Ofsted

Ofsted considers safeguarding inspection tweaks after head’s death

Chief inspector says watchdog 'making changes' to acknowledge the 'strength of feeling' after Ruth Perry's death

Chief inspector says watchdog 'making changes' to acknowledge the 'strength of feeling' after Ruth Perry's death

21 Apr 2023, 0:01

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Amanda Spielman

Ofsted will consider returning earlier to schools that fail inspections because of safeguarding issues, but are “otherwise performing well”, to ensure any improvement is reflected in their grades.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, said in a statement published today (see in full below) that the inspectorate was “making changes” to “acknowledge the continuing debate and strength of feeling” after the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

The changes also included underlining that heads and teachers could have a colleague from their school or trust join discussions with inspectors. And while they could not share provisional outcomes with parents, they could share it with others “in confidence”.

Spielman also said seminars would be run to “de-mystify” the inspection process for previously exempt schools, who would also get a heads-up of a visit.

Speaking on Times radio yesterday, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said the watchdog and the Department for Education would “look at” whether the “limiting judgment” was the “right approach”.

Currently schools who fail safeguarding get an ‘inadequate’ grade overall, even if other areas of provision are good.

But unions condemned the announcement.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the leaders’ union ASCL, said Ofsted had “completely lost the trust of leaders and teachers”.

“It will take a great deal more than this to gain their confidence and ensure that the inspection system works in a way that is effective, rather than being punitive and counterproductive.”

Ofsted ‘constrained by boundaries’

Spielman admitted the changes “do not go far or fast enough for some”, but argued Ofsted was constrained by “complexities and boundaries”.

Calls for reforms have heightened following the death of Perry, the headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Berkshire.

Perry’s family said she took her own life in January before the publication of an inspection report that rated the school ‘inadequate’.

Professor Julia Waters, Perry’s sister, said the response “is yet again totally insensitive to the situation and deaf to the urgency of the calls for change”.

A photograph of Ruth Perry
A photograph of Ruth Perry

She said neither Spielman or Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, had contacted her.

Spielman said conversations to discuss changes had “intensified” following the “tragic news” of Perry’s death, and she wanted to “bring some of that out into the open”.

While she said Ofsted “won’t be soft on safeguarding”, it recognised “some gaps in schools’ knowledge or practice are easier to put right than others”.

“We are looking at how we can return more quickly to schools who have work to do on safeguarding, but are otherwise performing well,” she said.

“That should enable us to see fast improvements and reflect them in our judgments.”

Ofsted said both options of revisiting either before or after reports are published are under consideration.

On previously exempt ‘outstanding’ schools, Spielman said “for those yet to be inspected we will provide additional clarity about the broad timing of their next visit”.

No further detail was provided.

Changes ‘don’t go far enough’ say heads

Perry’s family were critical that she was unable to share the inspection outcome while waiting for its publication.

Ofsted said while it “strongly recommends” provisional outcomes were not shared with parents, heads and responsible bodies “can share that information with others in confidence”.

Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT, welcomed the changes, but said they would “not go far enough to address either the concerns school leaders have or the strength of feeling amongst the profession”.

Earlier this week Keegan backed Ofsted’s much maligned single-word overall grades, describing them as “clear” and “simple to understand”.

Spielman reiterated that she recognised “distilling all that a school does into a single word makes some in the sector uncomfortable”.

“But as I’ve said previously, the overall grade currently plays an integral part in the wider school system.”

She said she was “not deaf to the calls for change, or insensitive to the needs of schools and their staff; we will continue to listen carefully to the experiences and views of those we inspect.

“The part we play is small in comparison to those who work in our schools – but it’s in children’s interests that we work constructively together. In that spirit, we will continue to explore ways to make our work as effective and collaborative as it can be.”

Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can reach them on free call number 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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

Spielman’s statement in full

In recent weeks there has been much debate about reform of school inspections. The media has carried stories from teachers about their past Ofsted experiences and calls for change from unions and others. I want to acknowledge the continuing debate and the strength of feeling, and I want to set out some of the things we’re doing and reflect on the suggestions of more radical reform.

The Secretary of State for Education has been clear that Ofsted inspection is a vital part of the school system. As she said, our independent assessments provide important assurance to parents, the wider community and to government that pupils are receiving a high-quality education and are being kept safe. Our current inspection process was introduced in 2019 after extensive consultation with the education sector, and we have had good feedback from the vast majority who have experienced a new-style inspection.

Looking for ways to improve

However, Ofsted is always looking out for ways it can improve. Just as every headteacher knows there are always things that can be done better in schools, so our inspectors – mostly former heads – know that about Ofsted. We regularly discuss changes with representative groups, unions, Ministers and others – I met the Secretary of State just this week to discuss our plans. Since the tragic news about Ruth Perry first broke these conversations have intensified, and I want to bring some of that out into the open.

We are making changes. One of the most critical areas we look at on inspection is safeguarding. Keeping children safe is so important that a school can be graded inadequate if safeguarding is poor – even if everything else in a school is done well. The Secretary of State said this week that safeguarding is vital. We won’t be soft on safeguarding, but it’s an area which isn’t always well-understood. It’s sometimes mis-characterised as an exercise in paperwork, but as everyone who works in schools knows, it’s much more than that. We need to see that schools understand and manage the risks of children coming to harm. We need to know that prompt action is taken when it happens.

However, we do recognise that some gaps in schools’ knowledge or practice are easier to put right than others. We are looking at how we can return more quickly to schools who have work to do on safeguarding but are otherwise performing well. That should enable us to see fast improvements and reflect them in our judgements.

It’s also important that when school leaders disagree with our judgements there is a robust system of review. We are currently piloting changes to our complaints process which I hope will make it more responsive – so that issues can be addressed during the inspection rather than considered afterwards, which creates delay and frustration. I also want to ensure that when a complaint is made about our work, people feel that they have had a fair and thorough hearing.

Supporting school leaders during inspections

We want to emphasise some of the things that can be done to support school leaders during inspections. We recognise that there is some uncertainty about who can sit-in on meetings between inspectors and school staff, to provide that support. So we want all heads and teachers to know they can have a colleague from the school or trust join discussions with inspectors if they wish. Also, while we strongly recommend provisional inspection outcomes aren’t shared with parents before the report is finalised, headteachers and responsible bodies can share that information with others in confidence. We’ve asked headteacher unions and school trust representatives to help us share this information with their members.

Now that we can routinely inspect all schools graded outstanding after government lifted the exemption, many are facing inspection having not been through one for some time. To help heads in those schools, we are arranging seminars to talk them through the process, and for those yet to be inspected we will provide additional clarity about the broad timing of their next visit. This builds on many briefings we have given about inspection over the past few years, attended by thousands of teachers and leaders. We really want to de-mystify the process and do what we can to reduce the pressure that we know headteachers feel about inspection.

Debate around grading

However, I also want to be honest about some of the more far-reaching suggestions that have been put forward. Four weeks ago I described the debate around grading as a legitimate one. I certainly recognise that distilling all that a school is and does into a single word makes some in the sector uncomfortable, particularly when there are consequences of the grade awarded.

But as I’ve said previously, the overall grade currently plays an integral part in the wider school system. Ofsted inspects, showcases good practice and, where necessary, diagnoses if there are significant issues at a school. That’s where the role we have been given stops. School improvement is the role of schools themselves, and school trusts, facilitated and supported by government. It can take many forms, and government uses Ofsted’s overall grade to determine how best to support improvement. We also know that many parents find the grading system useful, whether that’s in choosing a school or to understand the one their child attends. So any new approach would need to meet the needs of the whole system.

I would like there to be as much attention paid to the full report and the 4 sub-judgements as the overall judgement. Taken together, the sub-judgements present a rounded picture:

  • How good is the education at this school?
  • What’s behaviour like?
  • How well does the school support children’s personal development?
  • How well is it led and managed?

These are the questions parents want answers to.

I’m grateful for the thoughtful contributions I’ve had from many people within the education world. We are not deaf to the calls for change, or insensitive to the needs of schools and their staff; we will continue to listen carefully to the experiences and views of those we inspect. I’m sure the changes described here do not go far or fast enough for some, but I’ve also tried to explain the complexities and boundaries within which we do our important work.

Education is the greatest gift any society can give its children – and teachers deserve our gratitude for the invaluable job they do. Inspection doesn’t exist to do teachers down, far from it, it exists to help children get the education they deserve and to celebrate great practice, of which there is plenty. The part we play is small in comparison to those who work in our schools – but it’s in children’s interests that we work constructively together. In that spirit, we will continue to explore ways to make our work as effective and collaborative as it can be.

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