Ofsted reforms 'don't go far enough' says sister of Berkshire headteacher who took her own life

Julia Waters, left, and her sister Ruth Perry

The sister of a headteacher who took her own life after her school was downgraded by Ofsted has said newly announced changes to the inspection system do not go far enough.

Pressure on the inspectorate to reform has been mounting following the death of Ruth Perry in January.

The report found Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire – where Ms Perry was head – to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.

Unions and Labour have also criticised the changes, which include more funding for wellbeing support for teachers and school leaders, saying they must go further.

Ruth Perry took her own life in January

Since Ms Perry’s death there have been calls for one-word assessments – defended by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan as clear and easy for parents to understand – to be abolished.

Ofsted’s changes, announced on Monday, stop short of banning the single-word ratings.

The watchdog’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman insisted Ofsted is listening to the concerns raised in the wake of Ms Perry’s death and has been “thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents”.

Ms Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said the changes are “a start”, but do not “adequately address the many problems that the system creates”.

She added: “I am disappointed that no mention is made about removing harmful and misleading single-word judgments.

“I can understand the need to provide clarity and simplicity for parents about an inspection, but too much is hidden or lost behind a headline judgement of just one or two words.”

However she called plans to remove a requirement that the inspectorates’ findings stay confidential before results are published a “very welcome, much needed change” and also welcomed the additional funding for mental health support.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman says they are listening to public concerns

School leaders union NAHT said the system will “remain fundamentally flawed” while single-word ratings are used, and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) described it as a “trapdoor that is both demoralising and counterproductive”.

Reforms include the launch of a formal consultation on changes to the complaints system, which the watchdog said would be aimed at resolving complaints more quickly through improved dialogue with providers, “reducing the administrative burden on those making a complaint, and increasing transparency in the process”.

Schools will also be given more information around timing of their inspections.

The watchdog will still turn up with only a day’s notice, but there will be “more clarity” about the year schools are likely to be inspected.

A change, coming in from September, will see inspection reports refer to the school, rather than individuals, when discussing areas of weakness.

Ofsted added that inspectors will be clear that it is up to a headteacher to decide which colleagues, or others, they share their inspection outcome with – ahead of the report being finalised.

Schools graded inadequate overall only due to ineffective safeguarding – but where all other judgements were good or better – will see inspectors return within three months of an inspection report being published.

This is more quickly than has previously been the case and if the school has been able to resolve the safeguarding concerns it is likely to see its overall grade improve, Ofsted said.

Also from September schools will be given more clarity about the threshold for effective versus ineffective safeguarding, the watchdog said, adding that ineffective safeguarding will be described more clearly in inspection reports “to help reassure parents and others that these judgements are not made lightly”.

The Education Support programme, which provides wellbeing help for school leaders, will be doubled in size to support 500 more headteachers by March 2024, Ofsted said.

Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson said she welcomes the changes but called for them to go further, adding that Labour would scrap single-word judgements.

The NAHT said while the measures are “somewhat helpful” they must go further, adding that the system will “remain fundamentally flawed” so long as single-word judgements are used.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said: “It has taken far too long for the government and Ofsted to announce this relatively modest set of measures and school leaders remain immensely frustrated at the lack of urgency and ambition being shown. NAHT continues to call for more fundamental reform of the inspection process.

“While the Government insists on consigning schools to simplistic single word judgements, the system will remain fundamentally flawed and put unnecessary pressure on school leaders.”

Ms Spielman said: “Since the sad death of Ruth Perry, there has been considerable debate around Ofsted’s work and I want to reassure people that we are listening to their concerns, and thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents.

“We have listened to many voices in this debate. I’m particularly grateful to union leaders, other sector representatives and the Secretary of State for the constructive discussions we’ve had over the last couple of months, which have helped us with this package of measures.”

Ms Keegan said: “Today’s announcements are a really important step. I have committed to continuing our work on improving the way we inspect our schools with Ofsted and the family of Ruth Perry following her tragic death.”