The Conservatives plan to increase Ofsted’s powers to inspect schools in England with longer, more detailed inspection visits and increased fundingin stark contrast with Labour and Liberal Democrat manifesto proposals to abolish the watchdog in its current form.
Arguing that Ofsted is widely supported by parents and a key driver of rising standards, the Conservatives say they will increase the duration of the standard inspection, known as section 5, for secondary schools and large primaries from two to three days, and raise Ofsted’s budget by £10m.
A spokesperson for the party said the extra day would be used to focus on “behaviour, bullying and a school’s extracurricular offer,” including sport and physical education, and designed to “reassure parents that all aspects of their child’s school are properly evaluated”.
A Conservative government would also seek to abolish the exemption from routine inspection for schools previously rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted, a measure introduced by Michael Gove as education secretary. It would pilot making all inspections “no notice”, removing the requirement for Ofsted to inform schools the day before an inspection begins.
Many of the proposals would be strenuously opposed by the major teaching unions as well as the more moderate head teachers groups, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Association of School and College Leaders, which have both been critical of Ofsted’s role and the stress it puts on school leaders.
Labour and the Lib Dems included plans to overhaul and reform school inspections in England in their manifestos, with both opposition parties intent on replacing Ofsted with more local oversight. Angela Rayner, Labour shadow education secretary, told her party’s conference: “In too many cases, Ofsted’s judgments and grades reflect the affluence of a school’s intake and the social class of its pupils – not the performance of the school.”
In announcing the Conservatives’ policies, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said: “Ofsted is an independent and trusted source of information for parents and teachers and their inspections help to raise standards in our schools.
“But Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour want to scrap Ofsted, meaning parents won’t have reliable information about the performance of their child’s school. Without independent inspections school standards would fall and our children would be less safe.
“A Conservative government will back Ofsted with more funding to carry out better and more focused inspections, so that parents have more reliable information about their child’s school, and school standards are driven up across the country.”
But Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ shadow education secretary, said: “The Ofsted brand is fundamentally broken. It creates a huge unnecessary workload and stress for both pupils and teachers. It needs to be replaced with a schools watchdog that parents and teachers can trust.”
The proposal to remove the exemption from inspection for outstanding schools will be more warmly greeted, including by Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman, who has said it has meant there are “real gaps in our knowledge about the quality of education and safeguarding” in some schools.
Figures produced by the National Audit Office earlier this year showed that hundreds of schools have not been inspected in the past eight years, and nearly 300 had not been inspected for a decade.
But under the Conservative plans, good and outstanding schools would be exempt from Ofsted’s timetable of one-day section 8 inspections to allow resources to be concentrated on the proposed three-day inspections.
The policies would only apply to schools in England. Education policy is devolved to national assemblies, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all having different systems of school inspection or accountability.