Labour: Ofsted reform a priority, but we’ll work with sector to get it right

Shadow schools minister insists reform will not be 'done to' schools and the inspectorate, but 'jointly created'

Shadow schools minister insists reform will not be 'done to' schools and the inspectorate, but 'jointly created'

Reform to Ofsted will happen “in the shortest time possible” if Labour wins the next election, but with “the greatest engagement possible” with schools, the new shadow schools minister has said.

Responding to a question from Schools Week at the Labour Party conference, Catherine McKinnell said changes to inspection were a “priority” for the front bench and “time-critical in the sense of we want it to happen as quickly as possible”.

Labour announced earlier this year that it would replace the four current headline judgments with report cards setting out the strengths and weaknesses of schools if they gain power next year.

It will also inspect multi-academy trusts, and create an annual safeguarding audit for all schools.

McKinnell, who was appointed last month, told a fringe event organised by the Education Policy Institute and ASCL school leaders’ union today that “it really does feel that we have a system currently where inspections aren’t just dreaded, but ineffective”.

“They are adding to the recruitment and retention crisis in our schools. And they are providing very little useful information for parents.”

She said Labour wanted “every school leader, every teacher, not just to be achieving for our children, but to be supported in achieving the best for our children and that is the ultimate aim”.

“And so we will look to achieve that in the shortest time possible, but with the greatest engagement possible to get it right and to work with teachers, with families, with parents, with the education sector, with school support staff.”

New system will be ‘jointly created’

She said Ofsted reform “isn’t going to be done to schools. It isn’t going to be done to Ofsted and done to the sector.

“It’s going to be jointly created so that it is an inspectorate we can have confidence in, that it is achieving its aims, and that parents can have confidence in again.

“And so I’d love to put an exact timeframe on it. But you can understand that’s not possible, but it is a priority. And we will look to start that engagement and look to change the status quo as quickly as possible.”

Labour’s plans to change Ofsted “focus on improvement…highlighting those areas where schools are doing well and are improving but also where they might need further improvement because it’s clear that any school has room to improve.

“And we need to be clear in these reports where that room for improvement lies and then make sure that support is in place to enable that improvement to happen. So we’ll work with experts, we will make sure we base any changes we make on evidence.”

Schools ‘held back’ by current system

McKinnell also warned that the current system may be “holding back” schools that are forced to “play it safe” in case inspectors call.

The current system is “just providing a snapshot” that is “sometimes helpful” if an inspection goes a school’s way.

But it can “also have the opposite effect of taking a snapshot that is an unfair view, that doesn’t take in the whole picture and can have the effect of preventing improvement”.

“That’s the horrible thought, that schools may be holding back on programmes they are confident would drive improvement in their school, but want to take a risk averse approach, play it safe, because they’re worried an inspection could land at any moment. And it wouldn’t take in the full picture of what they’re trying to achieve.

“And I think that’s the what we need to look at that…it’s an ecosystem. It’s a much more complex picture than is currently being painted.”

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