Labour 'got it wrong' on scrapping Ofsted, says shadow schools minister

Ofsted plays an “important role” and Labour was “wrong” to pledge to scrap it without making clear it would be replaced with something better, the shadow schools minister has said.

Wes Streeting told the Schools and Academies Show this morning that instead of calling for Ofsted’s demise, educationalists should tell Labour “how to make it better”.

It is further evidence of a departure of the Labour front bench from education policies put forward under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

It comes after Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, told Schools Week last month that she would review the proposals to scrap Ofsted and abolish tests in primary schools.

Labour announced last September that if elected, it would ditch Ofsted and replace it with a series of local authority health checks, with a new inspectorate that would be sent in if serious problems were detected.

Although welcomed by teaching unions, Streeting, who has been in post for just over a month, said the policy went down badly with families.

“I think what Labour got wrong, if I can be frank, before the last election was that the public heard the scrap Ofsted bit. They didn’t hear the ‘we want to replace it with something better’ bit. And as a result, I can tell you that one cut through pretty quickly to parents and grandparents who were saying ‘why are you going soft on standards?'”

“That’s not where I’m prepared to be and where I think the Labour Party should be. But the fundamental point here is don’t tell us what you want to scrap, tell us what you want to build.”

Streeting said Ofsted was “there to assure us, whether Parliament or parents and the public, that standards in schools are as we’d expect them to be”, adding that theirs was a “really important role”.

“And my sense is from talking to teachers in my own constituency and some of the conversations I’ve been having early in this role in recent weeks, I think that the general sense is that Ofsted has improved in a number of respects in recent years, and certainly things like thematic reviews I think people consider to be broadly useful.”

However, he said he felt Ofsted was “trying to achieve too much with the current inspection”, and said it “may be that we should be looking at different elements of the inspection”.

He questioned whether safeguarding inspection should be “lumped in” with current “high-stakes” visits, and added that “whether or not there should be a single high-stakes visit is a reasonable question that people ask”.

“But ultimately if you didn’t have Ofsted you would need to reinvent it, and so simply hoping we can scrap Ofsted and all the problems people have with external inspections regime goes away, I’m not sure that’s right.”

Meanwhile, school leaders remain in the dark about when inspections will resume and what form they will take when they do.

Routine inspections were suspended in March when schools partially closed, and only lighter-touch “visits” have been going ahead this term.

Addressing the Schools and Academies Show yesterday, education secretary Gavin Williamson promised an announcement in “the next few weeks”, and said inspections should resume “at the right time and in the right way”.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who spoke after Williamson at the event, said there would be no “inspection frenzy” when normal business resumes, suggesting the reintroduction of inspections could be “gradual”.

But speaking earlier today, Streeting said “no-one in their right mind” thought it was “desirable let alone practical to resume routine inspections in January”.

“What do we expect inspectors to find? How do we expect schools to release headteachers to make it happen? It’s the wrong focus, the wrong priority.”

Streeting suggested Ofsted should instead be tasked with “focusing on key areas such as the quality of catch-up provision and home learning, and safeguarding”.