Ofsted defends plan to seek anonymous views

Written by: HTU | Published:

Unions fear anonymous parent questionnaires will be ‘open to abuse’

Ofsted has been forced to respond this week to fears that its plans to publish parents’ anonymous comments about their children’s schools will lead to abuse and false accusations.

The proposals are one of the more controversial aspects of the new-look inspection framework which was published on Friday (September 30).

The idea is that parents will be invited to answer an anonymous questionnaire about their child’s school, the results of which Ofsted confirmed this week will be made public. Education unions fear such a system could be open to abuse and could lead to false allegations being made.

The National Association of Head Teachers, said that “parents had a right to make their views known but that those with genuine concerns should be prepared to stand up and be counted”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added that there must be “transparency” about who is leaving the comments. It said “allowing anyone to post comments anonymously leaves the system, and schools, open to all kinds of abuse and puts the website’s credibility at risk”.

And the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said that the online facility has “too much potential for being used in a malicious fashion”.

In light of media coverage on the issue last week, Ofsted was forced to issue a statement in which it dismissed concerns. It has also promised more details on its plans in the coming weeks.

The statement said: “Parents tell us that anonymity is very important so that they feel able to give their views. Parents will be invited to respond to a series of closed questions about their child’s school, such as the quality of teaching. We will not be providing an avenue for anonymous free comment or for responses on individual teachers or staff.”

It comes as details of the new inspection framework were published last week. Under the new criteria, schools in England will be judged on just four core areas instead of the current 26.

The revised framework will come into effect in January and will concentrate on pupil achievement, the quality of teaching and learning, the effectiveness of leadership, and standards of safety and behaviour.

The changes will also mean that fewer schools are likely to be judged as “outstanding”, and follow concerns expressed by Michael Gove, the education secretary, that too many schools were awarded the status when they did not deserve it.

It emerged last week that schools will generally be expected to have outstanding teaching and learning if they are to receive an overall outstanding grade.

From next year, inspectors will also spend more time in the classroom observing lessons, with a particular focus on literacy in both primary and secondary schools.

Miriam Rosen, the chief inspector of schools, said: “We have streamlined our inspection process to focus on what matters most. Inspectors will spend even more time in the classroom observing teaching and learning, with a renewed emphasis on reading and literacy skills. Behaviour and how safe children feel will also be closely scrutinised.”

The changes follow nearly 150 pilot inspections and a two-month consultation process which attracted 1,300 responses.

Subject to the passage of the Education Bill, outstanding schools will no longer have routine inspections unless there are concerns about their performance while good schools will be inspected in a five-year cycle and satisfactory schools inspected every three years unless particular concerns emerge.

There will also be more routine unannounced monitoring visits of satisfactory schools which do not appear to be improving, while schools causing concern will be monitored regularly. Pilots will take place this term to test out how these visits will work.

Brian Lightman, ASCL general secretary, is worried that the new framework will not take account of the school’s context to the same degree. He told SecEd: “This will disadvantage schools with challenging intakes which are achieving remarkable results even though pupils may not achieve at the same rate as schools in more affluent areas.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, added: “Yet again the bar has been raised without any clear justification and new unnecessary hoops for schools to jump through been put in place. Schools which currently are rated good may from January become only satisfactory, although there will have been no real change in their quality.”

Ofsted is hosting a series of conferences on the new framework in October. Visit www.ofsted.gov.uk

At a glance: the new Ofsted framework

From January 2012, school inspections will:

• Report on four key judgements:
- The achievement of pupils at the school
- The quality of teaching in the school
- The quality of leadership and management of the school
- The behaviour and safety of pupils at the school

• Take account of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils

• Give more emphasis to reporting on pupils’ behaviour, especially in lessons

• Look at how the school meets the needs of all pupils, in particular those who have a disability and pupils who have SEN

• Take account of pupils’ attainment and rates of progress when evaluating achievement

• Focus strongly on standards of reading and numeracy in primary schools and literacy in secondary schools

• Report on the effectiveness of the 6th-form and early years provision

• Report on the breadth and balance of the curriculum 

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