Labour condemns ‘shocking failure’ over tutoring

Labour says parents often do not understand Ofsted grades of their child’s school.

12 March 2022

Labour has condemned the Government’s “shocking failure” to deliver on its promises regarding the national tutoring programme.

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said at the Association of School and College Leaders’ annual conference that the Government had “failed to bring forward an ambitious programme for children’s recovery in stark contrast to Labour’s children’s recovery plan”.

“It is an absolutely shocking failure, given what our children and young people have gone through in recent times, but it’s also just essential that we get it right because the damage that we will see as a country and as a society, not just to children, but much more broadly, will be profound,” she said at the conference, held in Birmingham on Saturday.

“We were clear when Randstad were given the contract that we didn’t think they had a strong track record on delivering this,” she added, although she did not say whether the Government should retender the contract.

Randstad has been heavily criticised for its management of the tuition partners pillar of the national tutoring programme.

Data released by the Government on Friday showed that just over 100,000 tuition courses had been started through this route during the 2021-22 academic year.

Critics have said that Randstad’s management of the scheme is “dysfunctional”, and Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee, has said the company should lose the contract if it cannot deliver on its objectives.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (Aaron Chown/PA)
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (Aaron Chown/PA)

Ms Phillipson said parents often did not understand their children’s school Ofsted grades.

Speaking to members of the press, she said: “I don’t think that parents looking at those grades would necessarily always have a clear sense as to what they mean in reality.”

“Parents frequently wouldn’t know the grade of their child’s school but what they would want to see is a focus on both high standards but also a broad curriculum and a range of experiences for their children, so I want to look right across the system at how we make sure that world class education with high standards but that we also get a better sense of parents having a role in that process too,” she said.

“Labour believes that inspection has been a part of that success, an independent schools inspectorate with chief inspectors not beholden to ministers, unafraid to speak their minds is a sign of a mature and confident education system,” she said to headteachers in her speech.

“But to be supportive of Ofsted’s role is not to believe it cannot be better.

“For one thing it’s hardly surprising if the Ofsted we need tomorrow is different from the Ofsted we needed 30 years ago.

“For another, the way inspections operate makes teachers, leaders and lecturers often feel punished rather than supported.”

She said the inspectorate “still operates in a way that is often too high-stakes and where the risks of a bad inspection outweigh the rewards of a good one”.

“A cat and mouse game between inspectors and schools, with no incentive to have an honest professional dialogue to accept weakness and work to address all the unhelpful features of such an adversarial system,” she said.

Ms Phillipson praised heads at the conference, saying that “when the story of the pandemic is written, NHS workers and those who developed vaccines so fast will deservedly get many of the accolades”.

“But I believe alongside them there should be a proud place for those who work in our schools and colleges, the headteachers, principals, senior leaders, lecturers and support staff.

“It is you who have kept young people going through extraordinary and difficult circumstances, who have helped with their wellbeing, stepped in when free school meals were not being paid, undertaking extra safeguarding checks for the children most at risk move lessons online, provided technology to those without, supported the most vulnerable,” she said.

Ms Phillipson said Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi had “so little to offer a profession that has given so much”.

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