Don’t work as Ofsted inspectors, NEU urges heads

Union passes urgent motion calling for inspections freeze and Ofsted abolition following the death of head Ruth Perry

Union passes urgent motion calling for inspections freeze and Ofsted abolition following the death of head Ruth Perry

The National Education Union has urged school leaders to refuse to work as Ofsted inspectors until a health and safety assessment of the system is carried out.

The union’s conference passed an urgent motion this morning that was tabled in the wake of the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Perry’s family said she had taken her own life in January before the publication of an inspection report rating Caversham primary school in Berkshire ‘inadequate’.

As well as calling for a freeze of inspections and the abolition of Ofsted, the motion instructed the union to “call on all NEU leadership members to refuse to participate as inspectors in any further inspections until a full health and safety assessment of the inspection system is conducted”.

It also instructed the NEU’s executive to work with leadership unions ASCL and the NAHT to “call for headteachers to withdraw all participation in Ofsted inspections as inspectors”.

In her speech to the conference, joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted warned “we cannot carry on with Ofsted”.

“So I make a public plea to those school leaders who work as Ofsted inspectors.

“I ask them simply to stop. Concentrate on your school. Refuse to be part of an inspection team until we have an accountability system which commands respect, which supports schools to improve.”

Ofsted relies on hundreds of serving school leaders to work as inspectors alongside its in-house team.

During the debate, Paul Arnold, who works near Caversham primary, said he “cannot begin to describe the damage and loss felt by our community”, adding: “32 years of passion for the profession, destroyed in a single word.”

‘It’s time to start again’

The original motion wording called for Ofsted to be replaced, but was strengthened by an amendment calling for abolition.

Robin Bevan, the head of Southend High School for Boys and a former NEU president, said Ofsted was beyond reform, and had “no public credibility” in the education world.

“When you look at it through that lens, you have to say, well, probably, and in my view, definitely, it’s time to actually start again.”

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT union, spoke about Ofsted when he addressed the conference this morning. The union last week threatened a judicial review of Ofsted’s refusal to pause inspections.

He said unions had been “warning about the danger of Ofsted for years, and no one has been listening”.

“This tragedy should be a watershed moment where the inspectorate should be acting with some urgency to make changes.

“We see a promise to talk, but no promise to agree changes that will make any real difference to the profession. And those changes need to be immediate.”

Speaking to journalists after his speech, Whiteman revealed he met chief inspector Amanda Spielman last week.

“It was a conversation where I was saying we need to do something urgently. It has to be tangible and it has to be agreed with the union not simply Ofsted saying, ‘we’ve thought about this and we can reassure you everything’s fine’.”

He said Spielman did not respond “positively enough”.

“We didn’t leave with an agreement that we’d work together.”

Ofsted must ‘demonstrate they take this seriously’

Asked about the limited public comment from Ofsted in the wake of Perry’s death, he said it was “par for the course for Ofsted”.

“They don’t get involved in public in these matters. I think they need to say something that demonstrates that they’re taking this this tragedy seriously, that they’re taking the worries of the profession seriously.”

Bevan added that Ofsted “don’t seem to be taking it seriously”.

“They don’t seem to have clocked the degree to which the unintended consequences of the methods and procedures that they follow, have devastating consequences.”

Whiteman said he was aware of some members withdrawing from Ofsted inspections, and that his own conference may debate a motion on the issue when it meets later this month.

Ofsted pointed to a statement issued by Spielman last month, in which she said the news of Perry’s death was “met with great sadness at Ofsted”.

She said it was “unquestionably a difficult time to be a headteacher” and knew that inspections could be “challenging”. But Ofsted “always aims to carry them out with sensitivity as well as professionalism”.

She rebuffed calls for a pause in inspections, adding: “I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests.”

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Charity Education Support runs a confidential helpline for education staff and teachers – call 08000 562 561. 

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