A life’s work destroyed by insensitive Ofsted inspections

<span>Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

I was deeply saddened to read about Ruth Perry, the headteacher of Caversham primary school (Headteacher killed herself after news of low Ofsted rating, family says, 17 March). Over 20 years ago, I was an inner-city primary school headteacher whose school was subjected to one of the first Ofsted inspections. The school was placed in special measures, despite the fact that we were providing a safe and caring environment for our children. The inspection itself was dominated by Sats results and took little account of the school’s overall circumstances. One morning, during the inspection, a nine-year-old boy was sitting in my office – we were waiting for a social worker to attend since the boy had come to school high on cocaine and cannabis. An inspector saw us and told me that she was going to have to note that the boy was “not receiving equal access to the national curriculum”.

The inspection’s outcome was devastating and, despite being told not to take it personally, I was signed off with stress and eventually resigned (Punishing Ofsted regime is driving us out of education, say school leaders, 24 March). A few months later, I was approached by an organisation trying to recruit heads for “failing schools” in London and Leicester. That organisation was the same one that had inspected my school.

Matt Rodda, Ruth’s local MP, said that Ofsted “must ask themselves tough questions about their role”. As with the Metropolitan police, tough questions have been asked for years, but little appears to have changed. Perhaps Ofsted is institutionally insensitive.

I was lucky to have family and friends to help me through this difficult period of my life. My heart goes out to Ruth’s family. Thank you, Ruth, for everything you did for in children in your care. Incidentally, during lockdown I regularly walked through the local cemetery and went past the grave of the aforementioned boy, who died aged 14 from a drugs overdose.
Name and address supplied

• I was a headteacher in two schools. I was subject to two Ofsted inspections in the first, and one in the second. None of the inspectors was a bad person, but that’s not the point – they were delivering a bad system and I think some of them knew it. They’d already made up their minds to a significant extent before setting foot in the school, based on a scorecard derived from data from testing the children. Some had been, like me, teachers in the 1970s and then heads in the 1980s under radically differing educational ideologies based on the surely uncontentious notion that education “starts with the child”. And yet here they were as inspectors enforcing a test-driven ideology where it starts with the syllabus.

From the point at which successive governments got a handle on schools in 1988, they eschewed complexity in favour of simple gradings and phrasings, but schools are enormously complex and challenging places. A headteacher can see a life’s work reduced to a single banal word or phrase, a school and school community judged as some level of success or failure in the court of public opinion; it comes as no surprise that this can lead to debilitating levels of anxiety, even to despair.
Graham Jameson

• I endured three Ofsted inspections as headteacher of a west London junior school. I have every sympathy with those calling for a new way to report inspection findings and have complained vociferously at many levels about the process. I have wonderful colleagues who have been very damaged by the “findings” and the single-word grading system. I would be pleased to see the often very large and garish banners outside schools and colleges in my area that proclaim “outstanding” or “good” Ofsted results coming down.
Malcolm Rivers
Isleworth, London

• In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 988 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org