Survey reveals 97% of school leaders want single-word Ofsted judgements axed

Ofsted inspections are due to re-start in England after the death of primary school headteacher Ruth Perry prompted a pause in the process, ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Stacey Foster reports

A survey of nearly 2,000 school leaders, shared exclusively with ITV News, has found that 97% support the removal of single-word judgements in Ofsted inspections.

The National Association of Headteachers union (NAHT) has published its findings ahead of Ofsted inspections resuming on January 22, 2024.

Inspections have been paused in England since the start of the year to allow for all inspectors to undertake mental health awareness training following the death of primary school headteacher Ruth Perry.

At the inquest into Mrs Perry’s death, the coroner found Ofsted contributed to her decision to take her own life and issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report. Ofsted will respond with how it will change its practices on January 19.

Ruth Perry died after an inspection at her school Credit: PA

The NAHT is urging Ofsted not only conducts a full review to learn from the Ruth Perry case, and reviews its training and oversight of inspectors, but that it:

  • Immediately implements a mechanism for school leaders to halt an inspection where inspector conduct or practice fails to meet required standards;

  • Extends the notice period schools receive for inspection;

  • Temporarily reverts to a model of ungraded inspections for all schools, similar to those conducted during the pandemic period, to allow time to work on longer-term reform.

The survey also found that around two-thirds (64%) of leaders believe that Ofsted inspectors should report their findings in a short, written summary of strengths and weaknesses.

Leaders are sceptical about proposals for report cards, with only 14% of respondents choosing that option.

Headteacher of Twickenham Primary School in Birmingham, Helen Slack, told ITV News that Ofsted made her feel like it should be difficult for headteachers.

“I said I am finding this really difficult, I am finding this one of the most challenging things and I've been head for a long time," she said.

"I feel like I'm not being believed and [the inspector] said to me 'if we don't challenge the headteacher, if we don't try and break the headteacher, how do we know you're strong enough to lead a school?'"

Headteacher of Twickenham Primary School in Birmingham, Helen Slack, told ITV News that Ofsted made her feel like it should be difficult for headteachers

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “The tragic case of Ruth Perry last year shone a bright light on the desperate need for Ofsted reform.

"It has been immensely frustrating that the concerns of the education profession and the warnings raised by NAHT for so many years have fallen on deaf ears.

“Thankfully, the new Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, has signalled a welcome change in attitude, indicating his willingness to listen and to work with the profession.

“NAHT’s report today includes some immediate actions Ofsted needs to take – some of which, Sir Martyn is already considering. But more is needed, urgently, and NAHT will continue to work with Ofsted to build a safe inspection system that is fit for purpose."

Ofsted said more than 3,000 staff will take part in mental health awareness training. Every inspector working for Ofsted will have completed the training by the end of March.

Sir Martyn Oliver, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of education, children’s services and skills, said: “Inspection plays a vital role in making sure that children and learners are getting the education and care they need and deserve. So we need to get back to that work as quickly as we can.

"But I’ve also been very clear that we must reflect on the findings of the coroner, learn from the tragic events of last year, and emerge as a better and more effective inspectorate.

Julia Waters, Ruth Perry's sister, speaking after the inquest where it was concluded an Ofsted inspection "likely contributed" to her death. Credit: PA

"That means being trusted by parents and respected by the education and social care professionals we work with.

"We paused school and FE inspections to allow for training to take place. This mental health awareness training is a first step – but for me a critical first step – in reassuring the sectors we work with that we’re serious about change.

"I’m grateful to the leaders of ASCL, NAHT and the Confederation of School Trusts for some really constructive discussions this week.

"We’ve agreed that the January 22 is the right date to restart school and FE inspections.

"That will allow all inspectors to begin the training ahead of then, and gives us time to make sure that every single lead inspector on a school or FE inspection, will have completed it.”

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