Speaking at the Schools & Academies Show in London today, Chris Russell said: “Ultimately it’s for individuals to decide what they think is most appropriate. Our experience is people aren’t doing that.”
Education unions NEU and NAHT both urged their school leader members who also serve as Ofsted inspectors (OIs) to stop taking part in inspections amid ongoing calls for reforms.
Julia Waters, the sister of Ruth Perry, also called on headteachers to “hand in your badges” and “refuse to be complicit in Ofsted’s reign of terror” last month.
It comes amid an ongoing outpouring of anger towards Ofsted over the pressure placed on school staff in the wake of Perry’s death.
Her family say she took her own life in January before the publication of an ‘inadequate’ inspection report at Caversham Primary School.
But Russell said OIs “benefit” from working for the inspectorate, “and their schools and their colleagues”.
“I think people do recognise that,” he added.
“We also recognise that when working with the OIs, that gives us a relationship with the sector because those people are wearing two hats.”
When Schools Week asked Ofsted how many OIs had formally withdrawn their contract to inspect between mid-March – when the latest backlash took hold – and mid-April, it said it was “aware of a small number”.
Last month, the number remained in the single figures, Ofsted said.
Ofsted ‘not tin-eared’
The NEU had called for leaders to refuse work until Ofsted carries out a health and safety assessment of the inspection system.
Meanwhile, the NAHT, which has threatened the watchdog with a judicial review over its refusal to pause inspections, asked members to consider not carrying out inspections until its ongoing dispute is resolved.
Asked if Ofsted regretted its response to the wave of concerns and demands about the inspection process from the sector, Russell said he was “sorry” if people felt the watchdog had not listened.
“What happened to Ruth Perry was clearly a tragic event and we all absolutely recognise that,” he told audience members.
“In terms of us responding widely to those broader issues…we’re not tin-eared, we’re not just ignoring all of that.”
Although he claimed that “most people do have a positive experience of inspection”.
Among the current areas Ofsted was seeking to improve, said Russell, was its much-lambasted complaints process, as well as offering schools “more of an idea” about when inspectors may visit.
“We don’t want people to prepare for inspection. We just want people to do their work as a school and we just come in and inspect,” he said.
Ofsted heads up for more schools
“We understand that people like a bit of a feeling about when that’s going to be, so we’re just finalising that work so we can give particularly outstanding schools, but other schools as well, more of an idea about when an inspection might be likely as we run up to this period of 2025 as this sort of Covid delay works out of the system.”
He also addressed concerns about the way in which inspectors judge safeguarding within schools.
“We recognise there are particular anxieties around safeguarding and I don’t think those anxieties are new,” he said.
But the former HMI and headteacher argued that schools being judged as ‘ineffective’ in this area was “really, really rare”.
He added that only around 0.15 per cent of schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in every other judgment area were deemed to have ineffective safeguarding.
Russell said that improvements to the inspection system were “a continual process”.
“As you could imagine, that’s become much more of a process for us at the moment because we recognise those particular concerns and anxieties people have got,” he said.
But “a major change would need to be well-thought out and would need to fit in with the government’s approach”.