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Labour’s Bridget Phillipson sets out plan to reform Ofsted

Bridget Phillipson MP

Phillipson declares Labour the Party of school standards as she sets out plan to reform Ofsted

Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson MP, will today (Saturday 11 March) say that Labour is the party of “high and rising school standards”, as she announces Labour will strengthen Ofsted to ensure that excellence is for every child.

In a speech to the Association of School and College Leaders, Phillipson will announce that Labour would give parents better grip of children’s educational standards by consulting on a new ‘report card’ to replace the four headline grades that Ofsted can currently awards to schools.

In announcing the change, Phillipson will say that parents and schools “deserve better than a system that is high stakes for staff, but low information for parents”, pledging to consult with teachers and parents to ensure that the new system delivers for families.

Labour’s announcement follows research which has found significant inconsistencies in the headline grades Ofsted inspectors have been awarding to schools, with researchers warning that the current framework for inspections is “more subjective” than previously.

Only around half of parents say that they know their school’s Ofsted grade and when choosing schools for their children, word of mouth and local reputation are more important to parents than Ofsted results.

Phillipson will say that giving parents simple information in the form of a report card will better enable them to get an understanding of where a school is performing well and where they can do better.It will also show the areas in which the school is improving, so parents can understand the direction of travel of their children’s school.

Labour also plans to introduce a new annual review of school safeguarding saying that the safety of children is too important to be left to infrequent inspections, as part of plans to overhaul Ofsted across its full range of responsibilities.

It follows the “Everyone’s Invited” expose of sexual harassment in schools, where subsequent Ofsted visits found that over 90% of girls have been subject to sexist language, sexual harassment and online sexual abuse from other students.

Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, is expected to say:

“The next Labour government will bring a wind of change to our education system…anddrive forward reform of education and of childcare as part of our mission to break down barriers to opportunity.

“Because I am determined that under Labour the focus will again return, to how we deliver a better future for every child, through high and rising standards in every school.

“I will make no apology for being demanding for our children, and I want parents to be part of that wind of change through our classrooms: partners in the push for better.”

Sector Response

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Labour is clearly putting more flesh on the bones of its education policies as we approach a General Election, and the direction of travel it is setting out is very refreshing. The current system of Ofsted graded judgements of schools and colleges is too blunt and reductive. There is so much more to a school or college than a single descriptor, and when that judgement is negative it is actually stigmatising and makes it more difficult to secure improvement. That is totally counterproductive and the system must change. A report card has the potential to provide a much fuller and fairer picture of schools and colleges while also being more informative for parents and carers.

“An annual review of safeguarding is also an idea that we welcome. This is such a vital area that it makes sense to detach it from the normal cycle of educational inspections, and give schools, colleges and families an annual assurance that the correct processes and systems are in place over the welfare of pupils. Safeguarding is the number one priority of everyone in education and this proposed approach reflects that.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“These recommendations to make serious change to inspection will be welcome news to teachers and leaders across England.

“For decades we have had a system that is punitive, unfair and unreliable and has led to staff leaving the profession in their droves.  Bridget Phillipson’s proposal to remove the four headline grades that Ofsted currently awards is a welcome step towards addressing these issues, bringing us more in line with countries such as Scotland and Wales. Removing the headline grades is needed and would go beyond a reductive approach towards meaningful school evaluation and improvement.

“We agree with Labour that parents and schools ‘deserve better’ from Ofsted. Any reforms to inspection must take seriously the excessive and intensive workloads teachers face, the costs of the surveillance model that Ofsted embodies and the effects on schools of its dogmatic approach to curriculum issues.   It is vital that reforms must reduce the high stakes for staff, particularly for those staff in high poverty areas who are most unfairly impacted by the punitive inspection regime. England needs to move towards a system that is supportive, effective and fair.  Safeguarding and health and safety are vital concerns and we are pleased to see them foregrounded.

“We hope that Bridget Phillipson’s speech marks the beginning of a dialogue with teachers and school leaders. Every intended ‘solution’ to the problems of inspection needs to consider carefully the likely effects, positive and negative, of proposed measures.

“As these ideas are further developed, the NEU look forwards to considering the detail, noting the Party’s commitment to consulting with the profession. A fairer and more supportive system is urgent to ensure we stem the loss of teachers and leaders from schools and colleges.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“We are pleased to see that Labour agrees with us that significant reform of the inspection regime is required.

“The current 4-point grading system is at the heart of many of the problems with how Ofsted currently works, and we welcome the proposals to end this overly simplistic approach that does more harm than good. NAHT’s 2018 accountability commission examined the idea of using balanced report cards to provide feedback on schools and there is certainly merit in exploring this further. A separate annual review of safeguarding and health and safety is also a sensible idea and if carefully designed could have a positive impact.

“There is plenty of detail that would need ironing out but this certainly represents a step in the right direction. School leaders welcome accountability, but there is a better and fairer way than the current system – a new approach is long overdue.”

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