Ofsted inspectors received emergency training this week on how to manage school leader anxiety, after a coroner ruled inspection contributed to the death of a Berkshire headteacher.
Senior coroner Heidi Connor said last week that Ruth Perry’s mental health “deteriorated significantly” after an inspection last autumn that rated Caversham Primary School ‘inadequate’.
She plans to issue a report aimed at preventing future deaths, highlighting serious concerns including an “almost complete absence” of inspector training on dealing with signs of distress.
Schools Week spoke to inspectors who attended the 90-minute session to find out what was discussed.
What did the training cover?
Connor warned last week that parts of the Ofsted inspection at Caversham were “conducted in a manner which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity” and that it was “at times rude and intimidating”.
Slides from the training session seen by Schools Week outlined “signs of anxiety and stress” that inspectors should be “alert to”.
These included “crying or becoming tearful”, a “change in voice pitch” and “rapid or mumbled” speech.
One inspector described it as “basic, given that these are senior leaders”, but added “maybe it speaks volumes that they do need a basic course”.
Another slide from the training said that if a member of staff or leaders “shows any of these signs” during an inspection, inspectors should “pause and check on their wellbeing”.
They should also “make a decision about whether it is appropriate for the activity to continue”.
Last week, Connor said it was “suggested” by Ofsted witnesses that there was an option to pause an inspection because of teacher “distress”. But neither the school nor council was aware of this.
Instead, the concept of a pause was “something of a mythical creature” that Ofsted had “created and expanded on” during its evidence.
When should Ofsted inspectors pause visits?
Inspectors told Schools Week that the training advised them to call Ofsted’s helpdesk and request to pause an inspection “if we think it’s got to an extreme state”.
The request would then “go up the chain”. In another slide, inspectors were reminded to “encourage the headteacher to bring someone with them” to meetings, and to emphasise they would have the “opportunity to comment and ask questions”.
The training was delivered by His Majesty’s Inspectors (HMIs) and followed by a question-and-answer session with director of education Chris Russell, alongside regional directors.
One inspector said they were told at 8am on Monday about the training, while another said only eight minutes were allowed for questions.
But none of those who spoke to Schools Week were particularly critical of the session’s contents.
“It needs to be far more detailed, but I equally am very pleased they put on a short-term measure,” one said.
Two inspectors said they had never received training on headteacher welfare before, despite Ofsted’s claims at the inquest that this was a “core value”.
What changes has Ofsted made?
An email seen by Schools Week shows Ofsted has updated the script it gives to lead inspectors.
Additional prompts now include a reference to making sure “the headteacher knows that they can share information about the outcome of an inspection with loved ones and medical professionals”.
This follows a finding that the confidentiality requirement around inspection outcomes was a “significant issue” for Perry.
Connor said Perry was “never told that she could discuss the matter, for instance, with mental health professionals, despite the obvious concern of some of the inspectors on the day”.
This week inspectors also said they had been given a “brand new” addition to their duties: to identify a person responsible for the welfare of the headteacher at the start of an inspection.
Leaders could also “contact Ofsted to speak to a senior inspector while the inspection is happening”, if they felt they could not raise issues with the lead inspector.
This marks a step up from Ofsted’s previous reforms, which offered schools the chance to call Ofsted the day after the end of an inspection if they had “unresolved issues”.
What happens next?
Monday’s training was delivered only to lead inspectors due to inspect schools this week.
In an email, the watchdog said it was developing a training programme for all inspectors starting in January that would run through the spring term “as a minimum” and include input from external organisations.
Ofsted was contacted for comment.