York Press column – Action on Education
June 16, 2022
Every child deserves a first-class education to equip them with the skills to pursue a world of opportunities, and we are extremely lucky in York to have so many excellent schools staffed by dedicated teachers.
Like any industry though, there is rightly some oversight to ensure any issues can be highlighted and remedied. Parents, governors, students, and teachers will know this as Ofsted inspections which take place every couple of years.
Unfortunately, there have been increasing complaints about the effect these inspections can have on a school, their teachers, and entire communities. Even a middling assessment can lead to years of uncertainty, despite any potential issues being long-since addressed.
With such power in the hands of inspectors, questions are rightly being raised about who holds them accountable? What right of appeal do schools have? How do you challenge an assessment you truly believe to be unfair?
These questions are all the more relevant to one community in York following an inspection of their village school. In March this year an Ofsted report was published which rated Naburn Church of England Primary School ‘inadequate’, raising questions over its future and triggering a process by which it has to become an academy.
Concerns have been raised, however, about the conduct and findings of the Ofsted inspection, coming just 24 days after a new Headteacher took up post. Ofsted were also criticised for giving insufficient weight to the reasons for low attendance rates among the high proportion of students from the traveller community.
In response to the outcry from local residents – I attended a packed public meeting showing the strength of feeling in the village – last week I organised a debate in Parliament to support the school and press ministers on how the lack of a binding independent appeals mechanism leaves teachers feeling powerless.
This is clearly also a wider problem, as evidenced by the nearly 2000 teachers and governors across the country who completed my survey in advance of the debate.
This allowed me to draw from the experience of those who have dealt with Ofsted first-hand in making a positive case for an enhanced independent appeals process to add an extra layer of accountability to the current system under which Ofsted are allowed to mark their own homework.
I also continue my work to ensure school resources per pupil in York fairly match those in many other parts of the country, a long-running inequity stemming from the funding formula created by the last Labour government.
My vigorous lobbying of ministers previously secured an above-average six per cent per-pupil increase in 2019 and a further above-average 4.5 per cent rise in 2020, so I am reassured to see the government providing additional certainty on funding with its new draft schools law, alongside another resources boost.
School funding per pupil will now rise seven per cent during 2022-23, with the Education Secretary allocating an additional £4 billion. The Schools Bill should reinforce this progress by making concrete the government’s pledge to move to a direct National Funding Formula, increasing fairness by making sure every school receives funding on the same basis, wherever it is. There is also funding for additional tutoring to fill gaps in learning caused by school closures during the pandemic.
As a parent who was really concerned by the cruel impact of covid on the young, and by the particular regressive effect of closures on children from unstable families and low income households, I very much welcome this. I pressed ministers in the Commons on this during coronavirus, and expect to see rapid progress.
As MP representing the University of York, I also keep a close watch on developments in higher education, and was glad to see the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill complete its initial Commons stages earlier this week.
The overwhelming majority of students are open-minded and hard-working, and it has been very sad in recent times to see their education harmed by the anti-democratic antics of an extremist minority.
Tolerant exchange of ideas and having to encounter thoughts you disagree with are the essence of a university, and I warmly welcome these measures to protect free speech on campuses, and the wider principles of a free society.