Labor would increase school inspections, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has revealed, despite unions calling for watchdog Ofsted to be abolished. It puts her on a collision course with teachers following the death of Ruth Perry, who took her own life in January. The headteacher was waiting for inspectors to publish a report grading Caversham Primary School, in Reading, Berkshire, “inadequate”.
Delegates at the National Education Union’s annual conference earlier this month voted to back calls for Ofsted to be scrapped.
But Ms Phillipson said: “Where children are being failed then action must always follow. That’s why a more effective inspectorate will be taking action where standards are slipping.”
The MP for Houghton and Sunderland South has taken on the union before.
Pledging to increase the frequency, Ms Phillipson said: “Lots of schools have been left for years without inspection. That means we are not as confident as we should be about where there are challenges and addressing those.”
The 39-year-old MP said the government had a deliberate policy of failing to inspect schools frequently, which means “too often parents don’t know what is going on in their child’s school”.
Her plans include sending inspectors at least once a year to examine safeguarding policies designed to protect pupils from sexual abuse and reducing absence rates.
General inspections would also be changed, so heads and parents received a “report card” setting out where the school is strong and where it is weak.
This would end the “high stakes” nature of inspections in which a school’s performance is summarized in one word such as “good” or “inadequate”.
Ms Phillipson highlighted data showing more than 260,000 pupils are taught in schools deemed “inadequate” – and more than 17,000 are in schools rated inadequate for two inspections in a row.
But Labor has ruled out abolishing or replacing Ofsted.
Ms Phillipson added: “I think we need to see a much greater focus on school improvement, particularly in those schools that are stuck.”
Sexual abuse ‘normalised’
Bridget Phillipson, who has an 11-year-old daughter and a seven-year-old son, said she was “horrified” at the scale of sexual abuse experienced by children in schools: “Like all parents I’ve been really shocked at the reports we have seen.”
Thousands of children and young people shared stories of being verbally abused, harassed or assaulted on the website Everyone’s Invited after it was launched in 2020.
It prompted an Ofsted inquiry which concluded sexual harassment has become “normalised” among school-age children.
Ms Phillipson said: “These issues are too serious to be left to infrequent inspection.”
‘Education saved me from poverty’
The MP says she is passionate about education because it rescued her from a life of poverty. She grew up in a Tyne and Wear council house as the child of a single mother who was unable to work full-time due to difficulty finding childcare.
There wasn’t much money and the cupboards were bare by the end of the week. But Ms Phillipson thrived as a pupil at St Robert of Newminster Catholic School in Washington, and went on to study Modern History at Oxford. She said: “Education transformed my life. It made such a difference to me.”