On April Fools’ Day we reported that the schools’ inspector Ofsted was considering giving parents the right to tell them directly what they thought of their children’s schools. The teaching unions seemed to think it was a joke in bad taste but Ofsted, true to its word, has now launched Parent View on its attractively redesigned website. Well worth a visit.
“By sharing your views, you’ll be helping your child’s school to improve. You will also be able to see what other parents have said about your child’s school. Or, if you want to, view the results for any school in England”.
A dozen simple questions
You simply log in and give the name of your child’s school, confirm that your child attends that school and then answer 11 graded questions (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree and don’t know). The questions cover the same territory as the paper questionnaires that are distributed to parents in the week of an inspection asking for parents’ perceptions in a range of areas: how happy and safe your child seems and how well they are looked after; their progress; the amount of homework they are given; how bullying is handled by the school; how children in the school behave; how good the teaching is; how the school is managed and how well parental concerns are handled. The twelfth and final question (and one we at MAC always like to see in surveys) is whether or not you would recommend the school to other parents. Just a simple yes or no on that one which is a pity since there are degress of readiness to recommend – it is not a black and white choice.
It would be interesting to have heard that debates which led to a special definition of “bullying” being added to the site when there is no definition of some of the other equally vague and subjective terms such “this school is well-led and managed” or “my child receives appropriate homework for their age”. But there is nothing wrong with a subjective responses on these sorts of questions as long as the feedback is used intelligently.
Dare to be free?
I did find myself wanting to tell them more and qualify some of my answers and it is slightly frustrating to have only the blunt instrument of the graded marking to respond to the questions. How do I tell them that I think the teaching in History is exemplary whilst I know the teaching of French is most definitely not? And how do I tell them that although they have responded to most of my concerns quickly and efficiently I am still feeling disgruntled by the fact that after years of complaints from many parents French is still being taught in exactly the same way? A bit of free text somewhere on the form would not go amiss – but I suspect this may be where Ofsted conceded to the unions’ anxieties about those mad, bad parents saying nasty, dangerous things. Remember Chris “Cassandra” Keates of the NASUWT? She’s the one who said that a survey like this would be
“Open to abuse and manipulation and would therefore be an inappropriate and unreliable mechanism for triggering something as serious as inspection.”
Feedback, insight, foresight – keeping the Inspectors from the door
Well, you can be sure that if a school is in the doldrums or heading that way, parents will soon pick it up and be only too keen to use the Ofsted website to have their voices heard. And bearing in mind that it was almost impossible to do this in the past unless you happened to live next door to the Secretary of State for Schools, this mechanism is surely to be welcomed. If giving parents a voice means triggering questions and even an inspection, then so be it. Isn’t that the point of the whole thing? Any sensible school will be encouraging parents to fill it in and update their views regularly and will be incorporating this feedback from parents into its normal feedback and insight processes long before the sort of problems arise that would trigger a call from the Inspectors.
The pros and cons of anonymity
The site makes it clear that all feedback is anonymous so there is no way for schools to know who it is that is commenting. Overall I can see the benefits of this from the point of view of a parent but past experience makes me worry that schools may use this as a way of dismissing views they do not like: the “Yeah, well, we know who THAT is” or “Oh it’s just an organised campaign” responses that we all too often hear (subtext: Dismiss, as you were). But as a governor I can see that there might be times when it would be useful to be able to analyse the data in some ways: do the parents of children in reception have a stronger sense that their child is being looked after than those with children in Year 6? Still, there is plenty of time and room for developing this sort of sophistication.
So congratulations to Ofsted for what we will assume to be phase one of their new website. And an extra bonus mark for sticking to its guns on its plan to use information from parents to trigger inspections despite the knee-jerk resistance of the unions. Let’s watch this space to find out how appropriate and reliable this mechanism proves to be.
The Moore Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation, trains lay representatives and develops responsive public service organisations. Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.