Ofsted Boss Expresses Commiserations Over Death Of Berkshire Headteacher

Ofsted Boss Expresses Commiserations Over Death Of Berkshire Headteacher

By Gavin Mackintosh-

Ofsted boss, Amanda Spielman, has said she is deeply sorry over the death of Berkshire headteacher Ruth Perry, and supported “legitimate” debate over how Ofsted inspects schools in the future.

Perry’s family said her death  was due to a harsh Ofsted judgment,  but Spieldman rejected calls by local authorities and school leaders to suspend inspections, defending them as necessary to help schools improve.

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“Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy. Our thoughts remain with Ruth’s family, friends and the school community at Caversham Primary. I am deeply sorry for their loss.

“Ahead of the coroner’s inquest, it would not be right to say too much. But I will say that the news of Ruth’s death was met with great sadness at Ofsted,” Spielman said.

Ofsted inspectors visited Perry’s primary school in Reading last year, and told her it would be downgraded to Ofsted’s lowest ranking because of gaps they found in the school’s safeguarding administration.

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Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, said her family were in no doubt she had taken her own life in January as a “direct result” of the pressure put on her by the Ofsted inspection, which downgraded the school from outstanding to inadequate.

Under the current system for schools in England, Ofsted inspectors give ratings of either outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.

The gradings “give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses” and are used to guide government decisions about when to intervene, Ms Spielman said.

President of the National Association of Head Teachers, Paul Gosling, called for the “cliff-edge” grades to be scrapped, suggesting they be replaced with a list of what a school does well and what needs improving.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the one-word assessments do not give parents much information, because schools are so complex, and called for an immediate review of its “one-size-fits-all” strategy.

He said school leaders were also under extra strain because of recruitment struggles, funding pressures and the continued impact of the pandemic on education.

On Thursday the National Education Union delivered a petition with 52,000 signatures to the Department for Education in London, calling for an overhaul of school inspection. Niamh Sweeney, the NEU’s deputy general secretary, said: “It is clearly absurd that the whole of school life is condensed into a single-word judgment.”

Perry’s family have also called for an urgent review of Ofsted, describing its inspection regime as “fatally flawed”. One head teacher initially threatened to bar Ofsted inspectors from entering her school last week, while others have stripped Ofsted logos and inspection grades from their school publications in protest.

Other head teacher’s have planned peaceful protests during Ofsted inspections, including allowing teachers to wear black armbands and display photographs of Perry.

Ofsted indeed serves the necessary function of providing parents with an indication of the quality of the school their children attend, or that they intend them to attend.

However, the level of its efficiency has been several times brought to question.

Ofsted  has itself over the years failed to be accountable when legitimate criticisms about its operations have been presented to the organisation. Its assessment has often been plagued by inaccuracies, incompetence,  negligence, and lack of accountability,

Spielman said: “The sad news about Ruth has led to an understandable outpouring of grief and anger from many people in education. There have been suggestions about refusing to cooperate with inspections, and union calls to halt them entirely.

“I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests. Our aim is to raise standards, so that all children get a great education.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the refusal to temporarily suspend inspections was “a terrible mistake,” describing Ofsted’s response as “tin-eared” and lacking in concern for the wellbeing of school leaders.

“Ofsted has completely underestimated the strength of feeling among educational professionals. The warm words and sympathy they have expressed are welcome, but they are simply not enough,” Whiteman said.

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“School leaders want to see tangible actions being taken to reduce the intolerable pressure that the current inspection regime places on everyone in schools, and they want to see those actions now.”

Spielman suggested that changes were possible, saying: “The broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one, but it shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used.

“They give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses. They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools. Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government.”

Spielman, whose term as His Majesty’s chief inspector expires at the end of the year, added: “We will keep our focus on how inspections feel for school staff and on how we can further improve the way we work with schools.

“I am always pleased when we hear from schools that their inspection ‘felt done with, not done to’. That is the kind of feedback I want to hear in every case.”

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