Sister of headteacher who took her own life says Ofsted 'must change' and inspections 'still put teachers at risk'

8 March 2024, 00:02

Julia Waters (L) said Ofsted must change after her sister Ruth Perry (R) took her own life following a critical inspection
Julia Waters (L) said Ofsted must change after her sister Ruth Perry (R) took her own life following a critical inspection. Picture: Alamy/Handout

By Kit Heren

The sister of Ruth Perry, the school head who took her own life after a bad Ofsted report, has demanded that the watchdog reform for teachers' wellbeing.

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Ms Perry was devastated when the education inspector downgraded her school, Caversham Primary in Reading, from outstanding to inadequate in November 2022. A coroner found that the inspection "likely contributed" to her death.

The tragedy has put Ofsted under greater scrutiny, and the watchdog's new chief, Sir Martyn Oliver, is due to make his first major speech on Friday.

Ms Perry's sister Professor Julia Waters said ahead of the speech that school inspections were continuing under "high-stakes fault finding and reductionist single-word judgments".

Sir Martyn will tell the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that he is serious about the watchdog "doing better" as he launches a major "Big Listen" consultation into its future.

‘Urgent lessons’ must be learned by Ofsted from Ruth Perry’s death, family say

In a statement, Prof Waters said: "It is understandable that the chief inspector should want a fresh relationship with schools and teachers, because it has clearly reached rock bottom.

"Listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and others is a good start, but for a genuine reset to happen Ofsted will need to do more than just listen.

"I would encourage people to take this opportunity to have their say. Ofsted already has lots of evidence from the Education Committee report and elsewhere that shows what it needs to do.

"In the meantime, school inspections are continuing under the old system of high-stakes fault finding and reductionist single-word judgments, which may still be putting the welfare of teachers at risk.

"Sir Martyn will need to move from a Big Listen to a big change pretty quickly, or this exercise will be a big waste of time."

James O'Brien says Ofsted's single-word ratings seem 'pretty obviously grim'.

The general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) Daniel Kebede said Ofsted was "not fit for purpose" and that inspectors had fostered a "climate of fear".

Commenting on the launch of the watchdog's consultation, Mr Kebede said: "We are a long way away from Ofsted fixing its reputation.

"Only root and branch reform will end the tyranny of the inspection regime and the climate of fear it creates. Anything short of that will amount to rebrand rather than reform.

"The NEU believes that Ofsted is not fit for purpose and must be replaced with a new system of inspection that is supportive, effective and fair, like the one proposed by the recent Beyond Ofsted inquiry.

"Bringing expertise rather than judgment would help protect the wellbeing of teaching staff, which would in turn help ensure children and young people from all backgrounds thrive in school.

"To only point out what schools are not doing when they do not have the resources to do what is needed - including support for SEND - is both unhelpful and damaging."

Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, speakin in December
Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, speakin in December. Picture: Alamy

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary at school leaders' union NAHT, said Ofsted's current inspection regime had caused "untold harm" to the mental health and wellbeing of school leaders and their staff.

He called for an end to "blunt single-word grades", adding they can "cause so much damage to schools and their staff".

Commenting on the consultation, Mr Whiteman said: "We welcome the chief inspector's openness to change at Ofsted and are hopeful this consultation will build on our early conversations about the fundamental reform which is so desperately needed.

"The current inspection regime has caused untold harm to the mental health and wellbeing of school leaders and their staff, adding to stress and workload while often failing to give a fair or balanced judgment on schools' strengths and weaknesses.

"School leaders are passionate about helping all children, including the most vulnerable, to flourish. Ofsted has too often hindered rather than helped them in this mission.

"We are clear that far-reaching reform is needed, including an end to the blunt single-word grades which can cause so much damage to schools and their staff."

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