Claims by the Ofsted chief inspector that critics used the death of headteacher Ruth Perry “as a pivot to try and discredit” its work have been described as “grossly insensitive” by her sister.
In an unapologetic parting shot to detractors, Amanda Spielman – who leaves the watchdog next month – also claimed that its role was “poorly understood” and budget cuts had “curtailed” its work, comments school leaders deemed “tone deaf and crass”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour yesterday, Spielman said there was “no question that there’s a great deal of activity in the sector to create anxiety”.
Her comment followed a new survey by the leaders’ union NAHT, which found 85 per cent of members who responded were “unconfident” in the inspectorate.
“There was a very sad case in the spring that has been used as a pivot to try and discredit what we do,” Spielman added, later clarifying that the comment was related to Perry.
The Reading headteacher’s family believe the 53-year-old took her own life in January before the publication of an Ofsted report rating her school as ‘inadequate’.
An inquest will begin on Tuesday.
‘A shocking lack of understanding’
Her sister, Julia Waters, said Spielman’s comment was “not only grossly insensitive to my family’s grief but shows a shocking lack of understanding of the concerns of the teaching profession”.
The “outpouring of anger and anguish” following Perry’s death was “not a ‘debate about accountability’. It is the alarm call of a profession in crisis.”
Perry’s death led to huge pressure on the government, which introduced changes to the inspection framework earlier this year.
Spielman’s comments came as Ofsted published its annual report weeks earlier than usual.
In a foreword, the chief inspector said the watchdog was “poorly understood”, with many people not recognising that “as a matter of government policy, Ofsted’s schools week has long been limited to the diagnostic function of inspection”.
It was “not a policy-making department and cannot decide to divert its resources to support work, any more than the driving test agency can decide to switch to giving driving lessons.
“Yet it is being argued that Ofsted is acting punitively or in bad faith by not doing so. Clarification is needed.”
Ofsted’s budget was “about a quarter of what it was 20 years ago”, which meant “many strands” of its work “that help build sector goodwill and reinforce our value to the sector” were “progressively curtailed”.
“But despite all this, Ofsted continues to perform its role fairly, professionally, thoroughly and constructively.”
‘Tone deaf and crass’
Jonny Uttley, the chief executive of The Education Alliance multi-academy trust, said the characterisation was “tone deaf and crass” as education coped with a recruitment and retention crisis and high levels of leadership “burnout”.
“The inspection system, which is no longer fit for purpose, contributes significantly to this.”
Caroline Derbyshire, the chief executive of the Saffron Academy Trust, said that scrutiny of Ofsted was not something that began this year.
In 2021 the headteacher wellbeing service Headrest wrote to Spielman and the education secretary to demand a pause to “toxic” inspections that it said were driving leaders out of the profession.
“[At the time] it felt quite a brave thing to say,” Derbyshire said, adding that after Perry’s death, more had “felt the bravery to be able to speak [out]”.
“I don’t think there’s anyone whipping this up, I think it’s baked into the system.”
Paul Tarn, the chief executive of the Delta Academies Trust, said inspections “put a lot of undue pressure on school staff”, but Spielman’s departure created an opportunity for the new chief inspector to review the framework.
Spielman’s parting shot also came after it emerged she was on the shortlist to become the next chair of the BBC.
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