Labour’s proposals to abolish Ofsted miss the whole picture of school improvement

24 Sep 2019

During its conference in Brighton this week, the Labour party announced a series of policies it would seek to put into place if it won the next general election.

A pledge to abolish Ofsted, the body which inspects and regulates schools and other educational establishments in England, was one idea that grabbed the headlines.

As the union with members working in both Ofsted and in local authorities as education and children’s services professionals, Prospect is ideally placed to have a balanced view on this proposal.

The current focus on the effect of testing on children, schools and teachers is only right. Some types of testing can clearly have a huge emotional impact on children.

And Ofsted inspections – and the fear of them – can add yet more stress to the difficult jobs of teachers and other professionals in the sector.

However, these pressures need to be balanced with children and parents’ expectations of the best possible education and start in life – and the manifesto promises of all political parties to raise standards across the sector.

As a union, we are proud to base our views on evidence as we explore the best way to balance these sometimes competing objectives.

Teaching not testing

Ofsted itself recently made significant changes to the way it does inspections. It is too early to assess the impact of those changes on children and young people, the settings they are educated in and on our members working in these settings.

However, Prospect welcomed the changes because they promised to move the focus onto teaching not testing.

But simply changing or abolishing Ofsted risks missing much of the picture of how schools can be improved.

Cuts in advisory and quality improvement staff mean that the local authorities that Labour wants to develop are already at breaking point. Whoever is in government will need to make significant new investment.

There is a strong argument to expand the role of local authorities in quality assurance, particularly for children with special educational needs in academies.

If Labour wants to increase that role in order to deliver more assessment of, and improvement support to schools, it would need to provide significant ring-fenced financial support.

It would also need to set about creating a professional workforce able to demonstrate independence from schools and a national framework to ensure transparency and equity across the whole system.

If there is a change of agency or structure for school inspections, it will be vital that these professional standards are open to external independent scrutiny.

  • Prospect has just published two documents about standards and principles that identify how non-teaching education professionals should carry out their duties.