The tragic suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry has sparked a critical examination of Ofsted’s school inspections. The coroner’s verdict stated that Perry’s death was influenced by the Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022. The use of one or two-word grades by Ofsted to evaluate schools was criticized for not taking teacher welfare into consideration. This verdict has raised five significant questions that Ofsted must now address.
One of the main concerns raised is whether the overall grades given by Ofsted accurately reflect the complexities of a school. While these grades provide a quick overview for parents, there is growing concern that they may not capture the full picture. The coroner highlighted that two very different schools could both receive an “inadequate” grade, resulting in similar consequences.
During the inspection at Ruth Perry’s school, it was found that everything was “good” except for safeguarding. The coroner emphasized that the safeguarding concerns could have been swiftly addressed. However, being labeled as “inadequate” by Ofsted often leads to the head teacher losing their job, which was a fear Perry had.
Ofsted’s response to Perry’s death was criticized for its insensitivity. Chief inspector Amanda Spielman was accused of using Perry’s death to shift the discussion and discredit her work. The coroner reprimanded Ofsted for this response, sparking a public debate about the mental health of head teachers.
The incoming chief inspector, Martyn Oliver, will need to address the concerns raised during Perry’s inquest. Promises have been made for better training for inspectors on how to handle head teacher distress and when to pause an inspection. However, the coroner expressed doubts about whether such measures are already in place. Additionally, the new chief inspector will need to repair the damaged relationship and perception of Ofsted resulting from the mishandling of Perry’s case.
Ofsted’s role is accountable to Parliament, and MPs have expressed a desire to scrutinize how the system is working for parents and schools. They are currently investigating head teachers’ mental health, the consistency and reliability of school judgments, and the usefulness of inspection reports to parents.
Ofsted acknowledges the need to minimize stress on head teachers and has pledged to provide additional training. They have also promised to make it clear that head teachers can share inspection outcomes with colleagues, family, and medical advisers before they are shared with parents.
The death of Ruth Perry has highlighted the immense stress faced by head teachers, particularly during inspections. The challenges have only been exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. The government has allocated funding to support school leaders through confidential supervision sessions. However, more work needs to be done to address the mental health issues experienced by head teachers.
The tragic death of Ruth Perry has placed Ofsted under scrutiny and raised important questions about its inspection process. It is crucial for the organization to address these concerns and work towards improving the system for the well-being of both teachers and students.