Hans van Broekman, principal of Liverpool College, writes:
Plans that Ed Miliband unveiled last week for flying educational inspection squads are too good to be true. It requires little imagination to see how groups of disgruntled or ambitious parents could make use of this reform of public services.
As a head, I welcome parental participation and want to encourage the projection of the parent voice in every aspect of school life. Now I can look forward to a day when parent voice really means something.
Admittedly, there are practical matters to be resolved. How many parental complaints will trigger a visit form the flying inspectors? Will one suffice or must they raise a petition at the school gate? What will the flying squads inspect? Will it be the usual: results, results and results, so that the inspection can be quicker and more completely virtual? That way, might it even be quicker than the current flying inspectors of Ofsted are able to deliver?
Or will the teams visit the head in his office, ask for statements from staff and pupils and generally do a job like a French investigating magistrate? Will they perform a mini-Ofsted, or simply hold a tribunal meeting where the head can defend herself while being “accompanied by a friend”?
I can easily imagine the scenes in the school dining room as pupils gather to hear the tribunal in all its detail and see traitors to their cause finally dealt with by the inspection squad. This, they will surely feel, is public-sector reform with some real teeth! Indeed many of them will have an opportunity to express their support for these interventions on their behalf. Why indeed stop at parents triggering inspections. Why not have pupils, as “direct consumers”, able to do so too?
But it is the likely defences mounted by heads that will really steal the show. Heads will be able to use data meticulously gathered for Ofsted inspections to point out that their accusers never attend parents evenings, do not deliver their children to school on time, do not sign homework planners when requested and do not attend pastoral meetings at school when asked. In short, the heads will deploy the data they have available to prove once and for all that it is lack of parental involvement, not lack of parental voice, that is the source of their school’s failure to progress.
Because of this, Mr Miliband can advance his reform agenda significantly by the development of a corollary process which would enable schools, and specifically heads, to fire parents. If heads can be fired by parents, surely the reverse should be the case. It is difficult to sack a parent without infringing the interest of the child, but in many schools the sacking of a few parents would do more good than the sacking of the head. It also would encourage the other parents.
This is a reform we can all believe in and one which definitely meets the test of radicalism and a separation from the trite conservatism of what has gone before. It would alter completely the nature of the accountability between parent, school and pupil. Unlike many reforms, it would probably make a difference.
Viva la revolución!