School leaders who work as Ofsted inspectors should hand in their badges and refuse to be complicit in the watchdog’s “reign of terror”, the sister of a headteacher who took her own life has said.
Ruth Perry, headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, died while waiting for an Ofsted report which downgraded her school from the highest rating to the lowest possible.
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, called on Ofsted and the Government to “show some humanity and sensitivity ” and take “urgent meaningful actions” to reform the inspection system.
In a speech to the National Association of Head Teachers’ (NAHT) annual conference, Prof Waters called for an urgent independent review into Ofsted.
She said: “We had to speak out because we want no other family to experience the pain that we have felt.
“We had to speak out because a terrible injustice has been done to my sister.
“Ruth was not an inadequate headteacher.”
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has said previously she has no “reason to doubt” the inspection before the death of Ms Perry.
An inspection report, published on Ofsted’s website in March, found Ms Perry’s school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.
Addressing hundreds of school leaders in Telford on Saturday, Prof Waters said: “Take down your banners and write to parents to tell them that you’re doing this and why you’re doing it.
“We all know parents deserve better than misleading, dangerous single-word judgments.
“So stop promoting them.”
She added: “How many of you in this room serve as Ofsted inspectors as well as being headteachers?
“No doubt you’re doing your best, but you’re working within a flawed, inhumane system.
“So follow the examples of Martin Hanbury, Andrew Morrish, and others.
“Hand in your badges. Refuse to be complicit in Ofsted’s reign of terror.”
The NAHT will ask school leaders to stop working as Ofsted inspectors until a pay dispute with the Government is resolved.
An emergency motion, which called on the union’s executive to reach out to members who serve as inspectors and request that they consider refraining from carrying out inspections for a period, was passed by delegates.
Ms Spielman has said Ofsted’s one-word assessments, which have been criticised for being too simplistic, are easier for parents to understand.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said she fully supports the approach of providing a clear one-word rating to help inform parents’ decisions.
In her speech on Saturday, Prof Waters said: “Publicly my family has been offered condolences from the very same people who continue to defend the indefensible system that destroyed Ruth.
“We don’t want warm words, thoughts and sympathies.
“My family wants and deserves sincere answers to our legitimate questions and concerns.
“My family wants and deserves urgent meaningful actions.
“We’re not placated with the few tweaks around the edges that have been offered so far.”
She added: “I call again on Ofsted and the Government to show some humanity and sensitivity, to recognise the urgency and the severity of our concerns.
“If Ofsted and the Government continue to refuse to pause inspections, and certainly the optimal moment for doing that has passed, then I call on them to commission an urgent independent review of Ofsted’s framework, systems and culture.”
Delegates at the NAHT’s conference observed a one-minute silence in memory of Ms Perry ahead of her sister’s speech.
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson extended her “personal condolences” to Ms Perry’s family, friends and colleagues on Saturday.
In a speech to school leaders at the conference, she said: “Ruth was by so many accounts a passionate and hardworking headteacher, epitomising the dedication that you all show each and every day to give our children and young people the best start in life.
Julia Waters, Ruth Perry's sister, tells #NAHTConf that speaking out about what happened to Ruth is not without its costs, but she has to raise awareness of this issue because Ruth was not the first head teacher to suffer. pic.twitter.com/m2k3wIqETU
— NAHT (@NAHTnews) April 29, 2023
“The weeks that have followed the public news of her death have seen an unprecedented light shone on the pressures school leaders, teachers and staff are facing.
“You and your colleagues have made your voices heard loud and clear and Labour is listening.”
Ms Phillipson added: “The wellbeing of school staff must be a concern for everyone right across society, for all of you, for yourselves, for your colleagues, your peers and friends, for parents and also for children. For those who inspect schools, and of course for politicians, for ministers and for Government.”
She said if the country does not take the wellbeing of teachers and school leaders seriously “then we don’t take our children’s education seriously and we don’t take our future seriously”.
In March, the shadow education secretary set out plans by Labour to move away from the four headline grades that Ofsted awards to schools to a “new report card” for parents.
Ms Keegan said: “My heart goes out to Ruth’s family, friends, and school community.
“Just as with schools, we expect Ofsted to make improvements where they can.
“I know they’re currently undergoing a review, including on how safeguarding is considered proportionally in overall school judgments.
“I fully support our approach of providing a clear rating that parents can trust to inform their decisions. Ofsted has been central to our success in driving up school standards, with 88% of our schools now rated good or outstanding, up from 68% when this Government came into office.”
An Ofsted spokesman said: “Our inspections are first and foremost for children and their parents, looking in depth at the quality of education, behaviour, and how well and safely schools are run.
“We always want inspections to be constructive and collaborative and in the vast majority of cases school leaders agree that they are.”