What is Ofsted and why is it facing such a backlash?
Ofsted is facing growing anger from teachers following the suicide of Ruth Perry. Here, Yahoo News explains why tensions have boiled over.
Ofsted's one-word ratings for schools could reportedly be scrapped after a headteacher took her own life.
The school watchdog has faced a backlash from the teaching profession over it's "punitive" regime following the death of Ruth Perry, head of Caversham Primary School in Reading in January.
Perry's family said an Ofsted report giving her school the lowest possible rating had destroyed 32 years of her vocation and "preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it any more”"
In a backlash against the system, schools have removed references to Ofsted from their websites and some heads are wearing black armbands.
The response has reportedly prompted Ofsted’s chief inspector to consider scrapping one-word school ratings.
In a statement, Amanda Spielman said the debate around reforming inspections to remove grades is a “legitimate one”, but said stopping inspections would not be in the best interests of children.
Her statement came after three unions representing teachers and heads urged Ofsted to pause inspections this week and Reading Borough Council also called for a pause while a review is carried out into the system.
Describing Perry’s death as "a tragedy", she 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."
She said inspection played a part in that, adding that the "broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one", but saying it "shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used".
She said inspection grades allow parents to see a “simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses” and are used to guide Government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools.
She added: "Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government.
"The right and proper outcome of Ofsted’s work is a better education system for our children."
Read more: Ofsted report ‘deeply harmful’ to late headteacher Ruth Perry, says sister
Her comments come amid calls - including from Perry's sister Julia Walters - for schools to boycott Ofsted until an independent review into its process is carried out.
Flora Cooper, headteacher of the John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire, had planned to refuse Ofsted inspectors entry on Tuesday but then reversed her decision.
Parents and former teachers at the school gates criticised Ofsted as the inspection got underway – and one protester called the process “cruel”.
What is Ofsted?
Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) is a government watchdog set up to inspect most schools in England.
The body, set up in 1992, also inspects childcare, adoption, fostering agencies and initial teacher training.
What do Ofsted ratings mean?
Ofsted gives grades to schools on their "overall effectiveness" - which are based on four key areas - quality of education, behaviour and attitudes, personal development, and leadership and management.
All of these aspects and the overall rating are given using a four-point scale: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate.
If a school is judged as inadequate it may be placed into special measures, meaning it is given additional external support and is subject to increased scrutiny.
Why do so many teachers dislike Ofsted?
Many have accused its inspections in recent years of being overzealous and putting untold pressure on staff.
For example, schools leaders have said they have been downgraded if pupils are unable to answer on-the-spot questions about the dates of historic battles or names of rivers, the Guardian reported.
When I was a secondary school teacher, I was told to “bring out my best lessons, even if it’s a repeat” for Ofsted. The inspection system is a pointless and stressful facade. I stand with @FloraSCooper
and for #RuthPerry #abolishofsted
— Sally Roper (@salroper) March 21, 2023
Schools are continuing to deal with the knock-on impacts of COVID-19, which led to absences and disrupted progress in the classroom.
So they have questioned why Ofsted has been given an additional £24million to "accelerate" inspections, with the pressure causing some to leave the profession.
Fewer than one in ten teachers think Ofsted has raised standards at their school, according to a poll for the Times last year.
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There is this Govt call for evidence which could be completed by MANY people involved with schools ? The stress of Ofsted has an impact on the retention of teachers as much as the ECF, pay and working conditions. https://t.co/qBoerqeHZh
— Claire Bradshaw @LondonMetUni (@BradshacClaire) March 21, 2023
The survey of 5,000 teachers found “overwhelming levels of unhappiness” with the watchdog, with the majority of respondents saying they would rate the regulator as “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.
Ofsted has also been criticised for dictating what "proper English" is when making judgements about the way teachers and pupils speak, prompting fears it will impact people based on race and class.
Following the death of Ruth Perry, a former Ofsted inspector described the body as a "toxic organisation" which is "costing lives".
Paul Garvey told the Independent he thought Ofsted should be "abolished", warning that without meaningful reform, there could be more job losses, illness and suicides.
What does Ofsted say?
Speaking on 10 March in response to the criticisms, Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman said inspectors must not "soft pedal" on inspections.
She said teachers complaining about the disruption of the pandemic and economic uncertainty is “an easy one for people to reach for” after receiving poor judgements.
Speaking at FE Week’s Annual Apprenticeship Conference, she said: “We do have concerns about some parts of the sector. We know the current environment is tough but it is our role to report on the quality of provision as we find it.
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“We will always acknowledge the context, but we can’t soft-pedal on inspection. That wouldn’t be fair to you or to the apprentices you train.”
Spielman, who is set to leave at the end of the year after six years in post, said that by reporting "accurately", Ofsted can "make a case for systemic change when it is needed".