Labour to scrap “unfit for purpose” Ofsted and overhaul school inspection regime
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, will today (Sunday 22nd September) set out Labour’s plans to abolish Ofsted and replace the current high-stakes school inspection system with a new inspectorate for education as part of Labour’s National Education Service.
Labour’s will replace Ofsted with a two-phase inspection system – all schools and education providers will be subject to regular ‘health checks’ led by local government, and a more in-depth inspection led by Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs), full-time, trained inspectors, who will have experience and expertise in the areas they inspect. This will ensure that parents receive the “in-depth and reliable information that they need about our schools”.
Under the new system, HMIs will carry out inspections in response to concerns arising from these the regular ‘health checks’, or those raised by parents, teachers and governors. This means that in-depth inspections will arise from a genuine need, instead of taking place at random.
The current inspection system is a major driver of high levels of teacher workload and stress, which contributes to the ongoing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Labour’s plans to radically reform the system will ensure that teachers are supported in the classroom, and do not see inspections as a punitive process that will drive excessive levels of stress.
A Labour government will also launch a “school improvement revolution” in office through a nationwide school-led peer review improvement programme based on the London Challenge model, aimed at supporting schools in deprived areas with challenging intakes. This process will be led by regional National Education Service (NES) offices across England, which will co-ordinate peer review across their regions.
With tens of thousands of students at schools that have not been inspected for a decade, Labour’s new inspectorate will ensure that no schools are able to operate outside of the inspection system.
Labour will also crack down on an estimated 500 illegal schools that fall outside of the current inspection system. By introducing a new, statutory definition of a school, Labour will overhaul current Department for Education guidance that is open to abuse due to significant loopholes in how schools are defined.
Commenting on Labour’s plans to overhaul school inspections, Angela Rayner said:
“In too many cases, Ofsted’s judgements and grades reflect the affluence of a school’s intake and the social class of its pupils – not the performance of the school.”
“School performance is far too important and complex to be boiled down to an over-simplified single grade, reducing all schools to one of four categories.
“The current system is unfit for purpose, so the next Labour government will abolish Ofsted and replace it with a system that will give parents the reliable and in-depth information that they need about our schools.”
Announcing plans for a “school improvement revolution” under the next Labour government, Angela Rayner said:
“The current Ofsted regime labels and ranks schools but it doesn’t help them improve. Labour will improve standards in our schools and we will do it through collaboration, not competition.
“The next Labour government will launch a school improvement revolution, introducing a new system of peer-to-peer school-led improvement – based on the success of Labour’s hugely successful London Challenge – right across the country.
“Labour’s National Education Service will replicate the success of the London Challenge in every city, town and village and all corners of our country.
- Abolish Ofsted and replace it with a new, independent inspectorate for schools, early years, further education and children’s services, led by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector;
- At the core of the new inspectorate will be Her Majesty’s Inspectors (“HMI”), based in regional teams with expertise across different phases, subjects and areas of education provision;
- HMIs will, unlike much of the current inspection workforce, be full time inspectors with expertise in whichever area they inspect, from early years to further education and from schools to children’s services.
- Overhaul the existing inspections regime and introduce a reformed system based on qualitative assessments of the performance of schools and other education providers:
- A regular independent, locally-based ‘health check’ for schools and other education providers;
- These ‘health checks’ will led by local government, with councils providing this check for neighbouring authorities where this is appropriate;
- Longer, more in-depth inspections will be carried out by the new inspectorate to provide a detailed picture of performance;
- These inspections will lead to a report that will give parents, school leaders, and other the information they need about the performance of the school or education provider.
- Abolish the headline grading system currently used by Ofsted/
- Ensure that all schools, including those currently exempt, are subject to regular health checks and in-depth inspections where necessary.
- Crack down on unregistered schools and change the legal definition of a ‘school’ to ensure that they are subject to an inspection system, introducing a new statutory definition of a school and giving the new inspectorate the powers it needs to ensure that every child is safe and receiving a quality education.
Notes to Editors
According to research from the independent Education Policy Institute, schools with more disadvantaged intakes are far more likely to be rated Inadequate, while those with more affluent intakes are far more likely to be rated Outstanding.
This then becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, with schools with more affluent intakes far more likely to improve their grades at later inspections, while those with more deprived intakes “systematically more likely to be down-graded… even after accounting for their more unfavourable distribution of previous Ofsted judgements”.
- Education Policy Institute, School Inspection in England: Is there room to improve? (2016), p6
Ofsted has itself acknowledged that “to date, there remains little empirical evidence about the validity of inspection judgements”
72% of teachers surveyed by Ofsted said that “inspection judgements lack consistency and are too prone to be influenced by the personal reviews and prejudices of individual inspectors”.
- Ofsted/YouGov, Teachers’ awareness and perceptions of Ofsted: Teacher Attitude Survey 2018 Report, p31
A report by the National Audit Office found that, as of August 2017, 1,720 schools had not been inspected for six years or more, with 296 that had not been inspected for a decade.
Ofsted’s own data suggests that the number of schools that have not been subject to a full inspection for a decade could be even higher. According to Ofsted’s most recent annual report, 4,500 schools were judged outstanding at their most recent inspection and 17% of outstanding schools have not had a full inspection in the last 10 academic years – which would be the equivalent of 765 schools.
Of the 305 schools that Ofsted has reinspected, 256 (80%) were subsequently downgraded, with 74 rated Requires Improvement and 14 rated Inadequate.
- National Audit Office, Ofsted’s inspection of schools, (May 2018), p6, .
- Ofsted, The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2017/18, (2018), p43, 
Ofsted has estimated that there are around 500 illegal schools that fall outside of the current inspection system. Inspectors have said that when inspecting these unregistered schools they have seen “open sewers, rat traps… exposed electrical work… holes where children have probably punched plaster walls.
Labour will address this by creating a new, statutory definition of a school, overhauling current Department for Education guidance that is open to abuse due to significant loopholes. The Department has issued guidance saying that 18 hours of teaching a week constitutes full-time education, but many settings can avoid this by teaching for just under the 18 hour threshold and therefore avoiding scrutiny.
The Ofsted grading system has been widely criticised, with the Association of School and College Leaders, National Education Union and Headteachers’ Roundtable all calling for an end to the current grading system.
Teachers are currently leaving the profession in record numbers, with the current inspection system a driver of high levels of workload among teachers and school leaders. Department for Education research found that preparing for Ofsted inspections was seen as a significant driver of the “increase in unnecessary and bureaucratic tasks”, with Ofsted’s own research finding that 54% of teachers said that an Ofsted inspect means a “huge amount of unnecessary extra work”.
- Department for Education, Teachers’ workload diary survey 2013: Research report (2014), p5
- Ofsted/YouGov, Teachers’ awareness and perceptions of Ofsted: Teacher Attitude Survey 2018 Report, p24
The London Challenge, introduced by the last Labour Government and centred on peer review, brought the performance of London schools from below to above the national average between 2003 and 2005.
The National Association of Headteachers have outlined the principles of effective peer review, which can help to underpin school-led improvement