Ofsted unveils inspection system reforms in wake of head Ruth Perry’ death as critics say it’s ‘not enough’

Ruth Perry killed herself in January while waiting for Ofsted’s report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said
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The sister of a headteacher who killed herself after her school was downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ by Ofstead has said its newly announced inspection system changes do not go far enough.

The inspectorate has been facing mounting pressure to reform its inspection system following the death of Ruth Perry, who was head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, in January. The report found the school to be ‘good’ in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be ‘inadequate’.

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Ofsted on Monday announced that schools will be given more information around the timing of their inspections, and a consultation on reforms to the complaints system will be launched. The watchdog will still turn up with only a day’s notice, but there will be “more clarity” about the year schools are likely to be inspected.

Schools graded inadequate overall only due to ineffective safeguarding – but where all other judgments were good or better – will be revisited by inspectors within three months of a report being published as part of the reforms. This is more quickly than has previously been the case and if the school has been able to resolve the safeguarding concerns it is likely to see its overall grade improve, Ofsted said.

Ruth Perry took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report downgrading her school (Photo: PA)Ruth Perry took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report downgrading her school (Photo: PA)
Ruth Perry took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report downgrading her school (Photo: PA)

A change, coming in from September, will see inspection reports refer to the school, rather than individuals, when discussing areas of weakness. Ofsted added that inspectors will be clear that it is up to a headteacher to decide which colleagues, or others, they share their inspection outcome with – ahead of the report being finalised.

Additionally, the Education Support programme, which provides wellbeing help for school leaders, will be doubled in size to support 500 more headteachers by March 2024.

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But Ofsted stopped short of banning the single-word ratings, saying it would not solve the “underlying discomfort” among headteachers if the consequences of the inspection remain the same.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman said the “whole school accountability system” is built around single-word ratings as the government decides when to intervene or support schools based on Ofsted judgments.

She insisted Ofsted is listening to the concerns raised in the wake of Ms Perry’s death and has been “thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents”.

Since Ms Perry’s death there have been calls for one-word assessments – defended by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan as clear and easy for parents to understand – to be abolished.

Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children)Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children)
Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children)
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When challenged on why single-word judgments have not been replaced despite calls by headteachers, Ms Spielman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We could write a sentence that captured all the things that typically are reflected in an inadequate judgment and use that, but the feedback when we talk to people is they know that if the consequences are the same, if the significance of it is the same, it would come to mean exactly the same very quickly. So it wouldn’t really solve the underlying discomfort.”

Ms Perry’s sister Professor Julia Waters said the changes are “a start”, but do not “adequately address the many problems that the system creates”. She said: “I am disappointed that no mention is made about removing harmful and misleading single-word judgments. I can understand the need to provide clarity and simplicity for parents about an inspection, but too much is hidden or lost behind a headline judgement of just one or two words.”

But she called plans to remove a requirement that the inspectorates’ findings stay confidential before results are published a “very welcome, much needed change” and also welcomed the additional funding for mental health support.

School leaders union NAHT said the system will “remain fundamentally flawed” while single-word ratings are used, and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) described it as a “trapdoor that is both demoralising and counterproductive”.

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Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “It has taken far too long for the government and Ofsted to announce this relatively modest set of measures and school leaders remain immensely frustrated at the lack of urgency and ambition being shown. NAHT continues to call for more fundamental reform of the inspection process.

“While the government insists on consigning schools to simplistic single word judgements, the system will remain fundamentally flawed and put unnecessary pressure on school leaders.”

Meanwhile, Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said she welcomes the changes but called for them to go further, adding that Labour would scrap single-word judgements.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said that the Ofsted changes were “right”, telling Times Radio: “I think that all of us recognise that the Ofsted process can be a testing one and all of us are aware of the particular individual case that has shone a light on inspection, but rigorous independent inspection of our schools has contributed to the improvement of education alongside the excellent work that teachers and head teachers do.”

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Ms Keegan added: “Today’s announcements are a really important step. I have committed to continuing our work on improving the way we inspect our schools with Ofsted and the family of Ruth Perry following her tragic death.”

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