Missing Voices in the Education System

Jun 18, 2021

This is a copy of a letter sent on the 2nd of June by Learning With Parents, along with 20 other organisations including PEN to Gavin Williamson to ensure parents are at the heart of Covid recovery plans. Currently, schools are being asked to do too much on their own. We believe now is the time to create an education system, rather than a schooling system, that works for all.


Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
20 Great Smith Street


Dear Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP,

We are writing to you with concern over the missing voices in the education system: parents and particularly those parents experiencing disadvantage. We believe that any long-term plan to make sure all pupils have the chance to recover from the impact of the pandemic must focus on supporting parents as well as supporting schools.

Why does this matter?

A key focus of the covid recovery plan is narrowing the disadvantage gap. We know from IFS data (2010) that although schools are responsible for 14% of the disadvantage gap at age 11, 49% can be attributed to factors involving parents. We will only see this gap narrowed and a fair education system created for all if we consider parents as part of the solution.

We know that parental engagement in children’s learning from an early age has a significant effect on educational achievement and continues to do so into adolescence. However, the emphasis in recent years has been disproportionately focussed on the role of our schools.

We believe that schools are being asked to do too much on their own and that coming out of the pandemic we have an opportunity to create an education system, rather than a schooling system, that works for all. We are at an unprecedented moment of opportunity for this change. The last year has shown a rebalancing of involvement in the education system and we believe that there is an opportunity to
shape the future of education for the better.

What is needed?

  • Parental engagement in learning prioritised ahead of parental involvement in schooling. While many schools are focused on involving their parents in school life, it is the interactions that take place directly between a parent and a child, often at home and behind closed doors, that most influence a child’s life chances. In the past, this has been seen as too difficult to influence, but new approaches spurred on by the pandemic and new technology are changing this.
  • Increased parent voice in the education system. When 1900 parents were asked who they think influences education policy, they ranked parents 8th and children 12th (bottom). Parents felt that Ofsted have the biggest voice in influencing policy. In contrast ParentKind report that 56%2 parents surveyed would like a say in their child’s education at government level. It is imperative that parents are seen as contributors to and not recipients of change in order that we build a system that puts learning in and out of school at the heart.
  • Focus explicitly on parents facing disadvantage. Many policymakers are themselves parents, leading them to draw upon their own experiences. Policy decisions that treat parents as a homogenous group can lead to approaches that only work for some parents, unintentionally widening the disadvantage gap. In contrast, solutions designed for parents facing disadvantage also work for their peers, ensuring that all children benefit.

One example of this arose in the National Tutoring Programme. It is our experience that many parents still believe that this is just available for the privileged few and do not know how or whether their children can access support.

Our offer to you: We want to work with you to narrow the achievement gap by engaging and working with parents. We are a coalition of organisations that have expertise, insight and evidence on how to engage parents meaningfully in learning, specifically parents experiencing disadvantage, and would like to work with your teams to translate this into specific policy actions.

We would like to help you create lasting change through your covid recovery work by putting parents, particularly those facing the most disadvantaged, at the heart of a fairer education system for the future.

Kind regards,
Tom Harbour, CEO, Learning with Parents
Sam Butters, Co-CEO, Fair Education Alliance
Tracy Jackson, Head of Early Years, Save the Children UK
Janet Davies, Managing Director, Parental Engagement Network
Jaine Stannard, Chief Executive, School-Home Support
Anna-Louise van der Merwe, Director, Foundation Years Trust
Bea Stevenson, Head of Education, Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health
Sally Smith, CEO, Peeple
Sonya Christensen, Engagement and Inclusion Manager, Children's University
Jon Smith, CEO, Pobble
Sophie Linington, Deputy CEO, Parent Zone
Abigail Shapiro, Co-Founder & Executive Director, The Tutor Trust
Nick Bent, Co-Founder & CEO, The Tutor Trust
Julie Westrop, Director, A2E2 Education Ltd - Cafes for All
Evie Keough, CEO, Boromi
Douglas King, Assistant Principal, Flipped Tuition
James Whitaker, CEO, Parent Hub
Sarah Sewell, Chief Executive, Yes Futures
Paul Campbell, CEO, Capture Education
Sonia Stephens, Parental Engagement Coordinator, School Home Support
Darius Bluck and Vanessa Green, Co-founders, The Parents' Guide to
Gina Cicerone, Co-CEO, Fair Education Alliance
Sera Kadem, CEO, Brainy Maths
Paul Rose, Managing Director, YouTeachMe

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