School inspections will continue in wake of headteacher Ruth Perry death, Ofsted boss says

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

Pressure is mounting on Ofsted as school leaders and unions call for urgent inspection reforms following the death of Ruth Perry

Stopping school inspections would not be in the “best interests of children”, the chief inspector of Ofsted has said.

Amanda Spielman acknowledged the debate about reforming inspections to remove grades “is a legitimate one”, but insisted school checks aim to raise standards and should continue.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It comes after three teaching unions and headteachers have urged the watchdog to pause inspections this week following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry. Ms Perry, who was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which downgraded her school to the lowest possible rating, her family said.

The Ofsted report rated the school as “inadequate” - a downgrade from its previous “Outstanding” rating. Inspectors found the school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged as “inadequate”.

School leaders and unions are calling for urgent reform of the Ofsted inspection system (Photo: PA)School leaders and unions are calling for urgent reform of the Ofsted inspection system (Photo: PA)
School leaders and unions are calling for urgent reform of the Ofsted inspection system (Photo: PA) | PA

In a statement, Ms Spielman described Ms Perry’s death as “a tragedy” and said she was “deeply sorry” for the loss suffered by the headteacher’s family, friends and the school community. She said the news had been “met with great sadness at Ofsted” and acknowledged that school inspections “can be challenging”, but stressed that inspectors always aim to carry them out with “sensitivity as well as professionalism”.

She said: “The sad news about Ruth has led to an understandable outpouring of grief and anger from many people in education. There have been suggestions about refusing to co-operate with inspections, and union calls to halt them entirely.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests. Our aim is to raise standards so that all children get a great education. It is an aim we share with every teacher in every school.

“Inspection plays an important part. Among other things, it looks at what children are being taught, assesses how well behaviour is being taught and managed, and checks that teachers know what to do if children are being abused or harmed.

“We help parents understand how their child’s school is doing and we help schools understand their strengths and areas for improvement. It’s important for that work to continue.”

National Education Union Deputy General Secretary Niamh Sweeney with union members (Photo: PA)National Education Union Deputy General Secretary Niamh Sweeney with union members (Photo: PA)
National Education Union Deputy General Secretary Niamh Sweeney with union members (Photo: PA) | PA

Ms Spielman said it is an “unquestionably a difficult time to be a headteacher” with school staff having worked during the pandemic to keep schools open “while keeping vulnerable children safe”. She said the debate about reforming inspections to scrap grades is “a legitimate one”, but said it “shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Ofsted boss said inspection grades allow parents to see a simple summary of a school’s “strengths and weaknesses” and such ratings are used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools.

She added: “Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government. The right and proper outcome of Ofsted’s work is a better education system for our children.

“To that end, we aim to do good as we go – and to make inspections as collaborative and constructive as we can. We will keep our focus on how inspections feel for school staff and on how we can further improve the way we work with schools.

“I am always pleased when we hear from schools that their inspection ‘felt done with, not done to’. That is the kind of feedback I want to hear in every case. As teachers, school leaders and inspectors, we all work together in the best interests of children – and I’m sure that principle will frame all discussions about the future of inspection.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
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) | Brighter Futures for Children

‘A terrible mistake’

Rebecca Leek, executive director of Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association, disagreed with Ms Spielman’s claims that inspectors always aim to carry out work out with sensitivity and professionalism, stating that the experiences of school leaders “are to the contrary”.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Head Teachers union branded the decision not to pause inspections as “a terrible mistake” which “serves to reinforce the view that Ofsted is tin-eared and shows scant regard for the wellbeing of school leaders”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary, said “warm words and sympathy” are welcome but are not enough. He argues that this should be a “watershed moment” for “a completely new approach to school inspection”.

He added: “School leaders want to see tangible actions being taken to reduce the intolerable pressure that the current inspection regime places on everyone in schools, and they want to see those actions now. We are not against inspection per se, we simply believe that a fairer, more humane approach is possible. We also believe parents would support a new approach.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
People attend a vigil for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, central London (Photo: PA)People attend a vigil for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, central London (Photo: PA)
People attend a vigil for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, central London (Photo: PA) | PA

The National Education Union said replacing Ofsted with a new agency “would be good for children”, and argued that having a motivated workforce is in the best interests of children.

Elsewhere, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said the union has asked Ofsted to pause inspections rather than halt them entirely, calling it “a very moderate request”.

It comes after schools have been removing logos and references to Ofsted ratings from their websites in a mark of solidarity with Ms Perry this week. Headteachers have also said they plan to stage peaceful protests, including wearing black clothing and armbands and displaying photographs of Ms Perry around the school, when Ofsted inspections take place.

For those struggling, there are a variety of places which offer help and support. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free at any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit theSamaritans website.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.