Ofsted has announced a raft of measures aimed at reducing the heavy toll of inspection on the wellbeing of headteachers and other school staff.
But school leaders have warned the changes put forward by the watchdog amid an outpouring of anger over the death of headteacher Ruth Perry do not go far enough to address the “flawed” inspection system.
Perry’s family say she took her own life in January before the publication of an inspection report that downgraded Caversham Primary School from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’. They blame pressure from the Ofsted process for her death.
The watchdog, which had already committed to a review of its complaints procedure before news of Perry’s death broke, agreed to make changes to inspections following growing pressure from leaders, but stopped short of meeting a demand to scrap single-word judgments.
A consultation, published today, sets out plans to overhaul complaints, including scrapping the current system of “internal reviews” that schools must go through before being able to go to an external adjudicator.
Leaders will also be given a direct line to a senior inspector on the day after their inspection to flag any concerns or evidence not taken into account. Inspectors will also formally “check” if leaders have issues at specific points during their visits.
Inspection should be ‘positive’ experience
Chief insepctor Amanda Spielman said Ofsted’s “priority must always be children’s education and wellbeing – but at the same time we want to make sure inspection is as positive an experience for school staff as it can be”.
“Since the sad death of Ruth Perry, there has been considerable debate around Ofsted’s work and I want to reassure people that we are listening to their concerns, and thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents.”
Julia Waters, Perry’s sister, said the changes announced by Ofsted were “a start”, but “do not yet go far enough”.
“Having listened to the outpouring of anger, distress and outrage towards Ofsted’s current inspection regime in the past couple of months, since we first spoke out about what happened to Ruth, I do not believe these proposals adequately address the many problems that the system creates.”
Ofsted has also committed to giving leaders greater clarity on when they might be inspected. This takes the form of a blog post, published today, which sets out when a school can expect a visit based on the date of their last inspection.
Inspectors will also return to schools rated ‘inadequate’ for safeguarding concerns alone within three months of a report’s publication. The watchdog said only 1.3 per cent of state schools are currently judged ineffective for safeguarding.
DfE will pause academy orders
If the school has dealt with safeguarding concerns in that time, this will be “recognised through a new inspection report and grading, meaning the school will only have an overall judgement of inadequate for a short period”, Ofsted said.
This will also allow the government to decide “whether to revoke any academy order applying to the school, or withdraw any warning notice issued to an existing academy, and will not have taken any decision pre-empting the re-inspection”.
Education secretary Gillian Keegan said today’s announcement were a “really important step”.
“I have committed to continuing our work on improving the way we inspect our schools with Ofsted and the family of Ruth Perry following her tragic death.”
Ofsted will also change its reports so that when discussing areas of weakness, they refer to a school, rather than any individuals. Contextual information in reports will also be amended “to list all those with responsibility for the school”.
‘Nowhere near far enough’
But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said while the measures were “sensible and somewhat helpful, they go nowhere near far enough in addressing the profession’s concerns”.
“It has taken far too long for the government and Ofsted to announce this relatively modest set of measures and school leaders remain immensely frustrated at the lack of urgency and ambition being shown. NAHT continues to call for more fundamental reform of the inspection process.
“While the government insists on consigning schools to simplistic single word judgments, the system will remain fundamentally flawed and put unnecessary pressure on school leaders.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Perry’s death had “shone a light on an inspection system that is excessively harsh”.
“The changes to inspection processes and the revised complaints procedure set out by Ofsted represent a modest improvement. However, they are only a step in the right direction, and the inspection system is badly in need of much more significant reform.”
Single-word judgments ‘blunt and reductive’
He said “the use of single-word descriptions to judge a school or college must be scrapped, and replaced with a system that is less blunt and reductive”.
“The application of an ‘inadequate’ rating dismisses everything that a school or college does in a single stroke and takes no account of circumstances such as funding and teacher shortages. It is a trapdoor that is both demoralising and counterproductive.”
The government has also announced an expansion of its contract with Education Support to provide wellbeing help to leaders.
It has spent £760,000 so far, and 1,000 heads have benefited, the DfE said. The scheme will now support an additional 500 heads by March 2024, with up to £380,000 in extra cash.
Keegan said the expansion “will help make sure head teachers have access to support whenever they need it”.
Charity Education Support runs a confidential helpline for education staff and teachers – call 08000 562 561.