‘Toxic’ Ofsted culture may lead to more cases like Ruth Perry, former inspector says
A “toxic” culture around Ofsted inspections could lead to more cases like the late headteacher Ruth Perry, a former inspector has said.
Three unions representing teachers and school leaders have urged Ofsted to pause inspections this week after Ms Perry, who was head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life when awaiting a damning report from the watchdog.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it is “important” that people listen to Ms Perry’s family, who said the watchdog’s report was “deeply harmful” in its “implied focus on one individual”.
Former Ofsted inspector Paul Garvey told The Independent that the handling of inspections has become toxic in the last five years and without significant reform, there could be more cases like Ms Perry’s.
“It’s time that Ofsted should be abolished,” Mr Garvey told The Independent. “It’s just come to the end of its time. It’s a toxic organisation, it’s costing people’s lives.”
He added that without reform there will be more illness, sadness, headteachers losing their jobs and possibly more cases like Ms Perry.
Flora Cooper, executive headteacher of the John Rankin Schools, in Newbury, Berkshire, had announced plans to boycott an Ofsted inspection on Tuesday in response to Ofsted’s handling of Ms Perry’s inspection, whose school was downgraded from Outstanding to Inadequate - the lowest possible rating.
She announced the plan on Twitter on Monday and posted: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”
Ms Perry, who was head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life in January while waiting for the Ofsted report.
Mr Garvey, who inspected both primary and secondary schools with Ofsted for 11 years to 2017, said that the watchdog’s approach takes a “preconceived idea” and looks for what a school is not doing well to give it a lower grade instead of a balanced approached looking at positives in addition to areas for improvement.
He added that in the last five years in particular, conditions have become increasingly toxic in Ofsted, with inspectors more focused on finding negatives in schools rather than helping them improve.
“You can go in with a glass-half-full perspective and look for the good things they’re doing as well as searching out the things they’re not doing well or you can come in half empty with a preconceived idea and look for things a school is not doing well to not give them the grade. The whole culture has changed.”
He added: “It’s necessary for schools to have some monitoring of performance but that monitoring doesn’t have to be individual words, a grade. I don’t know what that would have done to Ruth Perry,” Mr Garvey said. “It’s just honestly awful.”
Ofsted confirmed Tuesday morning that an inspection would go ahead at Ms Cooper’s school after she announced a boycott. The decision came after an agreement was reached “between the parties involved,” West Berkshire Council said.
A spokesperson added: “We understand that the inspection process can be a busy and stressful time for teachers, governors and school staff.
“As a council, we work closely with all of our schools to support them through the inspection process and address any individual concerns.”
However, two former teachers stood in protest outside the school in protest against Ofsted.
Liz, a former primary school teacher who was mentored by Ms Perry when the school went into special measures, said: “It is just unimaginable.
“There is not a day where I don't think about Ruth and the loss not only obviously to her family but the entire teaching community.
“She didn't just care and dedicate herself to her school and her pupils, she was also a huge support for schools in the Reading area and beyond. She was absolutely brilliant and the pressure and the stress that she was under was immense.”
Former secondary school art teacher Katherine, whose two children, aged 13 and 15, used to attend John Rankin School, said she felt “honour-bound” to come down to the school on Tuesday morning.
She said: “I passionately believe that Ofsted is divisive and not something that helps teachers.
“I’ve been through an Ofsted in the last five to 10 years and they come into your classroom and you teach in the way you are told to teach for Ofsted. That’s my problem.”
Asked whether she supports Ms Cooper’s show of protest, she said: “I’m proud that she’s doing it, it’s been a long time coming.
“As she said in the information I’ve seen, maybe it’s not the right thing to do and who knows, but it needs to be said. The scab needs to be picked and I’m pleased to be here helping in that way.”
Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the southeast, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.
“Our thoughts remain with Ms Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”