Our response to School’s Week report, “Ofsted considers tracking Facebook and Twitter to check on schools.”
Ofsted’s innovation and regulation plan published this week stated that Oftsed was engaging with DfE in a data science project to explore the possibility of using near-realtime data and information from social media and other sources to predict and prevent decline in school performance.
It is sensible to see how future technological developments may allow Ofsted to monitor the provision of services and relevant records more remotely, with less of a data burden on schools.
However, using information from social media to predict school performance is a highly questionable idea. It risks feeding fake data and opinions into the decision-making systems behind the scenes, and basing extremely important decisions on emotions, not facts.
It also risks picking up problems, but not picking up any information on the reasons behind the issue which commentors do not see. Individuals who have a particular local issue, or social media tools, can shape a misleading balance of content. That’s not evidence and risks distracting efforts away from quality reviews which are based on informed interaction.
The loss of public and professional trust in what their data could be used for is also of significant concern.
If Ofsted starts tracking and interrogating parents and pupils’ personal comments on social media, where would they stop? Will the police knock on doors of families posting holiday photos in term time? Will they start searching for teachers tweeting on sick days? Will whistleblowers and critics be silenced by the chilling effect of surveillance?
School funding is the biggest issue that affects pupils and teachers in the classroom today, and this news risks signalling that resources are being invested in opaque plans, rather than what really matters to parents.
Any online methods used to gather and summarise the views of pupils and staff during inspections must be transparent and people must understand that their views are being collected and used in this way. The channels used must also be in confidence and secure.
Technology can support teachers, pupils and parents but their data must be used with consent and in confidence, with transparency and oversight, not State snooping in secret.
[Link to Schools Week, March 31, 2017]