UK

Restoring ‘fractured’ contract between parents and schools likely to take years

Secondary schools are noticing more absences than normal on Mondays and Fridays, the inspectorate suggested (David Jones/PA)
Secondary schools are noticing more absences than normal on Mondays and Fridays, the inspectorate suggested (David Jones/PA) Secondary schools are noticing more absences than normal on Mondays and Fridays, the inspectorate suggested (David Jones/PA)

Restoring the “fractured” social contract between families and schools – where parents ensured their children were in class daily – could take years, England’s education watchdog has warned.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said the impact of the broken contract can be seen in “lower school attendance, poorer behaviour and friction between parents and schools”.

The annual report, which looks at the state of education and social care in England in the 2022/23 academic year, suggests some parents are “increasingly willing to challenge” school on their policies and rules.

In her final report as chief inspector of Ofsted, Ms Spielman raised concerns about the “troubling shift in attitudes” in education since the pandemic.

The attitudes of some parents are “falling out of alignment with those of schools”, and there is “less respect for the principle of a full-time education” across society, the Ofsted boss said.

She said the unwritten agreement – which sees parents get their children to school every day and respect the school’s policies – has been “damaged”.

“Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that this contract has been fractured, both in absenteeism and in behaviour,” Ms Spielman added.

The Ofsted chief warned: “Restoring this contract is vital to sustaining post-pandemic progress, but is likely to take years to rebuild fully.”

The watchdog’s report highlighted the “stubborn problem” of pupil absences and worsening behaviour in many schools since the pandemic.

Secondary schools are noticing more absences than normal on Mondays and Fridays, the inspectorate suggested.

The report said: “Far too many children are missing school far too often and schools are struggling to reverse this trend.

“This is likely to have a significant effect on children’s progress and outcomes.”

Pupils and teachers are also seeing “more disruptive behaviour” in school following the pandemic, which is affecting their ability to learn or teach, Ofsted has warned.

“This is especially true of persistent low-level disruption in class, such as pupils refusing to do as they are told, talking back to teachers or using social media in class,” according to the report.

Ms Spielman reflected on the challenges and changes she has seen during her seven years at the helm of the education watchdog in her final annual report.

Academy trust leader Sir Martyn Oliver will take over as Ofsted’s chief inspector at the start of January.

Ms Spielman said: “The pandemic, with all its disruptions, has of course overshadowed this period and left a troublesome legacy.

“This is evident not just in the educational and developmental gaps that some children are still struggling with – but also in a fracturing of the traditional social contract between schools and families.

“We see its impact in lower school attendance, poorer behaviour and friction between parents and schools.”

In her final annual report, the Ofsted boss suggested that some parents are increasingly “undermining discipline codes or ignoring uniform requirements”.

The watchdog has faced repeated calls to revamp its school ratings system – which uses one-word judgments – this year following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry in January.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

Her death is the subject of an inquest due to start next week.

A survey by the NAHT school leaders’ union has suggested that the majority of school leaders believe headline grades awarded by Ofsted are unreliable.

Ms Spielman acknowledged the “wave of publicly expressed discontent” in the annual report, but she said the issues could not be resolved by Ofsted alone.