I think it’s pretty safe to say that over the last year or two, Ofsted have been under some incredible scrutiny over how they go about school inspections.  It’s led to schools somewhat disillusioned and lost, teachers feeling somewhat miserable – leaving their profession, even – and parents and their children wondering where it all went wrong.

Here at Superprof, we’ve written a fair bit about Ofsted and the various controversies that have surrounded much of their work – we’ve relayed stories around their inspections, the fact that their inspectors aren’t always qualified, and sometimes alleged inconsistencies in the results.

Of course, when it comes to the politics of it all, I try to keep very much neutral – really it doesn’t matter too much who’s proposing several ideas as long as ultimately they work.

Several years of Michael Gove in charge has been cause for caution – and his ‘replacement’ Nicky Morgan has hardly had a glowing start, especially with accusations of pandering to feminist agendas in her plans and some rather interesting comments about 1/3 of pupils being unable to read… in reality this gaffe involved pupils not being up to a certain level.  There is a difference, you know.

Before it seems like I’m going all anti-Conservative here, I think we have to remember that the idea of tuition fees was a Labour idea in the first place – the Tories were hardly the first party in the world to believe that funding university education should come from the students themselves.

Education policy is something that we’re going to hear about going into 2015 and it’s certainly a very contentious topic.  However, what if there was a change in government and we found present Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt at the reigns of an education system that’s seen so much change over the last five years that it’s almost unrecognisable?

Well, it turns out the Mr Hunt has given us a few small previews based on his comments made across the media.

Private schools to cooperate or lose out?

Back in November, Tristram declared in an article in the Guardian that private schools have done ‘too little for too long.’  Hunt argued that, despite being born out of philanthropy and ‘Christian duty’, independent schools are very much now a barrier to successful education in the UK.  He adds that “If we are to prosper as a country, we need to be more equal.”

Mr Hunt also provides us with several interesting statistics to back up the point:

  • Private schools in the UK account for 7% of pupils in education, yet their students take half of Oxbridge places.
  • An independent day school pupil is 22 times more likely to attend a Russell Group university than a state school pupil from a disadvantaged background.
  • There’s a distinct lack of cooperation between independent and state schools: just 3% of independent schools sponsor an academy and only 5% lend teachers to the state sector.

In order to combat this perceived imbalance, Tristram Hunt has recommended the introduction of a School Partnership Standard.  This will require all private and independent schools to form ‘genuine and accountable’ partnerships with state schools.  This will ensure that schools will work together more.  It will be a meaningful partnership, according to Hunt, who says that it won’t be a case of handing out bursaries and ‘hanging up some artwork’ – this is going to be a serious partnership.

What if the private schools don’t do it?  Simple: they’ll lose their tax breaks for being charitable organisations.

The plans have been met with varying degrees of support and caution: it doubtless will help headteachers in state schools and arguably bring about academic change.  However, it has been met with criticism by some who have argued that Hunt is merely pointing the blame on independent schools.

The government vs Ofsted: Part 1,000,000

A change in government could well see some changes to the Ofsted system too – both with regards to inspections and the political nature of the organisation.

Tristram Hunt has regularly gone on record arguing that there has to be change to a rather fractured system.  Back in October, he opened by saying that Ofsted really needed to get looking at the religious education that was being delivered in schools, something that previously hasn’t happened.  The headlining case in all of this has been the Birmingham schools controversy, where an alleged plot by Islamic hard-liners was found to be interfering with a more ‘traditional’ education.  Furthermore, Hunt has gone on record saying that schools really have to push the whole concept of a ‘balanced curriculum’ – the end of an emphasis on one subject or another at the expense of another is going to limit a school’s ability to secure the ‘Outstanding’ grades that many trumpet.

Interestingly, Hunt also wrote about the importance of Ofsted ‘staying out of politics’ – the old days of Michael Gove’s heavily-political agenda for schools and inspections appears to be over.  The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, was often seen as a key ally to Gove during his tenure.

All in all, teachers up and down the country are seemingly welcoming of this stance taken – there has to be more equality and less of a focus on the ‘rich’ getting a better deal out of it.  From that perspective it sounds promising.

Of course, in order to keep this nice and balanced I think we should point out that the Conservatives themselves have distanced themselves the Gove era somewhat – Nicky Morgan has spoken of her differences with Gove and that some of the things he’s said were perhaps not the best.  The Conservatives have their own agenda which I’ll be gladly taking a look at soon – it’ll be interesting to see what it’ll look like and how it’ll affect education policy in the future.

See, kept that suitably neutral and informative!  Bring on May when we’ll see how it all plays out.


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