A Labour government would carry out “far-reaching reform” of Ofsted, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has said.
Speaking at the ATL teaching union's conference in Liverpool today, Mr Hunt said the inspection system had begun to “choke” the “joy, wonder and beauty of schooling”.
Instead, he said, inspections should be “supportive” and “light-touch”. They should be led by the profession and centrally moderated and peer-reviewed, he added.
His comments came after Ofsted’s national director for schools, Sean Harford, said he would support moves towards a major long-term overhaul in which schools would inspect other schools.
Ofsted’s role would be to “moderate” judgements and to make sure the system was rigorous rather than being based on “cosy fireside chats between colleagues”, Mr Harford told the Association of School and College Leaders’ conference this month.
Mr Hunt said today that Ofsted had been “an extraordinarily progressive force for improving this country’s educational outcomes”, but that it had reached a “tipping point”.
He said the “increasingly byzantine demands” of inspectors and the “frazzled, insecure interpretation of those demands by some headteachers” were stifling education.
“I want to see an inspectorate that moves beyond box-ticking and data-dependence…I want to see an inspectorate that is free from even the merest suspicion of politicisation and political interference," Mr Hunt added.
He criticised what he described as “absurd misallocations” of inspectors, such as when further education experts were sent to inspect primary schools.
He also used his speech to accuse the government of a “deplorable, hostile, almost militaristic rhetoric towards the profession”. Mr Hunt said his party would give the profession the “respect from [the] government that you expect and that you deserve”.
The shadow education secretary also gave his backing to Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw. Asked whether he had confidence in the chief inspector, Mr Hunt said: "Absolutely. I think he's been a progressive force for good. He's a headteacher's headteacher." Mr Hunt added that he believed Sir Michael understood the need for the regulator to "evolve and change".
Ofsted director backs calls for schools to inspect each other - 20 March, 2015
Ofsted inspections 'promote unhealthy culture of fear', union claims – 12 March, 2015