'Google school reviews? We can't take them seriously'

Google reviews allow people to write what they want about schools without ever having been there, says Gordon Cairns

Gordon Cairns

Why online reviews of schools are a waste of time

If you were to pick an institution in public life that didn't need to be further reviewed, you would think a school would be a good start. From formal visits from the inspectorate, to quality improvement officers sent in for classroom observations, to peer-to-peer review, the modern school gets examined constantly.

And while the Rate My Teacher phenomenon, popular a few years ago, let the disgruntled have a go at members of staff, schools themselves had missed the modern obsession of reviewing everything.

Before, that is, the rising popularity of Google school reviews.

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It's like TripAdvisor for schools – except people who leave holiday reviews on that website tend to have actually been to the place. Google school reviewers leave forthright views without necessarily ever having gone through the school gates.

In fact, a couple of Edinburgh's schools that have Harry Potter connections have had bad reviews from disgruntled tourists, precisely because they have not been allowed inside to see the Boy Wizard's alma mater. And in Glasgow, a school gets one star as pupils were rude to the reviewer when she was out jogging near the building.

Would you trust a Google school review?

But that's by far the least bizarre reason for poorly rating a school: one gets blamed for turning their granny into a Goth.

Of course, not all reviews are negative, with some five-star reviews getting straight to the point: "It's a school. You learn things." And another also gives full marks with a proviso: "Good. So far."

Although they may be good fun to read, I struggle to see what the purpose is beyond that. An unhappy tourist may want to warn others away from a dirty hotel, but a parent is unlikely to select or reject a school based on a few words from a disgruntled current student or a former pupil seeing the school with a warm glow of nostalgia.

A few years ago, the Association of Network Managers in Education launched a petition asking Google to give schools the option to disable the reviews. That seems a bit of a overreaction, especially as it is schools that are under the spotlight rather than individual teachers.

If no individual has been named, let's just agree to enjoy the humour and take the reviews as seriously as they deserve to be taken – meaning not seriously at all. 

Gordon Cairns is a teacher of English in Scotland

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