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.