Darlington school accused of using pupils to spy on teachers

School pupils are said to have been used as 'secret shoppers'.
School pupils are said to have been used as 'secret shoppers'.
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A school has sparked controversy for using pupils as "secret shoppers" in lessons, it has been reported.

Longfield Academy, a secondary school in Darlington, asked students to anonymously observe classes and give feedback to senior leaders as part of teachers' professional development, according to the Times Educational Supplement (TES).

But the move was unpopular with staff members, with one accusing the school of sending pupils in to "spy" on teachers and another questioning whether pupils had the right expertise and experience to critique lessons.

Longfield's headteacher, Susan Johnson, told the magazine that the scheme was part of a school strategy to "celebrate success and promote sharing of good practice".

The initiative was modelled on "mystery shopper" schemes used by the retail and hospitality industries, which see individuals anonymously use shops and restaurants and then provide feedback to companies on their experiences.

Pupils chosen to be "secret shoppers" are briefed early in half term and then give feedback to the school's senior leadership team in the penultimate week of the term, according to a presentation shown to teachers which was seen by the TES.

Anonymous feedback based on the shoppers' findings is then given to each of Longfield's six faculties in the last week of term in a "customer service week".

The presentation also says that time will be given to teachers to "build on the positives and address customer satisfaction".

One teacher told the TES the scheme was launched without any consultation with staff, saying: "I personally think it's absolutely outrageous.

"Basically, the kids were sent in to spy on us."

The teacher added: "We don't know what information was shared [with school leaders], we'll never know and I'm just not comfortable with that at all."

A second teacher said: "They're not experts. The children cannot identify why you are doing what you are doing - they just don't have the nous.

"It's not their fault, they're kids; that's not their job."

Ms Johnson said: "Secret shopper is part of a wider whole-school strategy that aims to celebrate success and promote sharing of good practice.

"We are acutely aware that the pupils are our customers, and gathering pupil voice has always been important to us.

"However, in the past we have not always informed the pupils in advance that we would be asking them for their views.

"Trialling this strategy has enabled us to give the pupils time to consider what they would like their feedback to be."

She added: "Although in its very early stages, staff feedback received so far has been positive as a great deal of the pupil feedback validated the success of the strategies that staff are already using."