Whilst any rational human being could only have sympathy with the situation Ms Colwell has found herself unable to cope with any longer, there is maybe more to this story than meets the eye. Let's do what any prospective parent (or pupil or teacher) considering this school might reasonably be expected to do - let's look at its Google reviews.
Here's the Academy's headline score...
And here are just three of their seventeen one star reviews...
We're betting your first reaction, like ours, was 'why not address the school directly?' but we now live in an age of social media, like it or not. Our 'second' reaction?
Why has the school not engaged - and responded to these reviews? 'Why should they?' we hear some of you ask. Here's our response...
Whatever you may think of the truth or otherwise of these reviews, the motives of the people that wrote them and the rights or wrongs of the contentions contained in them, the school has done a disservice to all its stakeholders by not responding to them. By addressing - responding to - the reviews in an entirely positive manner the school would achieve the following...
- The reviews state many negative things about the school, its teachers, its attitude to discipline and its academic record. All of which can be addressed - for the benefit of the reviewer and, importantly, all those reading the review.
- By responding the school will show that it cares about what is being said about it and what impression is being created by one of the most powerful opinion-formers in the world today: Google reviews.
How about this - in response to Charlotte King?
"Dear Ms King,
I am saddened to see this review. Since my appointment as headteacher both I and my staff have addressed the very points you have detailed and, whilst I accept that we still have challenges ahead, we know that significant progress has already been made. Academic results are the best for seven years and incidents of violence and abuse, by both pupils and parents, are at a record low. Both our uniform and detention policies, which I accept are not universally popular (it is in the nature of teenagers to 'kick against' such discipline sometimes, I am sure you will agree) have been proven to work over the years since they were implemented at Ebbsfleet, as they have been at other similar schools. You also mention the difficulty you have in contacting reception; in this instance I am sure you will understand, with over a thousand parents, there will be times when reception is engaged. You have both the school email address and the mobile number of your son's heads of year and I would encourage you, and any other parent reading this to use those methods of communication where possible.
I also would urge you to come in and discuss the issues facing your son after such a short time at Ebbsfleet, I have asked [head of year] to make an appointment as soon as we can find a time that suits you. In the meantime please do not hesitate to email me directly on email@example.com.
Now, to a school at the other end of the spectrum: private...
This school has made a significant investment in promoting itself to future parents. This is an Instagram advertisement:
This advertisement is costing the school around £1 per click - and what would most prospective parents, seeing this in their Instagram feed, do? A quick Google search? Highly likely, we would say, for what better guide to a school than the opinions of past and present parents and pupils (the school even references that in the strap-line of their ad)? So let us see just how much of a 'hit' the school is...
If this were an exam in maximising social media impact to support one's advertising we are not so sure the examining board would be awarding an A*. In an end-of-term report one might even expect the oft-used phrases 'could do better' or 'could try harder' to feature (although they have made an effort on Facebook, but no reviews there since 2016, and now Facebook have suspended their reviews function).
Everyone involved - parents, teachers and pupils but most important of all future parents and pupils, need schools to engage with modern methods or referencing, foremost among which are Google reviews.
So what should schools be doing? Here is a strategy that will achieve the ends that both school, parents and pupils both want and need:
- Invite all stakeholders to review the school by posting their comments to the school's own website
- Moderate those reviews to ensure factual accuracy*
- Publish those reviews
- Invite everyone who has posted a review to the school's website to copy it to Google
How helpful are these?
*Moderation: is essential to ensure that reviews are factually accurate for the benefit of all: the school, its pupils, its parents, its staff, prospective parents and pupils and the reviewer themselves. It is the answer to the question we pose in the headline of this article: schools are rightly afraid of an unmoderated reviews environment (which, ironically, is what they get if they do not engage with Google reviews) - there's more on this important topic here.