What is #schoolshaming?

What is #schoolshaming?

Some commentators believe individual schools should not be criticised in public or on social media and refer to this as “school shaming”. What do they mean and when is it acceptable to complain about a school’s policy on, for example, uniform or behaviour?

Jamie Barry

headteacher, Parsons Street primary, Bristol

“Of course there will be times when parents disagree with what schools are doing. But when stories get into the press or social media, the context gets lost. It becomes about trolling and shaming a school. Some of the comments become personal and that can affect morale. Heads start to think: ‘I’m not going to engage with parents online, because trolls who have nothing to do with the situation will jump in’. I think that’s a pity.

“At my school, we have a parents’ forum so parents can air their views. But I tell them: sometimes you will have to accept that we will disagree. If every moan and groan is put into the press or social media, it damages the relationship between teachers and parents. Sometimes you simply can’t defend your decisions because it would not be appropriate to discuss an individual child.”

Mark Lehain

founder and former principal of Bedford free school; director of the Parents and Teachers for Excellence campaign

“Some people say you can’t shame a school. But a school is not a building. It’s a community of children, of teachers, of families. When a school is publicly criticised by people who normally have no idea of the context or circumstances of a particular incident, yes, the individuals in that school do feel pressure, do feel shame – and often are subjected to abuse.

“I’m in favour of free speech and I think it’s fine to discuss a policy on social media without naming the school and therefore shaming individuals. There are very clear procedures people can use to criticise a specific school. They can go to the governors, the board of trustees, the local authority, Ofsted and the Department for Education to highlight concerns privately. I think you’re much better off working with people rather than trying to publicly humiliate them.

“It can take a long time for staff and students to recover from a ‘school shaming’ incident over a relatively minor issue. I think that is morally wrong.”

Stephen Drew

“‘School shaming’ is an intellectually absurd phrase. It is simply about shutting down debate because being challenged can be difficult to deal with. I can personally confirm it is not nice, but it is part of public service. Those who use the phrase ‘school shaming’ are seeking to say that citizens who fund schools do not have a right to challenge what that school does.

“There is a vanguard of free schools and academies who have adoptedtraditional approaches that had been dying out in UK schools for the past 50 years. `They tend to be about control, enforcement and management ofevery aspect of school life.

“No school should be afraid to stand by principles it believes are for the benefit of the whole school community. It is entirely legitimate, though, for a school to say that it can’t comment on individual cases, as it really cannot.

“School leaders have to be tough and be ready to take the brickbats. If they cannot, or will not, then they perhaps should consider another career.”

Ed Finch

parent and primary school teacher, Oxford

“State schools are publicly funded institutions with uniquely privileged access to our children and young people. All of us, as citizens, have a responsibility to be vigilant and to call out safeguarding risks, dangers and worrying practice as we see it. This is not ‘school shaming’, it’s simply citizenship. Sometimes schools make ridiculous choices and it’s not wrong to call those out.

“I have read nasty comments about the school where I work at on the internet. Yes, it hurts my feelings, but I wouldn’t call it ‘shame’ and I wouldn’t suggest there is any reason to limit people’s freedom of speech. As a parent, my concern for my child outweighs my concern for the feelings of his school’s senior leadership team.”

Geeta Kauldhar

secondary history teacher, West Midlands

“Why shouldn’t people comment on, say, exclusions of SEND pupils, or the use of isolation as a punishment? It’s important to discuss these issues at a time when more and more schools are academies, which are out of local authority and parental oversight.

“Teachers must really be wary of trying to stifle criticism. If one looks at the history of schooling, particularly supplementary schools in Britain, we see how parents in the mid 60s brought to people’s attention that schools were failing black students, who were being dealt harsher punishments and were overrepresented in special classes and special schools.

“We may not always like the criticism that comes our way, but we must engage with it and not retrench into our camps by decrying all criticism as ‘school shaming’.”

Interviews by Donna Ferguson