Reports that the Labour Party leadership is moving towards reforming Ofsted and SATs testing in primary schools, rather than scrapping them, as promised in the 2019 election manifesto, should give activists and educationalists cause for alarm.
Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, in an interview with Schools Week, has said she wants to lower the stakes in primary testing, but does not commit to scrapping the statutory tests. The statutory tests have nothing to do with improving children’s education. They are about measuring schools and school workers to make a competitive, semi-market system.
Any significant testing on children of primary school age (4 to 11) will cause stress and distress to them. In Britain, we continue to suffer a mental health crisis amongst our young people. That is not solely due to the testing culture, but it is a big contributory factor. Surely a big contributory factor to the significant evidence that the effect of school closures during lockdown on children and young people’s mental health has been mixed, with many reports suggesting that many students’ mental health improved during the closures!
InSchools Week Green argues that she is “immensely frustrated” by Ofsted, and she wants to see it be “more of an improvement agency, that it doesn’t just come in, write a report and leave, and the school is left to pick up the pieces”. However, the new shadow schools minister, Wes Streeting, in the same publication, argues “if you didn’t have Ofsted, you would need to reinvent it”, adding “Don’t tell us what you want to scrap, tell us what you want to build.”
That sounds reasonable, and we could support a system of local authority inspectors mandated to support improvement; but Ofsted is not about improving education. Like standardised testing, Ofsted is about grading schools and inculcating a culture of competition and marketisation.
The education system needs a radical overhaul. Schools’ improvement should be based on collective, collaborative and supportive approaches. Ofsted is steeped in a divisive, individualistic and punitive approach. It should be scrapped.
In her Schools Week interview Green also says there is a “compelling logic to scrapping GCSEs”. That is to be welcomed.
What is clear from all of this, however, that those in the NEU leadership and around the left who believed that we can wait for education to be positively reformed by an incoming Labour Government should be disabused of this notion. Only if school workers, labour movement activists and Labour Party members fight for it will an education system which meets the needs of our children and young people become part of the Labour Party’s platform.