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Parents in the driving seat? New research by LSE academics published

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In the 2005 White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, the government promised 'to put parents in the driving seat' and to give parents the right to ask for a new school.

During 2006 Professor Anne West and Hazel Pennell from LSE's Centre for Educational Research, commissioned by Research and Information on State Education (RISE) and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, investigated 15 parent campaigns, including seven campaigns to set up new schools and eight against the setting up of a new school, to find out the extent to which parents' views were taken on board. The research aimed to identify what lessons could be learnt for school planning in the future.


The researchers found:

  • parents' involvement in the planning and setting up of new schools was limited, particularly in relation to academies;
  • in some cases, parents' wishes, either in favour of or opposed to the setting up of a new school, were taken on board;
  • there was variation in the extent to which campaigners were successful in meeting their aims and objectives, although the campaigns for a new school appeared to be more successful than those against.

There were several policy implications:

Type of school
Nearly all of the campaigns for a new school wanted or assumed that the new school would be a community not a religious school.

'..what we want is a local authority-run community comprehensive school. Overall, we're not interested in a denominational school; we want to be able to maintain the social and racial mix we get in our primary schools... The primaries are really nicely mixed and you get to secondary stage and it just fragments.'

There was a concern that faith-based schools were replacing non-faith schools. The researchers considered that this indicates the need for a debate on this issue.

The major barrier for many campaigning against a new school was considered to be the academy process from which interviewees felt they were excluded. In particular, they were concerned at the lack of openness, the speed of the process, the method of consultation employed and what appeared to many to be the inevitability that the academy would be built.

'It was so quick. By the time we knew about it, it was at the architectural planning stage. And they kept saying that they had to deliver the scheme, that there was some cut-off point for getting academy money. The agents [appointed to manage the academy process] had the absolute urgency for pushing it forward, pushing it forward...'

Government policies and priorities were perceived as major obstacles by many campaigners as most either wanted to obtain a new community school or to prevent a community school closing, whilst the Government prioritised academies. Local government priorities were to some extent bound up with those of the Government in the case of academies. The researchers concluded that there is a case for reviewing these procedures to bring them into line with the establishment of other types of schools.

Availability of information and lack of expertise
There were similarities in the experiences of campaigners irrespective of the type of campaign they had taken part in. Most had experienced problems in accessing information either because it was not readily available or, particularly in the case of those campaigning against a new school, because information was not provided to them.


Please contact:

  • Anne West on 020 7955 7269 and Hazel Pennell on 020 7955 6994

1. The full research report will be published on the RISE website www.risetrust.org.uk on March 5 2007.
3. Press are welcome to attend the morning seminar to launch the research at Connaught Hall, 36- 45 Tavistock Square, London WC1. 10.30am (coffee from 10am).

4. The Education and Inspections Act 2006, which became law in November 2006, now places an explicit duty on local authorities for the first time to respond formally to parents seeking changes to the provision of schools in their area including new schools. Consultation on the guidance on this closed earlier this month. (DfES, 2006 Duty to respond to parental representations: guidance to local authorities).

Press cuttings

Where is our school? (3 April 07)
Article about parents setting up and running their own schools, which highlights LSE research conducted for the education charity RISE. The research Parents in the Driving Seat? was conducted by Hazel Pennell and Anne West, of LSE's Centre for Educational Research, and looked at parents' role in setting up new secondary schools.

Parents likely to oppose new faith-based schools
(6 March 07)
Parents are more likely to campaign against new faith schools than for them, according to research. Anne West, of the London School of Economics, which did the research, said: 'Parents weren't happy about replacing community schools with schools which were faith-based.' One in three of the first 100 academies are faith-based.

Birmingham Post
Parents not keen on faith-based learning
(6 March 07)
Parents are worried that community comprehensives, which take a wide mix of pupils, are being replaced by growing numbers of religious schools, researchers say. A study by Anne West and Hazel Pennell, LSE, found many parents did not want new faith schools in their area and called for a debate about the issue.
Source: Lexis Nexis

BBC Radio 4 (5 March)
The Learning Curve
Libby Purves is joined by Professor Anne West from the London School of Economics who, along with a colleague, has today published research (commissioned by Research and Information on State Education) which looks at 15 parent campaigns, run before the Education Bill. 

5 March 2007