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Ofsted Plans to Examine the Social Media Sites of Parents and Pupils

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Ofsted have announced that they plan to look at the social media sites of pupils and their parents to monitor whether the standards at their school a dropping. This may sound a little incongruous - how can information in social media provide information relating to a decline in a school`s performance? The theory seems to be that parents and students will vent their frustrations online, leaving permanent traces of their vexation, which can then be analysed by Ofsted.

There may indeed be some logic to this. Social media is fast becoming the tool of choice used by those who want to express their grievances. If you are a customer wanting to complain about poor service, using a social media site like twitter may well be your best recourse to get a fast response. Companies are very aware that critical comments can be retweeted by potentially millions of users, with the trending castigation having a hugely negative impact on their image.

Ofsted has said analysing social media is part of their `innovation and regulation plan,` and they will be working in conjunction with the Department of Education in what they call a `data science project` which will `explore the possibility of using near-realtime data and information from social media and other sources to predict and prevent decline in school performance`.

This regulation plan will begin imminently, and is expected to run for two years, after which there will be an internal review to ascertain its efficacy. One response to this programme would be that anything that assists Ofsted in preventing a decline in the standards of our schools must be laudable. There are however many dissenting voices, who are loudly critical of the violation of people`s online privacy.

Defenddigitalme campaigns to protect people`s online information, and has called the move a `dangerous overreach` of Ofsted`s mandate. Jen Persson, who works for defenddigitalme, has been hugely critical of the move, saying it grants Ofsted too much power, and would lead to a loss of trust in the department.

`Social media are personal data shared in private time, put into the public domain, but not intended for surveillance,` Mr Persson elaborated: `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?`

`Technology can support teachers, pupils and parents but their data must be used with consent, with transparency and oversight, not State snooping in secret.`

This may be going too far - there is nothing secret about what Ofsted, which is non-ministerial department of the UK government, are doing. Details of their innovation and regulation plan were released prior to it`s inception, and lengthy details about what it entails can be found on the gov.uk website here.

One wonders though just how much useful data Ofsted could acquire from analysing the social media sites of parents and children. Are Facebook and twitter really the most appropriate places for them to look if they hope to prevent the declines in the performance of thousands of schools? Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, seems to share this view, saying:

`Social media is a place where people go to express their frustrations, not provide measured constructive feedback. It is not audited or verified and is widely known to contain unsubstantiated gossip or downright falsehood. For a government agency to use it as data would call into question its commitment to evidence-based practice.`

A decline in the performance of a school means nothing more than a decline in the performance of it`s pupils. Their grade results will provide a more truthful measure of this than any information gleaned from their Facebook accounts. Seen from a scholastic point of view, perhaps children should be taught more about social media privacy settings, and protecting themselves from the plethora of online dangers, including cyber predators and scammers. Children should know that ; ; potentially every post they make, every photo they upload, will remain permanently etched in cyberspace. Potential employers routinely browse through the social media of job applicants, and might well be reluctant to offer a position to someone with `unflattering` accounts. Facebook can certainly be more revealing than a CV.

9 months ago
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