Perry’s sister tells NEU: Let’s reform not abolish Ofsted

Julia Waters also warns 'delays and obfuscation' to Ofsted reform will 'put more lives at risk'

Julia Waters also warns 'delays and obfuscation' to Ofsted reform will 'put more lives at risk'

Ruth Perry

The sister of headteacher Ruth Perry has warned “delays and obfuscation” to Ofsted reform will “put more lives at risk”, as she implores union activists to push for improvements not the abolition of inspection.

Professor Julia Waters told the National Education Union annual conference in Bournemouth she was “worried that the people who could bring about real change might only be paying lip service to the lessons we must learn”.

It comes after the conference passed a motion in favour of abolishing Ofsted.

A coroner ruled in December that an Ofsted inspection of Caversham Primary School in Reading contributed to Perry’s suicide.

The findings prompted a delay to the re-start of inspections in January and a series of measures from new Ofsted chief Sir Martyn Oliver, including a “big listen” consultation.

‘Seems to be a lot of passing the buck’

Speaking this morning, Waters said she was “cautiously hopeful that the new chief inspector of schools has the ambition, determination and drive to see through real change”.

“Yet, despite the promising start, there seems to be a lot of passing the buck going on between the government and Ofsted. There seems to be a lot of unnecessary delay.”

Oliver has said some changes could be made to the inspection framework from this September, but other changes may come after the election.

Julia Waters

But Waters said: “How many more teachers will suffer from an inherently flawed, badly-run inspection process in the meantime? How many more children will lose another dedicated headteacher to a forced resignation, a nervous breakdown or worse?

“Delays and obfuscation put more lives at risk. It’s not acceptable to play politics with people’s wellbeing.”

Oliver said Ofsted’s work “keeps children safe and improves their lives…but we are ambitious to improve”.

“That is why we are carrying out a big listen. We want to hear from everyone we work with, including teachers, social workers, nursery staff and college lecturers. Crucially, we also want to hear from the parents and children we work for.”

Still waiting for Ofsted review and DfE response

Waters asked when Ofsted would announce the start of the promised independent review into its handling of her sister’s death. She also asked when the DfE’s response to the education committee’s report – also due by the end of March – would be published.

The department said it had “submitted its response to the education select committee…we expect the Committee to publish it in due course”.

“We have worked closely with Ruth’s family and Ofsted to make significant changes to ensure they continue to drive improvements in standards whilst protecting the wellbeing of school leaders”.

Waters called on NEU members to “step up” and “teach Ofsted a lesson”.

“Do not let Ofsted and the government get away with half-hearted measures and lip service. Do not lose sight of this opportunity to demand change.”

‘What good does abolition call do?’

She added that “I know that the NEU has called again for Ofsted to be abolished. You might expect my family and me to be calling for the same thing.

“But frankly, what would be the point? Being angry and objecting to Ofsted’s existence is totally understandable. But teaching unions have been calling for the abolition of Ofsted for thirty years. And what good has that done teachers? Look at the evidence. How did calling for Ofsted to be abolished help Ruth?”

Waters urged anyone “having thoughts about ending your own life…please think again. Get help.

“Suicide is always a terrible, wrong-headed option. Ending her own life was the worst thing Ruth could possibly have done. That desperate act devastated our family, her colleagues, the hundreds of pupils and the whole community in Caversham and beyond.”

She said school staff were “trapped by an inhumane, unaccountable inspection system. But you don’t have to put up with it anymore. If you feel despair, you need help and hope, not to think that suicide is a way out”.

Teachers ‘won’t let themselves be bullied’

Speaking to media after her speech, she said she believed “that even if Ofsted is not reformed to the extent that I would like and that so many others would like, I don’t believe that the teaching profession will let themselves be bullied in the same way anymore.

“I think they feel genuinely more able and willing to speak out and to complain that they realise that they’re not alone.”

But she warned said she had been contacted by “hundreds” of heads complaining about “terrible” Ofsted experiences, including a “sizeable number” who got a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ grade.

“But they haven’t felt like [they can] complain at the draft report stage…because there’s always the danger that it could be worse.

“There’s this sort of implicit threat that that judgment might be downgraded. What I really hope is that headteachers have the courage, if they know something has gone wrong, to say so.”

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.

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

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