability – and they deserve to know that where they aren’t satisfied, they are empowered to make their voices heard. I hope as many parents as possible will join us to make that vision of educational excellence everywhere a reality.