Election 2019: Labour’s Ofsted and Sats bonfire

With an election now likely before Christmas, Tes looks at Labour's expected battle plan for winning votes on schools  

General Election 2019: What will Labour promise on schools?

As a  general election before Christmas looks ever more likely, Labour's plans for reforming school policy rest largely on radical changes to the school accountability system, including the abolition of both Ofsted and primary Sats testing.

Here’s what we already know about Labour’s schools policy:

Ofsted to go

Labour’s announcement at conference that it will abolish Ofsted has been welcomed as  “long overdue” by teachers, but there are some who say this could be as disastrous for Labour as school funding cuts were for the Tories in the 2017 general election. 


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But shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said England’s schools inspectors were not only failing to give parents an accurate account of school standards but also fuelling a crisis in teacher recruitment.

Speaking at a Tes fringe meeting at Labour's annual conference in Brighton last month, Ms Rayner said that single-word inspection grades were driving out the best teachers from the areas in which they were needed most.

Labour says it would replace  Ofsted with a different system, which, according to NEU joint-general secretary and Labour adviser Mary Bousted, would mean inspections taking place according to need rather than on a set timetable and these would rarely be across a whole school.

"Qualified subject or age-phase specialist HMIs will conduct targeted inspections into those areas of a school that, evidence indicates, need improvement," Dr Bousted said.

A ban on private schools?

Labour passed a motion at its party conference calling on the next Labour general election manifesto to commit to “integrate all private schools into the state sector”.

The motion states that the plan “would include, but is not limited to, the withdrawal of charitable status and all other public subsidies and tax privileges, including business rate exemption”. But independent school leaders said their schools already saved the taxpayer around £3.5 billion and said the plan would be an “act of national self-harm”.

However, Ms  Rayner has not been seen as a true believer. After conference, she was accused of “cosying up” to private schools when she posed  for a photo with a private-school head.

She later commented that she spoke to all educators as shadow education secretary and, asked to pick a side, said: "No, all three of my kids go/went to the local comp like I did (& my eldest went onto FE) - I don’t however judge parents. My job is to create the best education system for all children and that’s what I’m focused on." 

On academies

The Labour conference also passed a motion to end academies and to "ensure all publicly funded schools are brought back under the control of local authorities".

The motion cited “a series of failings, scandals and collapses” relating to academy schools and multiple-academy trusts, and says they could be “a charter for profiteering”.

However, senior Labour insiders say it would take years to end academies,  and that just because a motion was passed there is no guarantee it could end up as policy in a manifesto.

Ms Rayner made no mention of academies in her conference speech this year. At last year’s conference, she  was careful not to commit the party to abolishing academies and only said no new academies would be created under a Labour government, and that existing academies would be able to return to local authorities, “assuming there is capacity and a desire to do so in the relevant local authority”.

Pledge to abolish Sats and baseline tests

Labour has already announced that it would abolish Sats and baseline testing, and that it would consult teachers and parents on developing a “more flexible and practical system of assessment”.

There have been concerns that the high-stakes nature of the assessments has increased the strain on teachers and put pressure on pupils.

Addressing the NEU conference at Easter, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Sats and the regime of extreme pressure testing are giving young children nightmares and leaving them in floods of tears.

“I meet teachers of all ages and backgrounds who are totally overworked and overstressed. These are dedicated public servants. It’s just wrong.”

Mr Corbyn has said Labour’s alternative would be based on two principles: understanding the learning needs of each child, and encouraging “a broad curriculum aimed at a rounded education”.

Teachers to write a new national curriculum

Under a Labour government, teachers themselves would devise a new national curriculum which would be accompanied by new testing, according to shadow schools minister Mike Kane.

He told a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference:“We’re going to trust the profession over a five- or 10-year period to come up with a national curriculum." 

He also said: “A Labour government will launch a commission on curriculum and assessment. And a new assessment system will be based on a set of core principles in order to ensure it meets the needs of pupils.

“Developed alongside teachers using professional expertise, [and] expertise from unions as well, we will introduce lower-stakes testing with a reduced burden on children across a broader and more balanced curriculum. This new system would trust teachers as professionals and give agency back to our teachers.”

The National Education Service

Just like the National Health Service (NHS), Labour’s plan is to have a National Education Service (NES), which, according to its 2017 manifesto, would be “a unified service for England to move towards cradle-to-grave learning that is free at the point of use”.

The Labour 2017 manifesto states: “It will be built on the principle that ‘Every Child – and Adult Matters’ and will incorporate all forms of education, from early years through to adult education." 

Critics have complained about a lack of detail. However, the plan does spell out that it is against “the Conservatives’ market-based approach” and says “we need the education of our citizens to be seen as a collective endeavour, something in which we all have a role to play”.

Labour is also clear that it wants more local democratic accountability, saying “local communities will be empowered to influence change where it is needed and guarantee that the education system meets their needs”.

 

 

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