How does Ofsted work and what powers do inspectors hold amid teacher protests?

There have been protests from teachers, parents, and education unions following the death of a headteacher, ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker reports

There have been calls for Ofsted inspections to be paused after protests from teachers, parents, and education unions following the death of a headteacher in Berkshire.

Ruth Perry, 53, who was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life in January while waiting for the publication of a negative inspection report.

Now primary school leaders in Suffolk are meeting to decide whether to take “collective action” during Ofsted inspections in solidarity with Ms Perry.

Here is everything you need to know about how the school watchdog works.

What is Ofsted and what does it do?

Ofsted is short for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

The body inspects services that provide education for students of all ages, and regulates services that care for children and young people.

Ofsted is a non-ministerial department of the UK government and reports directly to Parliament, parents, carers and commissioners.

It also inspects and regulates services that care for children and young people, such as children’s homes.

How are schools judged?

Schools are normally judged every four years. However, this can depend on the type of institution and the previous grading the school has received.

The inspection will normally last around two full days and the number of inspectors attending will vary according to the size and nature of the school.

According to Ofsted, inspectors will spend most of their time observing lessons and gathering evidence to inform their judgements.

In each area, services are graded and then placed into one of four categories:

  • Grade one (outstanding)

  • Grade two (good)

  • Grade three (requires improvement)

  • Grade four (inadequate)

What power does Ofsted hold?

Ofsted has no power to fire a headteacher and it does not instruct governing bodies to do so either.

It does have the power to shut a school down, but this would only happen after a lengthy process.

Schools placed in a “special measures” category will have two years to turn things around, while serious cases have 18 months.

A school or service can be removed from a category of concern by inspectors if they are satisfied after a visit to check on its progress.

Why are some teachers and parents protesting?

Primary school leaders in Suffolk met on Tuesday to decide whether to take “collective action” during Ofsted inspections following the death of Ms Perry.

Her sister, Julia Waters, said Ms Perry had experienced the "worst day of her life" after inspectors reviewed the school on November 15 and 16 last year.

The report, which was published this week, found the school to be Good in every category, apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be Inadequate.

Flora Cooper, headteacher at John Rankin School in Newbury, Berkshire, had planned to refuse Ofsted inspectors entry but then reversed her decision.

A photograph of former head of Caversham Primary Schoo, Ruth Perry, attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire. Credit: PA

On Tuesday morning, teachers and school staff stood outside the gates wearing black armbands in support of teaching unions who have called for a pause in inspections.

Some were clutching signs which read "RIP Ruth Perry."

Parents and former teachers at the school gates criticised Ofsted as the inspection got under way – and one protester called the process “cruel”.

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham Primary School has more than 128,000 signatures.

Can a school refuse an Ofsted inspection?

Ofsted inspectors are legally allowed to arrive for an inspection with little notice.

According to the Education Act 2005, it is an offence to intentionally obstruct the inspection of a school.

Where to go to get support with your mental health

There are multiple charities, including Mind, who are here to help. Below is a list of a few websites along with phone numbers of different charities who you can talk to.

Campaigns for Ofsted to be replaced

In the wake of Ms Perry's death, the National Education Union (NEU) has called for Ofsted to be replaced.

On Monday, the Union announced it will be delivering a petition "with over 40,000 signatures from across the profession" to the Department for Education.

Dr Mary Bousted, NEU Joint General Secretary, said: “Given recent events and widespread concerns about leaders’ wellbeing, it’s the height of insensitivity for Ofsted to be going into schools or colleges this week.

"Ofsted should pause all its inspections and reflect upon the unmanageable and counter-productive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders.

"This stress is well-documented in literature about Ofsted.

"That they are phoning leaders this week and initiating inspections speaks to the arrogance of Ofsted and their absolute lack of empathy."

What has Ofsted said?

Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the South East, told ITV News: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.

"Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know