Ofsted chief inspector refuses to drop ‘one-word assessments’ for schools despite death of Ruth Perry
Headteacher Ruth Perry killed herself in January while awaiting an Ofsted report which downgraded her school from the highest rating to the lowest.
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Ofsted’s chief inspector has refused to drop “one-word assessments” despite calls from teachers across the country for the ratings to be abolished.
Amanda Spielman described the gradings, which range from “outstanding” to “inadequate”, as “integral” to the school system. Pressure is mounting on the schools watchdog in England after unions threatened legal action because Ofsted is continuing to carry out inspections without a full mental health assessment for teachers. Critics say the Ofsted grading system is too simplistic and fails to reflect the complexity of a school and its teaching quality.
It comes after Ruth Perry, headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, killed herself in January while awaiting an Ofsted report which downgraded her school from the highest rating to the lowest. Her sister, Prof Julia Waters, said the inspection destroyed 32 years of her sister’s vocation and “preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it any more”.
Commenting on Ms Perry’s “tragic” death on Friday, Spielman acknowledged the “strength of feeling” in the debate around Ofsted reform and said the inspectorate was “making changes”, but rejected more “far-reaching suggestions”.
She said: “Since the tragic news about Ruth Perry first broke these conversations have intensified, and I want to bring some of that out into the open. We are making changes. I also want to be honest about some of the more far-reaching suggestions that have been put forward.
“I certainly recognise that distilling all that a school is and does into a single word makes some in the sector uncomfortable, particularly when there are consequences of the grade awarded. But as I’ve said previously, the overall grade currently plays an integral part in the wider school system.
“We also know that many parents find the grading system useful, whether that’s in choosing a school or to understand the one their child attends.”
She said the watchdog is piloting changes to make the complaints process “more responsive” so school staff get a “fair and thorough hearing” during an inspection.
Spielman added that Ofsted inspectors are looking to return more promptly to schools such as Ms Perry’s which are deemed to have safeguarding issues but are performing well in other areas. “We are not deaf to the calls for change, or insensitive to the needs of schools and their staff,” she added.
“We will continue to listen carefully to the experiences and views of those we inspect. I’m sure the changes described here do not go far or fast enough for some, but I’ve also tried to explain the complexities and boundaries within which we do our important work.”
Ms Spielman’s refusal to back wider reform of Ofsted has been criticised by Ms Perry’s sister, Prof Waters, who accused the watchdog and the Department for Education of failing to provide “anything like a meaningful response to the growing calls for reform”. She said: “This latest response from the chief inspector for schools is yet again totally insensitive to the situation and deaf to the urgency of the calls for change.
“Ofsted has marked its own homework and is telling us that everything is under control. I think many people would score Ofsted’s current system as ‘requires improvement’ and their response to calls for reform as ‘totally inadequate’. It is not acceptable to continue to defend the indefensible in this way.
“Children should always be the priority, as they were for Ruth. But children are made more vulnerable to harm, not less, when teachers are worried more about the threats of Ofsted than about what’s genuinely best for their pupils.”
The Government said on Thursday that Education Secretary Gillian Keegan would meet Ms Perry’s family and local headteachers to discuss her death. Ms Keegan said: “Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. I am clear that we will not water down crucial safeguarding standards that underpin Ofsted’s role.
“I have always said I will listen to the views of teachers. Following a positive meeting with His Majesty’s chief inspector, Ofsted will intensify its work to reassure leaders and teachers, including making sure they feel safeguarding is considered proportionally in overall school judgments.
“Parents rightly want to know how their child’s school is doing and I fully support our approach to providing a clear one-word rating to inform their decisions.”