Ruth Perry family furious as Ofsted single-word ratings are retained

<span>The DfE said Ofsted’s headline grades provided ‘a succinct and accessible summary for parents’.</span><span>Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images</span>
The DfE said Ofsted’s headline grades provided ‘a succinct and accessible summary for parents’.Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Ofsted’s controversial single-word judgments are here to stay, the government has ruled, in a blow to campaigners who hoped they would be scrapped after the suicide of the primary school headteacher Ruth Perry.

Perry’s sister, Prof Julia Waters, reacted with fury to the government’s statement, published on Thursday in response to an inquiry into Ofsted by MPs on the Commons education committee, describing it as “woefully inadequate”.

She lambasted the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, accusing her of going “to great lengths to be seen to be listening”, then failing to act.

“This is not the time for more delays and lip service,” Waters said. “It is time to act, to save lives, and create a system in which parents and teachers can have confidence.”

Perry’s family, backed by unions and the teaching profession, are demanding radical reform of the schools inspectorate in England and have expressed particular concern about Ofsted’s headline ratings, describing them as “reductive”, “deeply harmful” and “inhumane”.

Perry, who was the headteacher of Caversham primary in Reading, killed herself in January 2023 after her school was downgraded from the highest ranking, “outstanding”, to the lowest, “inadequate”, after a visit by school inspectors.

Berkshire’s senior coroner ruled that her suicide was “contributed to by an Ofsted inspection”, after an inquest heard testimony from colleagues and medical professionals about the mental distress Perry suffered during and after the inspection.

MPs on the Commons education committee ended up agreeing with Perry’s family that the government should stop the use of single-word judgments and adopt a more “nuanced” system.

Hopes were raised over the weekend that their pleas had been heard when the Sunday Times published a story suggesting the single-word judgments were likely to be scrapped. On Thursday, however, the government said it was sticking with the system, claiming there were “significant benefits” to retaining the overall effectiveness grade.

It said Ofsted’s four headline grades – inadequate, requires improvement, good and outstanding – provided “a succinct and accessible summary for parents”. They also enable the government to look at inspection outcomes across England.

“So while the government will continue to listen to views and look at alternative systems, including the various approaches taken internationally, the government’s view is that there are significant benefits from having an Ofsted overall effectiveness grade,” the statement said.

Waters responded: “It is very difficult for me and my family to see the government refer to my sister by name, and then so clearly fail to respond to the many important lessons from her death, that the coroner and the education committee have raised.

“Having initially gone to great lengths to be seen to be listening, Gillian Keegan and her department have now made it clear that they either have not heard what our concerns actually are, or are unwilling or unable to act on them.”

She said the small tweaks to the “current, dangerous system” offered so far did not go anywhere near far enough. “It is depressing to see the government still defending aspects of the inspection system, such as single-word judgments, that are so harmful, divisive and counterproductive.”

Teaching unions shared her disappointment. Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “It smacks of a government that is out of touch with parents and professionals alike. Single-word judgments do not ‘provide significant benefit’ – they are deeply harmful and must be scrapped entirely.”

The Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, launched the watchdog’s Big Listen public consultation last month, inviting views about the inspectorate.

A spokesperson said: “Ofsted aims always to be a force for good in this country, ensuring schools, children’s homes, nurseries and colleges deliver the highest standards of education and care to children. But we know we can improve.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The secretary of state has been clear that we will continue to consider ways to improve the current system, including looking at international approaches, and we are looking forward to hearing the views of teachers, parents and children through the Big Listen.”