New policy for headteachers to pause Ofsted inspections after Ruth Perrys death
School leaders will have new guidelines showing them how to stop an Ofsted inspection if staff show signs of distress after a coroner called for change following the suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry.
Ofsted is set to publish a new policy on pausing an inspection of a maintained school or academy “where a serious issue has been identified” as part of its response to senior coroner Heidi Connor’s prevention of future deaths report.
Mrs Perry killed herself after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School, in Reading, from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.
In December, Ms Connor concluded the Ofsted inspection on November 15-16 in 2022 “likely contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.
She then urged the watchdog to act to prevent further deaths in a report sent to Ofsted and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan.
Among her concerns were the impact on headteacher welfare that the current system may have, and “the almost complete absence of Ofsted training” for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders.
Ms Connor said in her conclusion that Ofsted’s claim that school inspections can be paused if the distress of a headteacher is a concern, was “a mythical creature”.
The new policy will be published ahead of Monday, when the watchdog is due to restart inspections after they were halted earlier in the month for inspectors to receive mental health training.
An independent learning review of Ofsted’s response to the death of Mrs Perry will be carried out as part of a listening exercise – the Big Listen – which will hear from parents, leaders and professionals about Ofsted’s current approach, the changes being made, and whether more can be done to protect children, raise standards and improve lives.
Ofsted is also considering separating safeguarding from the leadership and management grade as part of a formal review of where safeguarding fits within judgments.
It comes after Mrs Perry’s school was found to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate” due to safeguarding concerns.
Ofsted also appears to be keeping one/two word judgments in place, despite calls for it to be scrapped previously.
The watchdog’s response includes training for all inspectors to recognise and respond to signs of distress in school leaders, a “clear and simple” process for providers who have concerns about an inspection to speak to an unconnected senior Ofsted employee and an expert reference group, including external representation, to look at leader and staff wellbeing.
Ofsted has “pledged to always act with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect”, in a response to the prevention of future deaths report, it added.
Mrs Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said she was “disappointed that the Government has opted to keep misleading and harmful single-word judgments”.
She said: “Whether these brand a school as ‘outstanding’ or ‘inadequate’, or the grades in between, these blunt verdicts obscure many of the important details. As the coroner noted, Ruth was devastated by the impact of such language. Parents, teachers, governors and others should be encouraged to engage with the details of inspection findings, and not just fixate on one or two words. Simplicity may be convenient for government bureaucrats, but it acts against the true interests of children, parents and teachers.
“We are concerned at the plan to resume school inspection from next week, after only a short pause. I hope that the new measures introduced genuinely reduce stress and anxiety in schools that get the call next week.”
She added: “The responses from Ofsted and the Department for Education go some way to addressing the concerns raised by the coroner and our family about the brutality of the current inspection system. Much work now needs to be done to bring about the radical overhaul to the culture of school inspections, so that a tragedy like Ruth’s cannot happen again.”
Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, said: “As a fellow headteacher, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Ruth Perry. As the new chief inspector, I am determined to do everything in my power to prevent such tragedies in the future. We accept the coroner’s findings and have responded to the recommendations of her report in full.
“We must carry out our role in a way that is sensitive to the pressures faced by leaders and staff, without losing our focus on children and learners. Our critical work helps make sure that children and learners have the highest quality of education, training and care. We cannot afford to shy away from difficult decisions and challenging conversations where they are needed in the interests of children. I am determined that we get this delicate balance right.
“We know we still need to do more, and we will do more. Nothing is off the table, as we hold our Big Listen. I know how important it is for the sectors we work with, and for parents and carers, to trust the judgments Ofsted makes. To achieve that aim, we must go about our vital work with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect.”
In an interview with The Times, Sir Martyn said he believes his educational background and experience will be a substantial aid in his mission for reform.
He told the paper: “It’s certainly a challenge now and that’s why I think I’m uniquely placed, with the experiences that I’ve had — of going into schools where staff were on strike because the behaviour was so bad.
“Students were stopping staff saying this is a no-go corridor. It belongs to the children. Or staff locking themselves in their classroom during break and lunch time for safety reasons.
“These are the schools that I’ve walked into to try and give those children a better education.”
The Department for Education has also sent the coroner its response to the prevention of future deaths report, and said it is committed to working with Ofsted to review how judgments are made for schools that are found to be inadequate solely on safeguarding grounds, as Caversham Primary School was.
Where the safeguarding issues are shown to have been resolved quickly, no further intervention will take place, the department added.
Safeguarding guidance in the department will also be reviewed and a call for evidence will be launched in the spring, asking the sector for views on how to go further to support school leaders on safeguarding.
Ms Keegan said: “Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy and the coroner’s findings made clear that lessons need to be learned.
“That’s why I have worked closely with Ruth Perry’s sister, former colleagues and friends over the past year, to listen and make important changes to inspections with Ofsted to secure a legacy for Ruth.
“We are working to ensure inspections keep children safe, whilst also prioritising the safety and wellbeing of school leaders serving in our schools through expanded wellbeing support for leaders.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Ofsted’s actions “do not address all the problems with the inspection system”, but they are “positive steps in the right direction”.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said that NAHT has compiled a report into the “changes necessary to make our inspection system fair, proportionate and humane”, which includes support from school leaders for the removal of one-word judgments.
Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union, said their latest survey of members, conducted last weekend, found that “safeguarding of both students and staff was inadequate during Ofsted inspections”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub