Labour pledges to overhaul England’s school ratings with ‘report card’

School ratings such as outstanding and inadequate would be scrapped in England under a Labour government and replaced with a “report card” aimed at helping parents, the shadow education secretary is to announce.

Bridget Phillipson will tell a headteachers’ conference in Birmingham on Saturday that Ofsted’s current system of ratings “is high stakes for staff but low information for parents” because it fails to convey important details about a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

“I am determined that under Labour the focus will again return to how we deliver a better future for every child, through high and rising standards in every school,” Phillipson will tell the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) conference.

Under the current system Ofsted inspectors award one of four overall effectiveness grades: outstanding, good, requires improvement, or inadequate. A rating of inadequate is usually the trigger for a change of management or leadership.

Phillipson will tell the headteachers that the new report card would help parents understand where a school is performing well and where it can do better, as well as highlighting areas where a school is improving.

The overall grade descriptions, such as outstanding, would be replaced by a new system after consultation with teachers and parents.

The report cards would retain the areas currently given individual grades by Ofsted – such as behaviour, management and quality of education – but their grade descriptions would also be replaced.

Labour said it would introduce annual reviews of school safeguarding as part of its Ofsted changes, to avoid potentially long gaps between inspections.

School leaders greeted the proposals with enthusiasm. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The current grading system is at the heart of many of the problems with how Ofsted currently works, and we welcome the proposals to end this overly simplistic approach that does more harm than good.”

Geoff Barton, the ASCL general secretary, said Ofsted’s ratings system was “too blunt”, leading to some schools being perceived by parents as stigmatised.

Barton also welcomed the promise of annual safeguarding reviews, saying: “Safeguarding is the number one priority of everyone in education and this proposed approach reflects that.”

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary for England, was invited to address the ASCL conference on Friday but declined to take part, saying she hoped “to be in intensive talks at that time over the pay dispute” involving teachers.

However, no talks have been scheduled, with Keegan refusing to open negotiations unless the National Education Union (NEU) cancels its planned strikes. The NEU is to hold strikes in England next week, on Wednesday 15 and Thursday16 March.

Keegan said her offer was “the same offer that was accepted by unions representing nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists who all agreed to call off their strikes and are now representing their members in talks with the government”.

Barton told ASCL members that Keegan needed to start negotiating in earnest.

“To be frank, talks are pretty meaningless if there is no prospect of an offer, no genuine commitment to negotiate, no realistic endgame. We can’t go on trading fatuous soundbites,” Barton said.

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Earlier this week Keegan rejected the unions’ offer to hold talks through the Acas industrial arbitration service.

“It seems that those constructive proposals have been rejected by the government, for reasons we cannot explain,” Barton said, speaking in the conference slot that had been reserved for Keegan.

“This cannot go on. Teachers, leaders, families, communities, and especially the nation’s children and young people – you all need this matter settled. We need to be able to recruit and retain great teachers and leaders in a way that isn’t happening.”

On Friday the major teaching unions made a joint plea to the government’s independent pay advisers, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), over its advice for the 2023-24 pay round.

“The STRB cannot continue to wring its hands in the face of the government’s continued ideological attacks on the education service, which are damaging children’s education and life chances,” said Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union.

Pressure on Keegan to start talks could intensify after Scottish teachers voted to accept the latest pay offer by their government, ending months of strikes. Most teachers will receive a 12.3% increase, rising to 14.6% in January.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s education secretary, hailed it on Friday as “the most generous offer to teachers in more than 20 years”.

In Wales the NEU called off strikes scheduled for next week to consider a “constructive” offer from the Welsh government, of an extra 3% immediately and a fully-funded 5% pay rise from September.

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