Ofsted dismisses Learner View website abuse fears

Ofsted has hit back at fears that its new Trip Adviser-style website for rating colleges could be open to abuse.

“There are always going to be concerns that there might be a campaign against a provider, but our security system means individual learners have to register,” said Ofsted’s national director for learning and skills, Matthew Coffey, who spoke to FE Week at the site’s official launch.

But he did admit that a student could set up 10 different email accounts  — “there’s nothing to stop anyone doing that” — and register on the website with negative comments.

“But they would have to be intent on doing that. Where we see peaks like that come in, we would investigate them. We have invested heavily in security, have a digital communications team and are actively monitoring the site.”

Learner View, which cost £65,000 to develop and went live in time for Ofsted’s 2012/13 inspections, draws together the opinions of students about their courses and comes up with provider ratings.

It is easy for one person to have more than one email address and submit multiple messages”

Students are faced with statements such as ‘my course/programme meets my needs’ and ‘I receive the support I need to help me progress’. It then offers responses ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’.

The public can see the results, which are updated after every ten responses, and it was this live element of the website, previewed by FE Week, that sparked fears of abuse.

The Association of Colleges’ director of policy, Joy Mercer, said that most colleges already had robust systems in place to capture the student experience and invested a lot of time in ensuring the student voice was heard.

“We hope Ofsted have thought through how to communicate its new system and this opportunity to students in a clear and sensible way that does not create any misuse.

“We are sure they have systems in place for dealing with potential problems such as the possibility of one student lodging multiple complaints.

“It is easy for one person to have more than one email address and submit multiple messages, which would escalate a complaint even if there is no real issue.

“We would very much like to be convinced Ofsted are able to monitor this system closely to avoid any abuses.”

But Mr Coffey further defended the website and its security. “The NUS and our learner panel quite liked the immediacy of Learner View; that what they think can be seen by people who can do something about it immediately.

“It gives an overview of what the student body is saying about their provider.

“But what is really important is that it doesn’t replace the interaction inspectors have with individual learners on individual courses.”