Bad reporting of survey or scientific data helps nobody and, in the case of education, often purposefully exacerbates parental fears, a tendency we have reported on in previous editions of Smart Lessons. For example, an article published at the Guardian online on Friday 2nd September claimed that parents were “more concerned about results than children’s happiness” (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/02/parents-concerned-about-results-than-childs-happiness-says-survey). The basis for this claim was a study in which over a thousand parents were interviewed about their most pressing concerns for their children at the beginning of a new academic year. According to the article, 52% cited that their children’s results were a primary concern but only 50% of respondents raised bulling and happiness as the most significant issue. Apparently, parents also “worried more about their children not meeting expectations or being stretched sufficiently as they got older…” However, as no measurement, context or comparisons were offered for this claim, it remains a somewhat abstract concept.
The study cited was published by TGL, a British education charity that helps children who have been excluded from schools, or who find daily school life challenging, to get back into education. While the article provided a link to the charity’s website (http://www.tlg.org.uk/), it did not offer a link to the study itself, something that really should be standard operating procedure for readers keen to verify facts mentioned in all published articles. While TGL undoubtedly does good work and are keen to draw public attention to the key issues they are trying to solve, the incomplete survey data included in the article does not support the wider claims made.
Never mind the fact that the different between the two percentages published was tiny; no methodological background was offered, leaving readers to wonder about the parameters in which parents were encouraged to share their opinions. Were parents only allowed to choose one concern or was a ranking required? Where were these parents sourced? The experience of a child at school, and related parental concerns, can have hundreds of other contributing factors including age, socioeconomic background of the parents, the type of school the child attended, and a child’s relationships with the peers and teachers. The survey data itself was not necessarily misleading, but the claims made by the article were.
Yes, a broad interpretation of the data does suggest that parents were slightly more concerned about their children’s performance than other issues, but to present the information in this way is reductive and ignores the complex and sensitive nature of the topic under discussion. If the survey data had been read more carefully, the article may well have been less inflammatory and newsworthy, but it would also have meant that key challenges in education would have been treated with the introspection and gravitas that they deserve.
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