Ruth Perry’s sister said it is “reckless and far too hasty” for Ofsted inspections to resume later this month, as she revealed plans for headteachers with “uncannily similar” ordeals to meet the chief inspector and share their stories.
Julia Waters met Sir Martyn Oliver, the watchdog’s new chief inspector, on Thursday last week – his first on the job as he sought to start repairing Ofsted’s tarnished reputation in the wake of Perry’s inquest.
Senior coroner Heidi Connor last month ruled an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to the Caversham Primary School headteacher’s suicide in January last year.
Her damning ‘prevention of future deaths’ report, which Ofsted has vowed to respond to by January 19, states: “Ruth’s mental health deteriorated significantly during and after the inspection … Ruth had no relevant past mental health history.”
After meeting Waters, Oliver announced on Friday that inspections, which he earlier halted so inspector mental health awareness training could be rolled out, would resume on January 22.
While the meeting with Waters was said to be “constructive”, she told Schools Week she does not “condone” this “reckless and far too hasty” move.
“School inspections have been proven in the inquest to pose a threat to life, and I’m deeply concerned the plan is to resume them before sufficient changes have been introduced to prevent future deaths,” she said.
Waters said “a bit of training isn’t enough” and questioned “why the unions have agreed to that resumption”.
Despite favourable quotes provided alongside Ofsted’s announcement, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT union, said this week “it is not correct to suggest that we agreed” to the decision to recommence inspections.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders union, said the pause “gives a breathing space to agree a robust and reassuring plan in response to the coroner’s concerns, and we’re currently in discussion with Ofsted about what that plan should look like.
“If we don’t think it goes far enough, we’ll ask for a further pause until suitable action is in place,” he added.
In her meeting with Oliver, Waters said inspections “should be paused until significant reform has been made to the Ofsted inspection system to make it safe”.
However, she said Oliver told her “there are wider changes that will be announced before they resume”.
Ofsted plans to publish its response to the critical coroner report – which will include further measures to address the concerns – on Friday next week.
‘Broader systemic changes’ to Ofsted needed
Waters hopes the Department for Education and Ofsted will work together on the “broader systemic changes” needed, including “the removal of those misleading and dangerously simplistic one- and two-word judgments”.
She also wants “the almost automatic forced academisation of schools that receive an inadequate or two consecutive requires-improvement judgments” to be removed. Both are unlikely under the current government.
But Labour has promised to ditch one-word grades in favour of a scorecard report.
Ofsted referred Schools Week to a press release issues last Friday, which said by January 22 “all lead inspectors working in schools and further education will have completed both sessions” of the new training. The spokesperson said they had acted “with the backing of the unions”.
Both the unions and Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts body, will be involved in the watchdog’s response to the coroner’s report.
More generally, Waters said Oliver has “made lots of positive sounds about reform and seems genuinely committed to change”. She is “cautiously optimistic”, but he now has to “prove it”.
She added he was “was very receptive to the idea that we have a meeting – quite soon, I hope – with some of the headteachers who’ve contacted me who understand only too well how Ruth felt after an Ofsted inspection”. It is important Oliver “sees first-hand how dangerous Ofsted inspections can be”, she added.
After speaking at the NAHT conference in April, Waters said she was contacted by “headteachers who said I’d saved their lives by speaking out”.
She added: “Three headteachers whose experiences are strikingly similar, uncannily similar to Ruth’s… are feeling strong enough to meet Sir Martyn.”
Others are not yet ready to share their “harrowing” ordeals.
Inspectors held a minute’s silence during the mental health wellbeing awareness training on Monday to mark the first anniversary of Perry’s death.
About 2,000 inspectors could not access the live training because of a tech glitch. However, a video of the training was published later that day.
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