Inspections won’t restart next week as new Ofsted boss launches inquiry

Sir Martyn Oliver tells Schools Week inspections halted for 'a couple of weeks' as he takes action after headteacher death

Sir Martyn Oliver tells Schools Week inspections halted for 'a couple of weeks' as he takes action after headteacher death

Ofsted inspections will not restart next week, new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver has said, as he launches an internal inquiry into how the embattled watchdog responded to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

In a wide-ranging interview with Schools Week, the former Outwood Grange Academy Trust boss has promised the sector a “fresh start”, with more “empathetic” inspections and a “less defensive” inspectorate that is more “of the system”.

The watchdog has faced fierce criticism after Perry’s suicide. A coroner ruled an Ofsted inspection contributed to her death, adding there is a “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.

Inspections were paused before Christmas. Ofsted and the Department for Education have until February 7 to tell the coroner what actions they will take over her concerns about school inspections.

Inspections halted for ‘a couple of weeks’

Oliver told Schools Week while there was a “tremendous amount that Ofsted has already done, there’s far more that’s planned to come”.

Starting the role today, he said inspections won’t restart for a “couple of weeks”, something union leaders have called for, while the watchdog responds to the coroner’s concerns and training for inspectors on dealing with anxious headteachers is fully rolled out. This applies to all the sectors Ofsted inspects, including colleges.

“I don’t think it’s a pause… I think it’s not starting until a couple of weeks where I’ve put in place the plans and training and met with these leaders to talk to them face to face.

READ: Schools Week’s full interview with new Ofsted boss

“I think there’ll be updates on that quite quickly, by the end of this week, or the following week… as you can imagine, trying to do this before you’ve begun is very difficult.”

Emergency inspections will continue as they are “about ensuring that people and children are safe”, he added.

Ofsted held emergency training last month for lead inspectors on spotting and dealing with school leader anxiety during inspections. It has promised wider training for all inspectors this term.

Further details published by Ofsted this morning state Oliver will lead initial training for all inspectors.

It will include training from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, which will also lead a “rolling programme” of further mental health awareness training for inspectors.

Details of the training will be published “ensuring it is embedded throughout the professions”.

Oliver promises ‘thorough review’

Oliver added: “I think Ofsted needs to do a thorough review. It’s already doing a review of its EIF [education inspection framework]. I think we need to look at a review, quite rightly as the coroner requested, to our response to Ruth’s tragic death.”

The scope for the internal review is yet to be determined, but is expected to include looking at how Ofsted responded to Perry’s death last year.

As part of that, Oliver will meet later this week with Perry’s sister Julia Waters, who has been campaigning for Ofsted reform.

Oliver said: “First and foremost, I just want to send my deepest condolences. As a fellow headteacher, it was a shock to learn of what happened.

“It’s been a very challenging time for the system and for the inspectorate. Quite rightly, it’s a very critical coroner’s report of Ofsted.

“I’m really clear that we should accept and take on board all of those points, very seriously. I look forward to working with everyone to develop a really strong response.

“From January, it’s about having a fresh start and really focusing and doubling down on having professional, courteous, respectful, empathetic inspections.”

‘I won’t impose my own ideas on the system’

Oliver will run a ‘big listen’ to get the sector’s views on change. “Part of the thing that the system fears with a new chief inspector is that it’s just going to be their ideas imposed on the system, which I’m not going to do.”

He doesn’t think a new framework is required, but if the sector thinks required changes are “untenable” under the current inspection model then “nothing is off the table”.

He pledged to look at the workload impact of any changes, and to consult the sector on major proposals.

Expanding on his pledge to get more school leaders inspecting, Oliver said he wants to create a “faster track” so it becomes “part of the golden thread” of teacher development.

“The chance to be an inspector quicker, it would have certainly helped me do my job. In the role of an executive in a trust, you’re judging schools: what are the areas for development? What are their strengths?

“Well, that’s Ofsted profession. The more we can bring the two together: that’s that sense of synthesis that I was talking about. I think that’s when Ofsted can be part of raising standards.”

‘I’m determined to be more open’

He also promised not to just release training materials used by inspectors, but also open up the watchdog’s vast database for “researchers and academics to look at Ofsted’s working performance”.

“I’m determined to meet with the media and to be more open, less defensive, to accept the criticism because I genuinely think you [the media], researchers, serving practitioners: we’re all doing this job and you’re reporting on education because you firmly believe that the power of education and Ofsted should be a significant part of that.”

When asked if he would act on proposals from the Confederation of School Trusts for a comprehensive review of the grading system, including the validity and reliability of judgments, he said: “I think we should review all of this.”

Ofsted’s role is to deliver the best inspections. My absolute and only priority is to do that

While he has “thousands of ideas, I’m trying to contain them because … a sense of ‘of the system’ means listening to people” not just for the immediate response but also to produce a “longer-term plan, which is more sustained and more considered going forward”.

But he added: “The timing of any changes and the timing of a general election: it could be that nothing changes, it could be that things change significantly, I just need to be sensible.”

‘I want empathetic, caring inspectorate’

Elsewhere, Oliver also suggested looking at the wider performance of children’s service across areas and also how responsible bodies are looking after the wellbeing of their leaders.

In response to concerns about variability of inspection grades, he said the inspectorate could do more to explain how certain grades are reached in published reports and also do more to “highlight” the sub-criteria judgments that sit under the overall effectiveness grade.

He also suggested a move away from Ofsted’s role under Spielman of publishing research, such as subject reviews.

“I don’t think it’s not Ofsted’s role. But I do think it’s Ofsted’s role to deliver the best inspections it can for the funding it’s got. My absolute and only priority is to do that. If there is then additional time and money to be spent, my next stage would be to look at how we can be even better at doing that.”

OGAT’s track record is turning around some of the country’s most challenging schools. And Oliver added: “If I can achieve one thing, beyond delivering a professional, caring, empathetic inspectorate that people trust, it’s to also really focus on disadvantaged children.”

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  1. Sandy Cameron

    Ofsted can review itself for as long as it likes, but without policy and legislative change from government, the problems with a national system for the inspection of schools will continue.

    • School employee

      The whole framework needs changing. Deep dives in primary schools have had such a negative impact – teachers leaving in droves partly due to the pressure of producing huge amounts of paperwork for a potential deep dive into their subject alongside the vast demands of paperwork being asked for as a class teacher. Deep dives have taken all creatively, spontaneity and fun out of the curriculum and replaced previously good planning with schemes to cover the mounds of unnecessary of paperwork required.

      • Fleur Howley

        I totally agree! I have been teaching for twenty-six years and experienced MANY different Ofsted approaches. This one is, by far, the most time-consuming, anxiety-laden version I have ever been involved in.

        It has panicked colleagues into overhauling successful, established subject curriculums and introducing learning based around the latest trending generic, commercially produced schemes. This is a step backwards as far as I’m concerned.

        Nowadays, as a Y1 teacher, I have to waste time in lessons, taking photos, and devising other clever ways to provide evidence for Ofsted to prove that I am doing my job well. I could go on!

        It concerns me that Ofsted is providing “training for inspectors on dealing with anxious headteachers.” When, in fact, it should be changing the framework and providing training to ensure they don’t CAUSE teachers and headteachers to be anxious in the first place!

      • I am dreading offsted deep during into history and geography. I know my headteacher has placed my subjects at the top of the list ti deep dive in and that is alpt of pressure on me. I am.very lucky that I will have paid off my mortgage this summer and will be leaving teaching ASAP.

  2. Vicky Spurling

    Does this include childminders? As a colleague was called the week before Christmas and told that unlike schools we were unable to defer. It should be the same for all!

  3. Chris Lowe

    I agree with the last comment, Ofsted will not change. Rude and abusive inspectors have not been dealt with, has the lead inspector of Mrs Perry been sacked. He didn’t even own up. Complete overhaul needed and a new relationship with schools

  4. Trust and genuine respect has been missing from education in the UK for a long time. Only then will our teachers feel valued as professionals. Retention and high turnovers have remained a huge issue, it was never a recruitment issue.

  5. Sandy Cameron

    Part of the problem is that there is so much statutory regulation of schools that could fall within the remit of an inspection that Ofsted can only cover inadequately. Safeguarding is perhaps the most significant example. One area that is inadequately inspected is governance: inspectors have insufficient time to find out what capacity governing boards have to deal with the most challenging of their responsibilities such as appointing a headteacher, carrying out their appraisal rigorously and dealing effectively with underperformance. How can any school be judged ‘Good’ when inspectors don’t engage sufficiently with the board responsible for the oversight of the school?

  6. Ofsted came to my daughters school and the head teacher and assistant head were forced to out a false report in that I had taken my daughter to have FGM done!! What does ofsted have to say about this?

  7. Another depressed teacher.

    Teachers are leaving in droves, morale is low and staff are being micro-managed. SMT delegate and put further pressure on teachers. I cannot wait to get out of it.

  8. Mike Morris

    Yes … don’t forget the biggest pressure is on the Teachers … they get blamed for ‘ failures’ when there is a whole tier of management above them supposed to be directing! More so when LA’s employed so called ‘advisors’….. no great loss to classroom teachers when they disappeared! Paperwork /planning overload at teacher level is ridiculous – when seems primary function is to satisfy potential Ofsted inspection related issues not the childrens development!

    • peter Sopowski

      Agree totally – However the SMT can become like Ofsted – Over observing, over recording, demanding meetings over every issue that arises and threatening Middle Managers with “Ofsted type judgements” every day if rediclous asks for data, exam analysis , actual and mocks plus in year assesments etc etc ! Heads/SMT also need to look at what they do to their staff !!! This has to stop.
      My best Head Teacher pottered into my classes regularly – He was welcome , and the pupil s knew he could appear at any time ! If he saw something I hadn’t – he would pass anote to me as he left, for me to deal with it – we would discuss the pupil the issue later. Yes Formal Observations weer done by his SMT 3 per year ! But he knew what was going on in my classes. My HOD also popped as well – Great ! Supportive – not threatening !
      The culture has changed – Some Heads /SMT think they won’t progress ? unless that can behave like Ofsted inspectors !!!! – This is the major problem !!! How many suicides have there been amongst Heads of Departments – senior school staff – not just Heads, like the sad case of Ruth Perry! ? Many are leaving – because of this – not the pay levels !!!!

  9. The effect of Ofsted can be seen in headteachers for years, as they hold their breath, waiting for ‘the call.’ Many of our clients come to us suffering from physical and emotional signs of stress and depression, as they spend years – some legacy schools we have worked as many as ten – in the Ofsted window.

    Despite the current emphasis on promoting wellbeing, heads are still struggling with the lack of consistency, and uncertainty of wondering ‘which sort of team’ will they get. One that wants to fight with them, or one that wants to work with them.

    Ofsted could be an opportunity to support schools into developing, but in order to do this, they need to change their combative and aggressive approach.

    • Violeta Chirica

      This is our curriculum for children ” to not motivate through fear” , should be through positive guidance ,working together to protect teacher to serve in the detriment of the child, development. Quality of education doesn’t come with tone of paperwork but think with the child , develop yourself with the students.,for this you need time to plan and spend on and with students .

  10. peter Sopowski

    Sadly -It was Ruth Perry’s suicide that has got this to the headlines. I wonder how many Heads and middle managers are also guilty of owerworking and stressing out colleagues with analysis, predictions, statistics, on actual exam results, mock exam results and comparing the uncomparable (- previous/future exam cohorts ) – internal deep dives – over observation, and expecting written reports on every observation ! – Oh! and then the Heads of Departments and Teachers are expected to deal with absent staff and lack of specialist teachers – then the least important aspect it seems – to teach their assigned classes ! (At least that teaching role is time limited by a bell! -whereas the other tasks seem to take forever and you can overwork on those 7days a week to try to fulfil SMT and the Head’s needs.! Its no good some Heads (and their SMTs) complaining about the stress on them, – that Ofsted brings – if they are doing horrible things themselves, to the workforce! I’m assuming Ruth Perry was a caring and professional Head who was devastated by Ofsted – Remember all staff need a safe workplace – Ofsted causes a school to be a stressful and unsafe working environment for many ! The Health and Safety Executive, knows this and removing one of the risks is paramount! Thats Ofsted in my view. Also Bullying and overbearing Heads or Directors – who don’t care or look after their workforce ! And before you think – what about standards ? – I have advised teachers to leave – as they clearly arent up to the job -and i wouldn’t want my children /grandchildren taught by them ! – Ofsted doesn’t improve standads – it distracts from ensuring good teaching!!!!

    • Jackie mahoney

      It’s so sad that it takes a coroner to take a stand on yet another death by Ofsted.its also sad that they have to be told that in future they have to be “professional ,courteous, respectful and empathetic”. I thought that’s what we were teaching children. And why are childminders not in this review.they are leaving in droves because of Ofsted.we have inspectors in our homes for nearly 4 hours bombarding us with questions and needing evidence of everything we do ,yet they expect us to carry on as normal . There is no normal since Ofsted took over.