Ofsted ‘didn’t bother’ recording headteacher distress inspection pauses

Ofsted not able to provide evidence for claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections due to wellbeing concerns

Ofsted not able to provide evidence for claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections due to wellbeing concerns


Ofsted is not able to back up claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections where headteachers were distressed, saying it does not hold a record of such instances.

A coroner last month ruled an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to the death by suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry in January last year.

The embattled watchdog gave evidence at the inquest that it had previously paused inspections due to headteacher distress.

Chris Russell, Ofsted’s then-national director for education, told the inquest while there was no written guidance on modifying inspections where heads were under “high levels of stress”, this was a “core value” of inspector training.

‘No central record’ on pause data

But Ofsted has since admitted “we do not hold a central record of the number of inspections that have been paused, or the reasons why”.

“We are therefore unable to supply accurate data on the number of school inspections paused due to headteacher distress in each of the last three years,” former chief inspector Amanda Spielman added in a letter last month, and seen by Schools Week.

However she claimed “we are aware from anecdotal evidence from our regional teams that inspections have been paused for various reasons, including headteacher distress.  

“We are committed to doing all we can to minimise stress and anxiety when we inspect.”  

Spielman was responding to a parliamentary question from Gareth Thomas, Labour MP for Harrow West.

He told Schools Week: “I think it is symptomatic of the way Ofsted has run inspections recently that they did not bother to record when headteachers and other staff were distressed by the way inspections were being run.”

Former academy trust boss Sir Martyn Oliver took over as chief inspector this week. He has halted inspections while new mental health training is rolled out and has launched an inquiry into how Ofsted handled Perry’s death.

Thomas added he hopes Oliver will “correct this as a matter of urgency; how else will we be able to tell if there really is a more effective, less brutal and more thoughtful inspection regime in place?”  

During Perry’s inquest, senior coroner Heidi Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distress”.

However she concluded it was “something of a mythical creature”, adding she heard “no direct evidence” and neither the school or council were aware of the possibility.

Ofsted pointed Schools Week to Oliver’s previous comments when he halted inspections so the watchdog can fully respond to the coroner’s concerns.

‘Overzealous inspector’ concerns

Ofsted also provided data on complaints relating to inspector conduct.

In the 2020-2021 financial year, 39 complaints from 2,585 inspections related to concerns over the conduct of inspections (1.5 per cent). The number of inspections this year was lower than normal amid Covid.

In the 2022-2023 financial year, Ofsted received 171 complaints raising conduct concerns out of a total of 7,615 inspections (2.24 per cent).

Thomas said he was “very concerned by reports of aggressive and overzealous inspectors”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “Not only has Ofsted failed to act upon this major issue, but it appears that it has barely been taken note of.  

“Major reform is required to produce an inspection system that is fairer and less punitive.”  

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  1. Bernard

    I have never heard of OFSTED pausing an inspection due to wellbeing concerns. In fact, I clearly remember Amanda Speilman saying at the start of the pandemic that if OFSTED were inspecting a school whose headteacher was ill or had died they would expect the next senior person to step into the roll so the inspection could continue. The fact the head of an organisation can seriously say that shows the culture that exists in such a body. There has never been a culture of care. There has been a culture of accusing leaders of lying, of snooping to try and uncover something, to try and catch people out, to play leaders, staff and parents off each other, to ask leading questions in pupil interviews. OFSTED is a disgrace. When a school receives the call and then informs the local authority of trust or their advisor, one of the first things they ask the head is who is on the team. They do this to assess the nature of the team and inspection ahead. That in itself is highlights how warped the process is. How can any process be so dependent on the team? Particularly unpleasant inspectors build up reputations of which everyone is aware. Schools then hire these inspectors as consultants in an attempt to prevent being inspected by them. The whole culture within and around OFSTED inspections is dysfunctional. It needs a clear out and to start again. Not a pause for a few weeks. They aren’t even independent anymore. Many OFSTED inspections are political to remove a head or government a head more time. The whole process stinks and has been short changing the tax payer for far too long.

    • Debbie Wheeler

      I absolutely agree with every point you have made.
      The last inspection in one of my schools (March 22) was the worst I have ever experienced:
      – Accepting the view of 0.3% of parents (2/610)- reading approach creates pressure for children, this set the tone for the whole inspection and predicated their findings
      – Asked art leader if the sketch books were ours
      – Not accepting COVID had slowed curriculum development- despite the extension of transition arrangements, eventually these were applied
      – Asking teachers what the CEO was like and what was her relationship with the headteacher like
      – Incorrect attendance data- pre and post COVID
      In all previous inspections I had always found the process stressful (you are after all being judged) but fair and a genuine dialogue about school effectiveness, all inspectors had been professional in approach, polite, supportive and fair.
      This inspection was not in line with my prior experiences and did in fact leave many staff members distressed, the school community felt battered by the process despite being a stongly good school.

  2. Janet Downs

    I’ve just watched Mr Bates v The Post Office which dramatised the scandal whereby innocent postmasters/mistresses had their lives wrecked by a punitive PO. There are hundreds of teachers whose careers have been wrecked by Ofsted. Ruth Perry killed herself.

    Many of these inspections appear to have been politically-motivated eg Gove’s intervention at Downhills Primary School. Academisation after a poor Ofsted drove many headteachers to resign; staff who remained in academised schools often found themselves being cleared out by the new regime. Fears of a poor Ofsted caused many to jump before they were pushed. Perhaps an inquiry should begin into teaching staff who were ruined by Ofsted and which politicians were responsible.

  3. Michael

    As an ex assistant headteacher who left the profession to protect my wellbeing, I find this article troubling and indicative of a larger issue within Ofsted’s inspection process. The fact that Ofsted, under oath, claimed to have paused inspections due to headteacher distress but now admits to not having records of such instances raises concerns about transparency and accountability.

    The coroner’s ruling linking an Ofsted inspection to the suicide of a headteacher adds a tragic dimension to the discussion. The lack of a central record on paused inspections and reasons for pausing them raises questions about the consistency and reliability of Ofsted’s claims.

    The response from former chief inspector Amanda Spielman, acknowledging the absence of records but citing anecdotal evidence from regional teams, is inadequate. The absence of a central record makes it difficult to assess the extent of the problem and raises doubts about the effectiveness of Ofsted’s commitment to minimising stress during inspections.

    The decision by the new chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, to half inspections while mental health training is implemented and to launch an inquiry into how Ofsted handled the headteacher’s death shows a recognition of the gravity of the situation. However, it also highlights the need for a thorough examination of the inspection process and its impact on school staff.

    The data on complaints regarding inspector conduct, particularly the increase from 1.5% to 2.24% in the number of complaints in 2022-2023 financial year, adds another layer to the concerns. Reports of aggressive and overzealous inspectors raise questions about the fairness and appropriateness of the inspection system.

    The call for major reform by the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders suggests that the problems highlighted in the article may be systemic and require significant changes in the inspection process to ensure fairness and reduce the punitive nature of inspections.

    • Debbie Palmer

      Ofsted also has a serious impact on early years staff and settings. I have seen it and had personal experience of what the inspectors try to do to staff. I am not afraid of Ofsted and they did back down on one occasion when I challenged them, but they do not tell the truth and are reluctant to deal with a complaint honestly and transparently. And when the LA are told not to get involved, even when they witness the serious failings of an inspector, it shows whose side they are on and honest, hard working staff in early years settings have no chance. Schools and early years settings should join forces in this regard.

  4. A big problem for school leaders is not simply the inspection outcome itself, but the over zealous reaction of local authorities and governing bodies who are so keen to keep their own profiles safe and clean that they respond in visible extreme – almost in embarrassment. I know of heads and deputies who have been told they will never hold another leadership position in (this authority).
    I think it’s hilarious that the LA have interrogated the lead inspector in Ruth’s case. I believe they would have offered assisted leaving arrangements to her if this tragedy had not unfolded.

  5. Debbie Palmer

    That’s because Ofsted inspectors lie. They’ve done it to me and they will no doubt continue to do it. I had a 14 page letter of complaints following an inspection a few years ago and I had independent witnesses and in spite of that they lied their way through it. My setting is an early years setting – certain inspectors have less regard for us than they do schools so we have no chance.

    • I had to watch a Lead Inspector purposefully seek out and interrogate one of my staff with an auditory processing disability and other protected characteristics, the inspector spent 45 minutes interrogating this person, trying to get her to throw other members of staff under the bus, all carried out in front of a group of three / four year olds. It was unbearable to watch, the member staff completely overwhelmed, unsupported and unable to respond or lip read effectively, the level of distress and trauma so severe and obvious to the remaining staff and the children who were crying and terrified. No one was allowed to go to the staff member to support her, my request for the inspection to be paused was denied. This was discrimination and terrorism at it worst, particularly as the member of staff was standing in for someone who was absent, she was not even qualified to answer the questions. A complaint in relation to the Inspectors conduct was submitted swiftly, it was completely dis-regarded, now I know why -there being no requirement for OFSTED to document distress or mental instability, no paper work so effectively no incident, but a green flag to discrimination and persecution of a vulnerable adult. The member of staff has not recovered, she will not work in education again, the damage I think will be forever. I shall never forgive myself for my paralysis I should have called the police and closed the setting there and then. Instead I argued until the insurance ran out. The report was terrible, inaccurate and selective but then it needed to be to justify and deflect a level of barbarism and discrimination only read about in the media or viewed on a screen. There is a need for solidarity and investigative deep dive if only to stop this ridiculously unnecessary trauma that has impacted thousands for more than ten years. Time to speak out, time to be heard, time for a documentary.