Ofsted rejects calls to halt inspections after week of turmoil

Spielman said debate about removing grades was 'legitimate', but stopping inspections 'not in children's best interests'

Spielman said debate about removing grades was 'legitimate', but stopping inspections 'not in children's best interests'

24 Mar 2023, 0:01

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Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman has issued a statement in light of demands for reforms

Ofsted has rejected calls from the school sector to halt inspections amid the ongoing fallout about the pressure inspections place on headteachers.

In a statement issued today, chief inspector Amanda Spielman said she did not believe “stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests”.

“Our aim is to raise standards, so that all children get a great education…inspection plays an important part,” she added.

It follows three teaching unions – NAHT, ASCL and the NEU – calling on the watchdog to pause inspections following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

They had argued for the period to be used to review the impact of the system on staff wellbeing.

It comes after an outpouring of anger from the sector.

Perry’s family said she had taken her own life in January before the publication of an inspection report rating Caversham primary school in Berkshire ‘inadequate’.

Her sister Julia Waters said in a statement earlier this week “the reasons behind someone’s taking their own life are never simple”.

“Nevertheless, we are in no doubt that Ruth’s death was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school.”

An inquest to establish the cause and circumstances of Perry’s death will take place later this year.

Death met with ‘great sadness’ by Ofsted

Spielman said her thoughts remained with her family, friends and colleagues. “I am deeply sorry for their loss”.

“Ahead of the coroner’s inquest, it would not be right to say too much. But I will say the news of Ruth’s death was met with great sadness at Ofsted.”

The watchdog’s refusal to yield to requests to pause inspections was met with reproval from unions.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of leaders’ union NAHT, said the inspectorate had “completely underestimated the strength of feeling amongst educational professionals”.

“The warm words and sympathy they have expressed are welcome, but they are simply not enough.”

Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, said: “The death of Ruth Perry is an extreme example of the damage done by the high-stakes nature of the inspection system, but the truth is that it often has a catastrophic effect on individuals.

“A short pause to inspections to consider this matter seems a very moderate request, and would help Ofsted show the profession that it is listening.”

Debate about removing grades ‘legitimate’

Spielman also said debate about removing grades from inspections was “a legitimate one”, but stopped short of promising immediate reforms.

“We will keep our focus on how inspections feel for school staff and on how we can further improve the way we work with schools,” she said.

“As teachers, school leaders and inspectors, we all work together in the best interests of children – and I’m sure that principle will frame all discussions about the future of inspection.”

But the response is likely to met with frustration from the wider sector.

A petition for Ofsted to launch an inquiry into Caversham’s inspection – which Spielman did not directly address – had surpassed 198,000 signatures.

Earlier in the week, a school leader initially proposed to refuse entry to Ofsted inspectors before staging a protest outside when they arrived.

Flora Cooper, executive headteacher at John Rankin Infant and Nursery School, also in Berkshire, admitted she could lose her job over the decision.

“But I feel like if I don’t stand up…the system will never change,” she said.

Other tactics headteachers, including the Reading Primary Headteachers’ Association, have put forward include placing photos of Perry around the school or wearing black armbands during inspections.

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  1. Sandy Cameron

    According to the DfE, “[Ofsted inspections] provide independent, up to date evaluations on the quality of education, safeguarding, and leadership, which parents greatly rely on to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child,”

    Some parents undoubtedly do, if they have the means to exercise choice, but the majority still send their children to the local school, whatever the latest report says, because the idea that there is a genuine choice is an illusion. If all the schools in your neighbourhood have been judged “Requires Improvement”, what then? Just drive to the next town?