A Labour government will consult on scrapping Ofsted’s current grading system and replacing it with a new “report card” for schools if it wins the next election.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson announced the move at the annual conference of school leaders’ union ASCL today, pledging to bring about a “wind of change to our education system”.
Labour would look to replace the current system, which grades schools between ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’, with a report card which would offer parents information on a school’s performance.
But the move would be subject to consultation with both teachers and parents.
However schools minister Nick Gibb said the plan to “go soft on education standards betrays our children”.
Schools ‘deserve a better system’
The party has provided few details of what the scorecard would look like. It will also propose annual school safeguarding reviews.
Phillipson said parents and schools “deserve better than a system that is high stakes for staff, but low information for parents”.
She added that report cards will give parents a better understanding of where a school can be better, and in which areas it is is improving.
However, Labour is yet to confirm a timescale for the proposed consultation.
The shadow education secretary also said Labour would “make sure” lead inspectors had the right experience for the phase they were inspecting.
But quizzed on this issue earlier at the conference, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman said the watchdog was “constrained on resources”.
Recent research from FFT Education Datalab suggested Ofsted grades were “not particularly useful” for parents choosing secondary schools because of the infrequency of inspections.
Meanwhile, polling from Public First in December found just 48 per cent of parents know their child’s school’s overall effectiveness grade.
Labour also pointed to research by the University of Southampton and UCL which showed female Ofsted inspectors are more likely to hand out harsher grades for primary schools than their male counterparts.
Labour would bring ‘wind of change’
Labour has long pledged to re-assess how schools are graded by the watchdog as part of proposed reforms.
Ofsted is expected to turn its focus to school improvement under a Labour government, with the length and frequency of inspections also up for review.
A recent policy paper published by ASCL also called for an end to overall graded judgments and for leaders to be told which academic year they are due to be inspected.
“The next Labour government will bring a wind of change to our education system…and drive forward reform of education and of childcare as part of our mission to break down barriers to opportunity,” Phillipson said.
“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.”
‘Going soft on standards betrays children’
But Gibb accused Labour of “siding with the unions instead of parents, watering down the educational standards that families rely on”.
“Labour’s decision to go soft on education standards betrays our children.”
Responding to Gibb’s comments today, Phillipson told reporters: “[They Tories have] had 13 years and Nick Gibb has had a very long time as a minister.
“They’re out of ideas and they’re out of vision for our education…they appear to have given up.”
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector from 2012 to 2016, added Ofsted was “not just there to provide a commentary. It is also there to provide a spur to schools to drive standards higher.
“This risks lowering standards in schools and is a distraction from where attention should be focused: on raising the attainment of the most disadvantaged children in our country.”
Labour pledged to abolish Ofsted under Jeremy Corbyn, but has since said that is now off the table.
Annual safeguarding review planned
The party also plans to introduce a new annual review of safeguarding, with Phillipson saying the safety of children is too important to be left to infrequent inspections.
It comes after the Everyone’s Invited movement in 2021 exposed the breadth of sexual harassment in schools.
A subsequent Ofsted review found over 90 per cent of girls had been subject to sexist language, sexual harassment and online sexual abuse from other students.
The review would remain within the remit of Ofsted and the two inspections would “complement one another”, said Phillipson.
But speaking in an earlier discussion, Spielman said she would be “very nervous about creating a whole separate system” of safeguarding inspections.