In the maintained sector, parents have an independent right of access to their child’s educational record. There is no equivalent in our sector and it is up to us to decide how much information about a student we want to release to parents. It is clear that involving parents in their child’s education is positive for all concerned. However, should this openness extend to sharing the results of baseline assessments such as those provided by CEM or GL Assessment? Do parents really need to know these results? Should we just keep these results to ourselves for the purposes of tracking and monitoring of academic progress?
Many schools do not share the results of these tests with their parents and there are many good reasons for this decision. Many teachers I have spoken to fear that sharing this information with parents, who do not fully understand the tests or how they may relate to future GCSE success, is potentially very dangerous. Parents may feel that this data provides a level of certainty about GCSE results that is not the case. Furthermore, a test completed on a single day can never provide a definitive summary of academic ability and cannot replace the professional judgement of teachers. Indeed, in an article in February 2014, the view expressed by one parent reflects the dangers of sharing such information with parents and their children: “My son was told he was heading for a B in GCSE maths and science but a D in French, which was a bit surreal,” says Esther Williams from Esher in Surrey, whose son sat the tests last year. “It seems ludicrous that they could predict that when he had only started French a few weeks before. He was instantly put off the subject – you could see him switching off at the parents’ evening when the teacher was talking.”
Along with a number of schools, at Manchester High School for Girls, we have decided to take the plunge and share some of this data with both students and their parents. However, to do this successfully, I feel that parents must be provided with sufficient information to interpret the results accurately. Doing this face-to-face ensures that information is given appropriately and that the results are provided with the appropriate ‘health warning’ that they are, as described by Kate Fallon, “a snapshot of a child’s ability to answer those particular questions on that particular day”.
Nevertheless, although this is the case, the results provide extremely useful starting points for discussions about a particular child and it is this point which, for me, makes this decision a positive one. For instance, I had a very interesting conversation with one parent who was concerned about a relatively disappointing result which related to her daughter’s understanding of vocabulary. Her daughter read regularly and had always been regarded as extremely able in English. I suggested that she should not change her opinion about her daughter; there are many reasons she may not have scored as well as expected on this aspect of the test. However, several weeks later, the parent came back and said that she had started asking her daughter about what she was reading; what was the story about? What did this particular word mean? What did she enjoy about the book? As a result, she discovered that her daughter was skimming the story and – interestingly – the more challenging words it contained. This information resulted in her taking a much keener interest in her daughter’s approach to reading. This was certainly an example for me of the effectiveness of sharing such data with parents. If the results are provided within a suitable context, not only can our conversations with parents be far more transparent, but we engage our parents with the educational process. This, in turn, can have a hugely positive impact on their ability to interact with us as teachers and with their children. Sometimes what seem to be the most risky educational decisions are the ones worth making.
Helen Jeys is deputy head at Manchester High School for Girls