An influential think tank has set out a blueprint for how Labour’s proposed Ofsted overhaul and new school improvement model could work.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has proposed a three-tier regulatory response to delivering school improvement, with one-word Ofsted grades which fuel a hire and fire “football manager culture” abolished.
IPPR is known to be influential in shaping Labour policy. One of the party’s key schools policies is to ditch Ofsted grades and send in new regional improvement teams to “end the scandal of stuck schools”.
How no Ofsted grades could work …
Labour has already outlined that it would consult on scrapping Ofsted’s current grading system and replacing it with a “report card” if it wins the next election.
On top of this IPPR said government should consult on a “narrative-driven” report for parents, accompanied by a “simple” dashboard on pupil progress data.
More detailed and technical reports could be provided for the school and regulator, with judgments made on whether action is needed in each of the separate inspection framework areas.
Ofsted should also be commissioned to develop and implement a new framework for trust-level inspections.
… and what about intervention?
But current government intervention hinges on certain Ofsted grades. So without grades, how would this work?
The IPPR report proposes a trial of a three-tier regulatory response to inspection outcomes that would involve either ‘school-led development’, ‘enhanced support’, or ‘immediate action’.
The regulator’s decision (the regional director) would be made in “discussion with the school”, as well as its local authority or academy trust.
‘School-led development’ would apply to schools judged ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ under Ofsted‘s current regime, with schools expected to pursue ‘collaborative’ self-improvement.
This could happen through a trust, or partnership with a national network or area-based partnerships. Subsequent inspections would review how it has progressed.
‘Enhanced support’, likely to apply to schools currently deemed to be ‘requires improvement’, would see the regulator decide whether the school could improve with additional support and oversight or is in need of a change of governance.
The regional director would help a school, and its LA or trust, develop an improvement plan to identify what support is needed. The school would then be provided with resources to deliver the plan.
National leaders of education could also be trained to deliver this support, the report states.
‘Immediate action’ would apply to cases where the regulator judges that insufficient progress has been made or necessary improvements cannot be delivered under current governance arrangements.
Schools would be re-brokered to a new “academy trust or local authority” and could require the governing body to be replaced.
The report said: “Whilst this process will continue to be perceived as punitive, it is justified at this level, given the need to protect pupils from the harm of poor standards.”
Ofsted and improvement: how does that work?
Under previous shadow education secretary Kate Green, the party had said Ofsted would be both inspector and improver.
This led to concerns from the sector. Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said it risks “mission creep” and “distortion of the inspection process”.
But the party, under Bridget Phillipson, appears to have changed tack.
In conversation with former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield at a Commission on Young Lives event last week, Phillipson said it was important to be “clear about the distinction” between school improvement and Ofsted.
“When it comes to the work of the DfE, in terms of regional directors, that has to change with a refocusing on supporting schools around improvement,” she said.
“Especially those schools that have faced the greatest challenge the longest, and where there hasn’t been improvement and where children are not getting the opportunities and outcomes they deserve.”