December 11, 2023

Parents and teachers want Ofsted inspections and the school accountability system to be more transparent, well-rounded, and less high-stakes, a major new report into public support for education reform has found. 

The research, commissioned by the Laidlaw Foundation, found that mums, dads and carers are overwhelmingly in favour of a report card-style Ofsted accountability model, along the lines of Labour’s proposed reforms, with only 6 per cent saying they don’t like the idea of doing away with the current “one-word” judgement system. 

As well as conducting polling, the report’s authors, Public First, also spoke to focus groups of teachers and educationalists to explore the on-the-ground reality of meaningful reform to the education system.

The parental desire for more balanced accountability is likely to be a reflection of an appetite for a broader curriculum offer. While parents want schools to maintain a focus on academic outcomes, they are also very keen to see expanded extra-curricular activities and the teaching of “life skills”, such as healthy eating and digital and financial literacy. 

Parents are almost twice as likely (57%) to name preparing children for adult life as an essential task for schools compared to preparation for further academic study (32%).

Some 54% of parents would prefer for their child to go to a school prioritising extra-curricular activities and life skills, versus 37% that prefer that their child goes than to a school prioritising academic achievement and exams.

As a result, the report’s authors have called an extended school day, as well as an injection of funding into the system to pay for it and staff to run it. Importantly, while academy trusts and schools would be held accountable for this extended provision, it would need to be designed in such a way that it would not increase stress or workload for heads and teachers, possibly by bringing in civic groups to run the sessions.

The report had 10 key findings: 

  1. Exams continue to be seen as a cause of needless stress by teachers and parents alike. 
  2. Parents are more open to wide-ranging exam reform than teachers or academy trustees. 
  3. Senior leaders, teachers and parents agree that exams and testing dominate school priorities excessively.        
  4. There is strong appetite among parents and teachers for greater emphasis on education in ‘life skills’ and building character at school…
  5. …but limited clarity over what this looks like. More work needs to be done.  
  6. Parents, teachers, trustees and professionals are all supportive of the expansion of extra-curricular and enrichment activity.
  7. Everyone agrees that it is important for schools to continue to be held accountable.
  8. Parents from higher social groups are more invested in Ofsted grades, but parents across all social groups believe that Ofsted accurately reflects their child’s experiences of school. But they are very open to reform.
  9. Teachers, parents and trustees all want the accountability system to be more transparent, well-rounded and less high stakes.
  10. Only 6% of parents disagree with the idea of a report card-style judgement as a way of achieving it.

The report also included nine recommendations for reform based on the views of parents, teachers and educationists. 

  1. Reform should be built upon an academic backbone of teaching and learning.  
  2. There is a need to define ‘life skills’ and to create a curriculum offer which meaningfully embeds these as part of the curriculum.   
  3. Relatedly, PSHE does not currently deliver what is needed and is should be subject to wide ranging review. 
  4. The co-curricular offer in schools – music, drama, art and sport, should be significantly expanded – and be a key feature of accountability. This is a social justice issue and an expanded offer would need to reach all children, in every school across England. It could transform the health and wellbeing of many of Britain’s poorest students.
  5. There would need to be an extension of the school day in order to facilitate these reforms. 
  6. Reforming the existing structures of accountability, including Progress 8 and Ofsted to reflect this new focus would be both efficient and pragmatic.  Labour’s proposed plans to introduce a “report card”, in place of a single word judgment, in which schools would be held account across much wider range of areas, is popular with both parents and educationists alike. 
  7. Reform to accountability systems should only be done after deep consultation across the sector.  
  8. Reforms would need to be supported by significant additional investment – in money and time.   
  9. There needs to be a “workload test” before the introduction of any such reforms.  

Susanna Kempe, chief executive of the Laidlaw Foundation, said:

“A third of children do not pass their English and maths GCSE at age 16; for children who have received Free School Meals at some point in the last six years, this figure rises to more than half.[1] At the same time, employers complain that new recruits lack core work skills, there is a dramatic rise in mental health issues amongst the young, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and senior leaders find the stress of Ofsted inspections beyond intolerable, with devastating consequences. The current system of accountability is not working. We can and must do better. Parents, carers and the teaching community know what matters. If we start to trust that, and measure that, education can be the extraordinary force for good it ought to be.”

Ed Dorrell, partner at Public First, said:

“The ultimate reward for getting this right could be the creation of a new generation of happy and healthy young people. Often acting through successful multi-academy trusts, primaries and secondaries could once again become community and civic institutions – institutions that are capable, ultimately, of playing a role in helping to rebuild our fractured society and local communities.

“This research suggests that there is huge appetite both within and outside the education system for something akin to this vision, but only if the reforms needed to make it happen are conceived of, funded and delivered well.”


Notes to Editors:

For a copy of the report or to arrange an interview please contact:

Ed Dorrell, Partner at Public First – 07779782583, ed.dorrell@publicfirst.co.uk

Princess Agina, Community and Project Management Executive at the Laidlaw Foundation 07451 206325, Princess.Agina@laidlawfoundation.com

About the Laidlaw Foundation

The Laidlaw Foundation invests in the education of the underprivileged and underrepresented in order to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality and develop a new generation of ethical leaders. It currently supports five programmes: a growing MAT in the north east; a global undergraduate scholarship programme funding 450+ scholars annually; women-in-leadership scholarships at London Business School and Oxford’s Saïd Business School; a trail blazing women scholarship at Trinity college Dublin and Laidlaw Scholars Ventures, a $50m venture capital fund which invests in the start-up enterprises of Laidlaw Scholars.

Website: https://laidlawfoundation.com/


[1] Department for Education (2023). Available: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-gcses-key-stage-4