Schools failing to give parents the true facts

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The Independent Online
Most school prospectuses and annual reports are flouting the law, according to a survey from the Consumers' Association published today.

Just one out of 80 primary and secondary schools contacted by the association sent a prospectus and governors' annual report for parents which met all the legal requirements.

Headteachers said in response that the association would be better employed deciding how to cut back the excessive and bewildering amount of information that schools now had to give parents.

The survey says schools are missing out even the most basic information such as exam results, admissions policies and the type of school. Four schools provided no information in their prospectuses about GCSE and A- level results. A third of the secondary and half of the primary schools failed to give details of national test results. In addition, around 40 per cent of primary school governors' reports did not give test results and one in four secondary reports did not give absence rates. One report observed only two legal requirements.

Overall, 130 out of the 141 documents received did not comply with the law.

During the last decade, the Government has made regulations stating that schools must include information in their prospectuses and governors' annual reports about issues ranging from sex education and truancy to the destination of school leavers. These are summarised in the Parents' Charter.

Philip Cullum, the association's policy manager, said: "Our findings are extremely disappointing. There has been little sign of improvements since we conducted similar research three years ago - non compliance is widespread. Parents simply aren't being given enough information to help them choose their child's school and to hold the school's governors to some account. The best schools managed to sound welcoming but the worst almost implied that parents were an unavoidable inconvenience, rather than encouraging them to be more involved with their children's education."

Governors' reports had been required for 10 years, Mr Cullum added, but practice had not yet made them perfect.

Around half the reports failed to say when the next parent-governor elections were. Almost half the secondary school prospectuses did not include all the required information about admissions, and 12 did not even mention how parents could visit the school.

The association complains: "The presentation of the information varied greatly with almost illegible typeface in some instances. Educational jargon cropped up too often as did legalistic language."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The vast majority of schools do their best to comply with the legal requirements.

"Omissions are accidental not deliberate. There is a grave danger that the amount of information schools are required to turn out will lead to a great big switch off among parents who need information in a more digestible form."