In a recent poll, 68%* of individuals indicated that the Ofsted rating of a school is ‘very important’ when choosing where to place their child. 29% indicated it was ‘quite’ important and 7% indicated that it was ‘unimportant’.
The poll findings are notable in the current political climate, with both Labour and Conservatives taking opposing stances in their manifestos with regard to the future of Ofsted.
In their general election manifesto, Labour have revealed plans to disband Ofsted and replace with a brand new regulator. Labour cited the need for this reform due to the current system being “unfit for purpose” and their desire to replace it with a system that will give parents the reliable and in-depth information they need.
The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner announced that Ofsted’s proposals are based on a two-phase inspection system, with providers being subject to regular “health checks” by local governments as a part of the first tier. These inspections will be followed up with a more in-depth inspection led by the new regulator’s inspectors, only in circumstances where concerns have arisen from the local authority visits, or those raised by parents, teachers and governors, as opposed to being at random.
In particular, Labour raised concerns about the fact that education provider’s performances are boiled down to an ‘over-simplified single grade’. Ms Raynor commented that “the current Ofsted regime labels and ranks schools but it doesn’t help them improve”. The proposals have received support from the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, Dr Mary Bousted, who commented that “Ofsted has been a force for lowering school standards by driving teachers from the profession. Tens of thousands of hardworking, competent and professional school leaders and teachers have given up the profession, defeated and worn down by excessive workload and stress caused by trying to second guess what the latest Ofsted ‘fad’ is”.
The plans outlined above and the comments in support of their proposals are largely based on the approach taken to schools. Nurseries will likely see similar trends to schools in terms of inspection approach and stress caused by inspections. Labour’s plans would impact on all providers registered by Ofsted, including nurseries. It is unclear at this point whether nurseries or early years’ settings would follow a similar pattern of inspections to those proposed by Labour for schools, and whether single grading’s may also be abolished for nurseries as well.
In contrast, Conservatives have pledged a boost in funding of £10m for Ofsted. They also announced plans for longer inspections, proposing that there will be an extra day added to inspections of secondary and large primary schools with a focus on behaviour, bullying and extra-curricular activities. Plans to introduce trials of “no-notice inspections”, where schools may be visited without any prior warning in an attempt to reveal the unvarnished reality of schools, rather than giving staff notice with time to prepare.
In addition, Conservatives have announced plans to end the exemptions, introduced originally by Conservative education ministers, resulting in “outstanding” schools not having to face regular inspections.
The plans have faced criticisms by the lead of the National Association of Head Teachers, who rejected the idea of no-notice inspections as making “absolutely no sense” and commenting that they will “do more harm than good”. The leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union did, however, welcome the U-turn on removing the exemption on inspecting outstanding schools.
The results of the 2019 general election are likely to have a significant impact on the future of education and, in particular, the future of Ofsted and how or if they will continue to regulate education settings. Those involved in the management of, those working for and those impacted by education policies are likely to be paying close attention to the outcome of the election and how quickly the winning party implements their manifesto promises. No matter the outcome, the changes these policies will bring are likely to result in a period of uncertainty for education settings, whilst the manifesto policies are implemented and embedded.
It is vitally important that providers seek specialist legal advice and assistance where they are dissatisfied with an inspection outcome, or Ofsted are seeking to take enforcement action. Often there are very short time frames to appeal or challenge action taken by Ofsted, but assistance from specialists at a very early stage can increase the likelihood of preventing further enforcement action being taken. If you are a provider and you need advice or representation in relation to Ofsted inspections, enforcement action or an appeal to the first-tier tribunal, we have a dedicated team of specialist lawyers who are hand to assist you. Please contact our specialist Ofsted lawyers now on 01616 966 229.
*Figures based on findings from Stephensons' Twitter poll of 28 people.