Pause Ofsted inspections, unions say following Ruth Perry inquest

Leadership unions call for an immediate halt to inspections so concerns raised by the coroner can be addressed

Leadership unions call for an immediate halt to inspections so concerns raised by the coroner can be addressed

11 Dec 2023, 16:12

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Ofsted and the DfE have until February 7 to respond to the coroner's report

England’s school leaders’ unions have joined forces to demand an immediate halt to Ofsted visits, after it was ruled an inspection contributed to headteacher Ruth Perry’s death.

Whiteman and Barton
Whiteman and Barton

Coroner Heidi Conner told an inquest last week that the former Caversham Primary headteacher’s “mental health deteriorated significantly” after her school was rated ‘inadequate’ last autumn.

The coroner plans to issue a regulation 28 report setting out action that should be taken to prevent future deaths.

Now Geoff Barton and Paul Whiteman, general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders and National Association of Head Teachers, have urged the watchdog to pause all visits to address Conner’s concerns.

It follows a similar call from the National Education Union, whose general secretary Daniel Kebede said on Friday that Ofsted “must be paused”.

In a joint statement, Barton and Whiteman said: “The coroner set out seven areas of concern for her regulation 28 report…it is important that we have clarity from Ofsted about a plan and timetable to address each area before further inspections take place.

“This is vital in reassuring schools and colleges that appropriate steps are being taken to protect and support the welfare of education staff.”

Ofsted training pause does not go ‘nearly far enough’

After proceedings concluded last Thursday, Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman announced visits this week would be delayed by a day so lead inspections could undergo extra training.

Apologising to Perry’s family, she also said a new complaints hotline would be set up for schools to report any concerns about their inspection to a senior official from this week.

Training will be drawn up on “recognising and responding to visible signs of anxiety”. The watchdog will “be clear” with its teams what to do if visits need to be paused mid-inspection.

Amanda Spielman

But Barton and Whiteman argued that the one-day pause to inspections does not go “nearly far enough”.

“We will be writing to education secretary Gillian Keegan and the chief inspector [Spielman] formally requesting an immediate pause to inspections to give space for proper consideration.

“This is necessary for schools and colleges to have even a modicum of confidence in the inspectorate.”

The pair added they had spoken to incoming chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver – who will move into the role on January 1 – about their concerns.

A formal meeting has been arranged to take place “as soon as he takes up his post”.

Responding to Barton and Whiteman’s calls, an Ofsted spokesperson stressed officials “are immediately introducing a number of measures that we described last week and talked through with our lead inspectors” on Monday.

“We are developing new training for all inspectors, to include external experts, that will take place in early January. These measures address several areas of concern set out by the coroner. When we receive the coroner’s report we will urgently address all remaining issues.”

They added it would “use our existing deferral policy to give headteachers the ability to defer their inspection to the new year, if they don’t want it to go ahead this week”. Pressed on whether this meant all deferral requests from schools would be approved, the watchdog confirmed this was the case.

A Department for Education spokesperson also stated it will work with Perry’s “family and Ofsted to build on her legacy, ensuring the inspection system supports students and teachers”.

“Following the inquest, it’s right that Ofsted is giving schools the choice to defer inspections until January, as an extension of their existing deferrals policy.”

The full text of the letter

We are writing regarding the coroner’s verdict on Ruth Perry’s tragic death, last week, and the response of the government and Ofsted.

As you can imagine, we have had a large number of headteachers and other school, college and MAT leaders contact us over the weekend, and we are reflecting the collective feeling of the sector here.

In Mrs Conner’s conclusion, she raised seven concerns to the DfE and Ofsted:

  1. How safeguarding is inspected, and the impact of this on overall effectiveness.
  2. An ‘almost complete lack of Ofsted training or published policy’ in four key areas.
  3. How to raise concerns about an inspection, that have not been resolved with the lead inspector.
  4. Whether draft reports must be kept confidential, and a lack of revised policy on this.
  5. Timescales for report publication.
  6. The absence of a full learning review by Ofsted, and the absence of requiring one by government.
  7. A lack of additional support for schools and colleges graded ‘inadequate’.

We recognise that Ofsted has been allowed to pause inspections for a single day, in order to bring inspectors together for briefing on Ofsted’s approach to recognising and dealing with anxiety.

However, beyond this minor concession, the response of Ofsted and the government to the verdict last week has been wholly inadequate, and does not address the seven points above.

A day’s pause is not sufficient in responding to these critical health and safety concerns. Continuing to inspect, without proper pause and review, is reckless and dangerous.

‘Tangible actions and timetable’ needed

We are therefore calling for an immediate pause of all school and college inspections, until both Ofsted and the DfE respond in full to the seven areas of concern identified by the coroner above, with tangible actions and timetable as to what steps they will take to address each concern.

We recognise that in some of these areas Ofsted has already made, or is planning to make changes.

With other concerns, urgent reform is both necessary and possible. In one or two areas, a clear roadmap towards addressing these might be more appropriate than immediate change.

It is our view that school and college inspections should not resume until there has been a clear response from the DfE and Ofsted to the coroner’s seven key concerns, either making immediate changes or setting out clearly how and when those changes will be introduced.

We will regard a failure to do this as a failure to safeguard headteachers’, leaders’ and teachers’ health and safety.

‘A considered and practicable response’

You will note, we are not asking for specific policy recommendations to be implemented in this letter; rather a considered and practicable response from you both before inspections are allowed to resume.

We recognise that some reforms are within Ofsted’s gift as the independent inspectorate, and others must be made by government, which is why we write to you both jointly today.

As the recognised representatives of leaders across educational institutions, we will work with you on this rapid review, and will suggest or comment on tangible actions that can be taken.

A single day’s pause implies that neither of you has properly understood the severity of the situation, or has taken seriously the considered concerns of the appointed coroner. A longer pause must be given to allow time for proper reflection, review and action, as set out above.

We would appreciate an urgent response to this letter, given the severity of the situation.

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.

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

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