Union threatens legal action after Ofsted fails to pause school inspections
A school leaders’ union has threatened legal action against Ofsted over its failure to pause inspections in the aftermath of headteacher Ruth Perry’s death.
Ms Perry, headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life January. She was waiting for an Ofsted report which downgraded her school to the lowest possible rating, her family said.
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has acknowledged the debate about reforming inspections to remove grades “is a legitimate one” but insisted school checks aim to raise standards and should continue.
Now, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said it has written to Ofsted’s chief inspector to demand a suspension of inspections whilst the organisation addresses the mental health risk to school staff and develops suicide risk prevention practices.
The open letter addresses the obligations of public authorities like Ofsted to ensure reasonable steps are taken where there is a real, immediate risk of a loss of life.
NAHT said that if Ofsted does not meet its demand to work together to identify immediate action that can be taken then the union will proceed to issue a legal challenge.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “The tragic death of Ruth Perry has shone a light on the intolerable pressure placed on school leaders and their staff during Ofsted inspections.
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to force change but Ofsted has shown no inclination to change on its own.
“We have requested that Ofsted works with NAHT, as recognised representatives of school leaders, to identify and agree immediate actions that can be taken.
“It is essential that these actions are discussed and agreed with NAHT if it is to make any meaningful difference.
“It needs to be done with us, not to us. Up until now those requests have been ignored. As such, we have no alternative but to go down this route.
“Whilst Ofsted have issued warm words, that is simply not good enough and it has shown nothing like the understanding or urgency that this situation requires.
“School leaders are determined that this should be a watershed moment and that such a tragedy can never be allowed to happen again.”
NAHT has demanded a reply from Ofsted by 6 April.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “We are surprised by claims that Ofsted has ignored requests to engage in discussions with the NAHT.
“Amanda Spielman has met senior NAHT representatives twice in the last week, and she has clearly indicated Ofsted’s willingness to continue having constructive discussions about these issues.”
Following Ms Perry’s death, her sister, Julia Waters, remarked that she had experienced the “worst day of her life” after inspectors reviewed the school in November 2022.
“I remember the very first day I saw her, rather than just speaking to her on the phone, a couple of days after the end of the Ofsted inspection, she came, she was an absolute shadow of her former self”, Ms Waters told BBC South, adding that November’s inspection “destroyed” her 32-year career.
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, The Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.