Keegan: ‘I’d have punched Ofsted inspector’

Education secretary makes claim after hearing about 'rude' inspectors at school

Education secretary makes claim after hearing about 'rude' inspectors at school

8 Mar 2024, 11:42

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The education secretary has said she would have “punched” disrespectful Ofsted inspectors that ran the rule over a school that she recently visited.

Gillian Keegan made the statement during a question-and-answer event at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference this morning.

The senior Conservative recalled feeling “shocked” after hearing about the inspectors’ conduct as “you don’t expect somebody to come in and not be respectful”.

“I heard recently actually from a fantastic school I went into, [and] they told me how their Ofsted experience had gone,” she told the audience.

“I was shocked, I was actually shocked. I thought, ‘God, if I’d met these people, I’d have probably punched them.’ They were really rude.”

Completely unacceptable’

Matt Newman, national officer at the FDA union, which represents inspectors, said her comments were “completely unacceptable”.

“Ofsted inspectors are hard-working, decent people who are passionate about what they do.

“For a minister to suggest that it is acceptable to assault inspectors is irresponsible and dangerous. It will only serve to undermine the credibility of the inspection process.”

Keegan added that the “most important thing” in schools is “getting good people, retaining good people, continuing the professional development of good people, [and] listening and respecting to good people”.

“You expect people to be rude to you when you’re a politician,” she continued.

“But when you’re trying to run a school and change lives you don’t expect somebody to come in and not be respectful.”

Ofsted boss responds to Keegan comments

Keegan noted that after meeting headteacher Ruth Perry’s loved ones and reflecting on what happened, she decided “the biggest thing that we needed to change was the culture” of inspection.

Asked about the education secretary’s comments, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver said he thought “people should act with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect on both sides”.

“I think [Keegan’s comments are] referring to a previous period, I’m much more interested in a fresh start and calming down tensions. That’s in far better interests for the children and professionals in the country going forward.”

UNISON head of education Mike Short said: “Clearly there’s much that can and should be improved in the way Ofsted inspections are carried out. But to suggest punching people is an appropriate reaction is not becoming of a government minister.

“Making light of violence in schools when staff are increasingly likely to face assaults while doing their job is in very poor taste. Ofsted inspectors are already dealing with a great deal of hostility while they work. So much for showing respect.”

Keegan has ‘demeaned her office’ says Phillipson

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said it was “sadly another example of the way in which Gillian Keegan has demeaned her office as secretary of state”.

“To do so in front of an audience of school leaders, many of whom are themselves Ofsted inspectors and take that responsibility very seriously, is frankly, pathetic.”

She pointed to previous controversies, including Keegan saying some children “prefer portacabins” during the RAAC crisis and being caught on camera suggesting she deserved praise for doing a “f***ing good job”.

“Sadly we’ve seen many, many, many examples of such behaviour at a time when we need greater respect for education, where we need parents and government to work together to tackle some of these big challenges that we face, for example, around attendance,” Phillipson said.

“The comments from the secretary of state do absolutely nothing to help that.”

Ofsted consults

Sir Martyn Oliver
Sir Martyn Oliver

It comes as Oliver launched the watchdog’s ‘big listen’, a 12-week consultation on further inspection changes following Perry’s death.

School staff, education organisations and parents are urged to complete the online survey.

He also revealed today that Ofsted will change its website so visitors see the “full range of component grades” for each school “at a glance”, and not just their overall effectiveness.

He stressed the change “neither promises nor precludes further changes to our gradings, but I hope it shows that we are listening”.

It will mean that, for each visit, the pages will also show the judgments for quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management – as well as ratings for sixth form or early years provision if they have it.

Correction: This article was amended shortly after publication to add ‘probably’ into Keegan’s comment about punching an inspector

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