Ofsted reviews safeguarding judgements as inquiry calls get louder

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As a petition calling for an inquiry into Ofsted’s role in the death of headteacher Ruth Perry nears 250,000 signatures, it has been revealed that the inspectorate is reviewing its approach to how it judges safeguarding.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday (April 17), education secretary Gillian Keegan said that the chief inspector “has listened to school leaders who have expressed concern about the way in which safeguarding is inspected”.

There has been an outpouring of grief and anger after it emerged Ms Perry, the 53-year-old headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life ahead of the publication of an Ofsted inspection report that was due to downgrade her outstanding school to “inadequate”.

An inquest into the death is to be held at Berkshire Coroners’ Court with a pre-inquest review scheduled for July.

Meanwhile, a petition calling for an inquiry into the Caversham inspection has now reached around 235,000 signatories and counting.

It comes as Labour’s shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson raised the issue at education questions in the House of Commons on Monday (April 17).

She said: “The former chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has now said that the secretary of state must respond as a matter of urgency to what he describes as ‘a groundswell of opinion building up’ that Ofsted is getting some things wrong. Does the secretary of state still believe that there is no room for improvement in the inspection of schools?”

In her response, Ms Keegan confirmed that Ofsted is reviewing its approach to the inspection of safeguarding.

The Caversham inspection report rated the school as good in every area except leadership and management, which was rated inadequate mainly due to safeguarding concerns of the inspectors. As such the overall rating was automatically inadequate.

The report (Ofsted, 2023) stated: “The arrangements for safeguarding are not effective.Leaders have a weak understanding of safeguarding requirements and procedures.

Responding in Parliament, Ms Keegan said: “A shocking event such as this will inevitably raise questions about inspection practice, which is understandable, but the safeguarding of pupils is also vital.

“I know that his majesty's chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills (Amanda Spielman) has listened to school leaders who have expressed concern about the way in which safeguarding is inspected and is reviewing the current approach as part of an on-going process of evaluation and development, and I welcome that.”

Ms Phillipson also pushed the education secretary on the high-stakes nature of having a one-word judgement and pushed for a new system whereby inspections would result in broader “school report cards”.

However, Ms Keegan said that removing the grading of schools would risk lowering standards and is a “distraction”. Ms Keegan has previously said that she believes one-word judgements are “easy to understand”.

The petition, meanwhile, is calling for an investigation into this specific inspection as well as a review of the entire system.

It states: “Ruth Perry had been the headteacher at Caversham Primary School for 13 years when Ofsted visited her school on November 15 and 16, 2022. The experience drove her to sadly take her own life.”

It continues: “Ofsted inspections have evolved into such a monster that the mere thought of them causes fear, stress and anxiety to schools, school leadership and staff alike. Actual inspections can leave staff in tears.”

Ruth Perry took her own life on January 8. The Ofsted report following the inspection of the school in November was published on March 21.

According to Julia Waters, Ruth Perry’s sister, the distraught headteacher had been counting down to the publication of the report. In an interview with the BBC, Ms Waters added: “Every time I spoke to her, she would talk about the countdown. Every day she had this weight on her shoulders, hanging over her.”

The National Education Union is campaigning for Ofsted to be replaced and has delivered a petition to this effect to the DfE with more than 45,000 signatories.

The petition, which was started before the death of Ruth Perry, calls for the replacement of Ofsted with a school accountability system which is “supportive, effective and fair”.

Writing in Headteacher Update this week, joint general secretary of the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted, sets out her argument for this, saying that we simply cannot carry on with the current system.

She writes: “Only in England, now, do we have such a punitive and toxic inspectorate. One which drives teachers away from the profession. One which makes teachers' and leaders' lives a misery. There is no evidence that Ofsted is a force for improvement. That is why the NEU is arguing for it to be replaced with system that is supportive, effective and fair.”

During Easter, both the NEU and the NASUWT approved motions at their respective annual conferences that will see the unions campaigning for the abolition of Ofsted and its replacement with a more supportive system of inspection.

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