Ofsted school inspections to change after Ruth Perry’s family campaignon June 11, 2023 at 11:43 pm

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Head teacher Ruth Perry took her own life after her school was downgraded.

Ruth PerryImage source, Caroline Gratrix

School inspections in England are to change after the suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry led to calls for reform.

Ofsted will revisit schools graded inadequate over child welfare within three months, and there will be an overhaul of its complaints system.

Prof Julia Waters, Mrs Perry’s sister, said the move was a start but that far bigger changes were needed.

A head teachers’ union said the system was still fundamentally flawed.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the changes were “a really important step”, and that Ofsted was right to continue to “evolve” to raise school standards.

Where inspectors raise concerns about how children are kept safe, the school and its leadership are automatically graded as inadequate.

Now Ofsted says inspectors will revisit these schools within three months, and the school can be regraded if it has addressed concerns.

From September, schools will also be given more detail of what exactly is expected in measures to keep children safe, which include keeping good records and training staff to deal with concerns.

Schools are not allowed to see how inspectors have reached their conclusions, making it hard to overturn judgements through Ofsted’s own complaints process.

Ofsted is now asking for views on a revised system, in which complaints could be escalated to an independent adjudicator at an earlier stage where schools are unhappy.

Ofsted said it was listening to concerns “without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents”.

Mrs Perry took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report to be published, which would rate her Caversham Primary School in Reading as inadequate.

An inquest later this year will fully consider the circumstances, but her family says the inspection process caused her significant distress.

Prof Waters told the BBC the changes were a “step in the right direction” to ensure other head teachers were not put under the “intolerable pressure” her sister had faced.

She said changes to the complaints system were essential for Ofsted to regain the trust of teachers and parents.

Parents ‘just get ignored’

Prof Waters said one of the “most hurtful of many hurtful things” in her sister’s case was knowing the inadequate grade given to Caversham Primary could stay with the school for some time, even if changes were made immediately.

She said her sister did not feel she was given a chance to address the issues raised by inspectors about staff training and record-keeping.

But Prof Waters said her most important concerns had still not been addressed, including failing schools over one element and summing that up in a one-word judgement.

“It was the thing that preyed on Ruth’s mind for those 54 days, that one-word judgement summing up 32 years of dedication to the education profession,” she said.

Schools and parents across the nation have been speaking out about Ofsted inspections, with a primary school in Cambridge getting the judgement withdrawn after a legal challenge.

In Sheffield, thousands of parents signed a petition after King Edward VII secondary school was told it had to become an academy when Ofsted inspectors rated it inadequate over keeping children safe.

Parent Emma Wilkinson said the process had changed her view of Ofsted.

“We had parents who were complaining to Ofsted when the report came out, who were told you don’t even get to complain, because as a parent you don’t matter in this process,” she said.

“We’ve been crying out to be heard… and you just get ignored.”

Emma Wilkinson

Image source, BBC/Branwen Jeffreys

Another one of the parent campaigners, Prof Mark Boylan, said that if a forthcoming reinspection allowed the academy plan to be reversed, the damage had still been done.

“Even if that happens, the school has had a year of stress and anxiety,” he said.

He added that the one-word system feels like a judgement on everyone in the school community – not just the staff.

“In a way, they’re saying you shouldn’t have sent your child to the school… you made a bad choice as a parent.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said Ofsted’s changes were “sensible and somewhat helpful”, but “go nowhere near far enough in addressing the profession’s concerns”.

“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,” he said.

The NAHT will continue to campaign for “more fundamental reform” of the inspection process, such as a change to the “simplistic single-word judgements” the Ofsted system uses.

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Action Line.

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