School inspections must go on despite headteacher’s death, Ofsted insists

A schools watchdog has insisted inspections should continue, in defiance of calls for them to be suspended following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Halting the reviews would not be in children’s best interests, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman insisted.

Three unions representing teachers and school leaders this week urged the regulator to put inspections on hold after Reading primary school headteacher Ms Perry took her own life as she anticipated a damning report.

Former Ofsted inspector Paul Garvey said the handling of inspections had become toxic in the past five years and that without significant reform, there could be similar tragedies.

He called for Ofsted to be scrapped.

The Reading Primary Heads Association and the Reading Secondary and College Leaders called for the four headline grades that Ofsted awards schools to be removed.

Ms Spielman acknowledged the debate about reforming inspections to remove grades was legitimate but defended the system, saying grades gave parents “a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses”.

“They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools. Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government,” she said.

Describing Ms Perry’s death as a tragedy, Ms Spielman said she was deeply sorry for the loss suffered by her family, friends and the school community.

She said the news had been “met with great sadness at Ofsted” and acknowledged that inspections “can be challenging”. Inspectors, who are  all former or serving school leaders, aim to carry them out with “sensitivity as well as professionalism”, she said.

Ms Perry, who was headteacher at Caversham Primary School, killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report that downgraded her school to the lowest possible rating, her family said.

Pictures of Ruth Perry at a vigil (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)
Pictures of Ruth Perry at a vigil (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Spielman said: “The sad news about Ruth has led to an understandable outpouring of grief and anger from many people in education. There have been suggestions about refusing to co-operate with inspections, and union calls to halt them entirely.

“I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests. Our aim is to raise standards so that all children get a great education. It is an aim we share with every teacher in every school.”

Rebecca Leek, executive director of Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association, disagreed with Ms Spielman’s claims that inspectors always aim to carry work out with sensitivity and professionalism.

She said: “The experiences of school leaders are to the contrary.”

The National Association of Head Teachers union said the decision not to put inspections on hold had been “a terrible mistake” that served to “reinforce the view that Ofsted is tin-eared and shows scant regard for the wellbeing of school leaders”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary, said: “We are not against inspection per se, we simply believe that a fairer, more humane approach is possible. We also believe parents would support a new approach.”

Niamh Sweeney, of the National Education Union, said: “What is not in children’s best interests is head teacher burnout and beloved class teachers leaving. What is not in children’s interests is ploughing on with a pretence that this is the only approach to inspecting schools.”