Labour has promised to overhaul the UK’s education system, with the party pledging to ‘scrap’ Ofsted and introduce free nursery places for all two to four-year-olds.
Speaking at the Labour party conference yesterday, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner vowed to introduce ‘a new system of peer review’, led by experts in schools, which would replace Ofsted inspections. A new, independent body would be responsible for ensuring consistent provision and a series of ‘health checks’ would be carried out by local authorities.
She said: ‘In our National Education Service, there will be no opt out from equality. Every part of the system will be bound by its principles, united behind its values and held to its standards. And when existing institutions are not fit for that purpose, we will transform them.
‘Conference, that is why we will scrap Ofsted. Schools will no longer be reduced to a one-word grade or subjected to a system that hounds teachers from the classroom.’
Ms Rayner has been outspoken in her criticism of the current education system, believing it does not do enough to support children from working class backgrounds or give them the opportunities they need to succeed. She previously committed to halt the expansion of academies and scrap free schools at a Labour party conference in September 2018, believing too many had been set up in middle class areas where they were not needed.
Of the free nursery education for all two to four-year-olds, she said it will not be ‘childcare on the cheap, to get parents back to work. But an early education service, led by professionals, designed to develop the whole child.’
The early years sector has responded with scepticism about her pledge for free early education for all two to four-year-olds.
June O’Sullivan, chief executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), said: ‘If they can fund the whole thing properly, then fine. If not, then they need to think about who’s going to benefit the most.
‘Isn’t now the time to do business differently? If you’re going to give free offer to everyone who can afford it then you’re simply propping up private sector. Should you not be giving more attention to more balanced models?’
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), supported this: ‘No more promises of free childcare should be made to parents because it’s not free and never has been - parents of younger children and providers are subsidising it.
‘We would not want the existing problems of nursery sustainability due to funding shortfalls to just be exacerbated by yet more ‘free’ childcare. It must be fully costed and fully paid for so providers are not out of pocket and parents know what they are entitled to.’
Neil Leitch, chief executive of Early Years Alliance, believes Ms Rayner’s promise of no more ‘childcare on the cheap’ is promising but recognises the pledge is ‘very light on detail’ and ‘without a firm commitment to ensure funding matches the true cost of delivery, the sector will struggle to take them seriously.’
The sector is also concerned about the pledge to ‘scrap’ Ofsted.
Ms O’Sullivan commented: ‘It’s taken us a long time to get Ofsted in a position where we’re at least having grown up conversations with them. We don’t want to be ideological, throw everything out, listen to no one and then end up with a mess that the taxpayer has to fund.
‘I think it’s dangerous talk.’
Ms Tanuku shared this concern: ‘Ofsted as an organisation plays an important role in keeping children safe and investigating any safeguarding concerns.
‘Parents really want to be assured about the quality of care and early education their child can expect so any proposed changes and new structures must have a clear way of doing this.
‘We need to see more details about what is being proposed to replace the current inspection and regulatory system in England to ensure it meets the needs of children, families and providers.’
She also raised the concern that introducing local authority ‘health checks’ could create a postcode lottery of standards, meaning children may not benefit from the same high standards across the country.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the proposals are ‘yet another sign of the extreme left-wing ideological drift that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party has taken’.
‘Labour are clearly intent on reversing the huge improvements that have been seen, particularly for the most disadvantaged children, by ending academies and free schools. Now they want to stop parents having even the most basic information so that they can make informed choices about their children's schools.’