A website for chewing the fat

To paraphrase: evaluation, evaluation, evaluation is the name of the game in school planning and quality assurance these days. Self and peer evaluation have obvious benefits - up to a point.

Recently, the American-based website RateMyTeachers has hit the headlines.

Reactions range from the youth worker's view that "teachers rate pupils, so why shouldn't pupils rate teachers?", to the professional associations who, understandably, have issues with a public site that allows pupils to pass judgment on staff without the need for justification or accuracy.

So I had a wee peek at the site last week (don't say you haven't been tempted), not sure what to expect. Clearly, there is moderation of some kind: there were no sweary words and there appeared to be a mechanism for contacting the administrator to complain about defamatory entries.

Surprisingly, on the pages I saw, the comments were far more positive than negative. This, hopefully, reflects an excellent teaching force, or maybe the fact that a positive pupil is more likely to post a comment than a dissident. The statements were hardly hard-edged professional commentary.

"Cool guy", "She's a great teacher", "Always bad tempered on Thursdays" are not the stuff of inspection reports.

All teachers are aware of pupils' opinions, sometimes offered fairly, sometimes out of spite. In my school days, the equivalent to a website like this were nicknames given to staff. I was taught by Skin, Monkey, The Brick, and Cedric, all of whom knew their soubriquets and were variously pleased or annoyed by them.

I suppose the crucial point lies in who actually reads these sites, and how seriously they take them. I suspect most hits come from pupils on their own school site, who already share the views that are in print. While negative comments are not pleasant, we should maybe be aware of the limited audience they receive.

The other chief users may well be teachers, secretly checking comments on their colleagues or, perish the thought, frantically entering their own comments to boost their popularity.

It all reminds me of the colleague who spotted real, as opposed to virtual, graffiti on the wall of his school, suggesting he was a f****** fat b******. He immediately interviewed the fourth year pupil responsible:

"Don't ever call me fat again."

Sean McPartlin is depute head at St Margaret's Academy in Livingston

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