Parents rating schools on the Ofsted website is a good idea -- but I'd go further...

Francis Gilbert's picture
 6
Although the unions are jumping up and down in rage, I actually think that Ofsted's latest idea for parents to rate schools on their website is rather good. The chief inspector of Ofsted, Christine Gilbert, said that where genuine concerns were raised then inspections would follow. This website should be up and running in September.

Surely, this is exactly what our school system needs: mechanisms that enable the relevant stakeholders -- parents, pupils, teachers -- to improve the EXISTING provision. At the moment, not enough parents feel "empowered" to speak up if they feel there is a problem in a school, despite the fact that there are mechanisms in place for parents to improve schools. For example, an articulate and diligent governor can make a big difference by observing lessons, talking to teachers and raising concerns at governors' meetings. However, many parents simply do not have the time to commit to being a governor and so we need more mechanisms that enable parents to voice concerns. The internet is a good vehicle because generally you can spot a "troll" (an anonymous person who just wants to pick a fight) and can usually see who has legitimate concerns. Obviously, Ofsted will need to police the site carefully so that slanderous and unfair comments don't get through. Posting on a website is less taunting than going to talk to a teacher if there is a problem and it enables parents to see if others have a problem too.

But I feel we need to go further and develop more mechanisms that support school improvement. In my experience, most parents, pupils and teachers know who the "struggling" teachers are but too often the concerns are not addressed quickly enough; this is largely because Heads of Department are too busy to support teachers who are really struggling with classes. What is needed are more mechanisms within schools that enable experienced teachers to support colleagues who are in difficulties. The Advanced Skills Teacher programme did this to a degree, as did the Local Authority Advisory teachers. Sadly, they've all been axed and so headteachers are faced with a real conundrum. With the right support MOST teachers can get better -- but if there is none around then they lose confidence and get worse. Without the resources to improve the existing provision within schools, headteachers can resort to "bullying" a weak colleague out of a job -- with the promise of a good reference, which means the problem gets shunted elsewhere. Or go the full-hog and start "competency" proceedings. Most are reluctant to do this because it's a completely bureaucratic nightmare -- and will remain so despite the government's promises to improve this situation.

What is needed a culture of honesty and openness where teachers who are finding teaching difficult feel free to get support because THEY KNOW IT'S THERE!

But above all, I think we should commend Ofsted for putting the focus back on the area where it's needed. Instead pouring millions in the Free School and Academy programmes, we need to put resources into this vital area: putting mechanisms in place that IMPROVE existing provision. It's much more cost-effective than the other options and it keeps the focus on what is really needed: great teaching for all students, not just a chosen few.
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Comments

Sarah's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 13:33

I think the difficulty with this idea is the extent to which it would be open to manipulation and abuse. In order for it to be anonymous (and it would need to be because many parents will not rock the boat in fear that their children will bear the consequences of it in school) it would be open to staff, pupils and parents pursuing campaigns against the school for frivolous, vexatious or malicious reasons. It would be very difficult to determine which responses could be trusted as the real concerns of parents and which could not. Ofsted already do seek the views of parents when they inspect schools. Perhaps schools should be made to undertake more regular parental surveys by issuing individual parents with a code (in a similar way to the electronic submission of census forms at present). This would ensure that only current parents could submit a response but that their submission would be anonmymised before the school saw the contents of it.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 19/03/2011 - 18:48

I agree with Francis about this and assume ( from conversations I have had with Christine Gilbert about this in the past) that there would need to be some sort of trigger number of complaints of a broadly similar nature before an inspection could be justified. I doubt that one or two vexatious complainers would be enough.
Schools should be open to the concerns of parents, even if it isn't always as easy to improve some things as fast as parents might like. In some ways it was a shame that the last government got rid of the requirement for the governors' annual meeting for parents as that often helped to raise or defuse issues. Some schools but I wonder how many don't bother with it , or with parental surveys?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 10:22

This proposal raises a number of questions.

1 If the complaints are anonymous, how can OFSTED be sure that the complaint is from a parent and not from someone who wishes to make malicious comments about a school?
2 OFSTED is planning a questionnaire covering several areas. A parent may have a concern about only one of these areas eg s/he may be concerned about poor-quality teaching, not concerned about behaviour and have no view about leadership. There would have to be space on the questionnaire for a "no view" response or parents may feel forced to judge an area when they have no evidence one way or the other.
3 The point of this exercise is to trigger an inspection, presumably because OFSTED is no longer routinely inspecting schools rated as "outstanding". There would necessarily be a gap between a substantial number of similar complaints being received and the inspection. In the meantime a single, genuine complaint would not be dealt with. It is essential that parents raise complaints with the school first - this could result in a speedier resolution. If it does not, then parents could take their complaint to a higher authority (the local authority in the case of LA schools - I've no idea where complaints would be sent in the case of academies or free schools.)

Perhaps there's a case here for an independent ombudsman who would deal with single cases, although it should be remembered that in other areas (eg financial services), the ombudsman requires the complainant to go through the organisation's complaint procedure before applying to the ombudsman. This requirement would need to be waived in some cases if parents felt intimidated by the school.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 17:50

I think there is a clear distinction between parental complaints and the process of triggering an Ofsted. I don't think parents would expect Ofsted to resolve individual disputes with the school and most schools would have a complaints policy which sets out clear stages for parents to take. In my experience as a chair of governors, the complaints rarely reach the 'tribunal' level because schools resolve matters along the way. Also we are assuming that parents would want to trigger a complaint because they are NOT happy, what about the parents of a satisfactory or good school who feel it deserves a better judgement? They may want to trigger an inspection too. Under the current regime, good schools only get inspected every six years I believe which is a long time to wait if rapid improvements have been made.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 20:34

I think the questionnaire is a good idea; to have a "RCT" (Randomised Controlled Tested) questionnaire, the like of which PISA use, to question the relevant stakeholders, parents, pupils, teachers, would be beneficial all round. That way Ofsted could build a body of evidence of stakeholder's perspectives without having to inspect; these questionnaires can easily be administered via the internet.

crazy's picture
Wed, 20/07/2011 - 21:55

crazy

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