Ofsted halts inspections while staff receive mental health training after Ruth Perry's death

Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

School inspections will be halted until later in the month to ensure inspectors receive mental health training, Ofsted's new chief inspector has announced.

Routine inspections will not take place in schools in England at the start of term, Sir Martyn Oliver said, as he launched a package of training for inspectors.

It comes after school leaders' unions called for Ofsted inspections to be suspended to allow time for "meaningful action to be taken" following the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Mrs Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

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

Last month, senior coroner Heidi Connor concluded that the Ofsted inspection on November 15 and 16 in 2022 "likely contributed" to Mrs Perry’s death.

Sir Martyn, who has taken over as Ofsted’s chief inspector, has said routine school inspections in England will not restart next week and will instead begin later in January.

Next week inspectors will receive training from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England who will then lead a rolling programme of further mental health awareness training for all inspectors.

The new chief inspector will focus on Ofsted’s response to the coroner’s inquest into the death of Mrs Perry, and Sir Martyn will respond in full to the coroner’s findings in the coming weeks.

The Ofsted chief will reach out to parents and education professionals about the watchdog’s approach to inspections as part of The Big Listen which will begin later this term.

Sir Martyn, who used to be chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust (Ogat), said: "Over the last year, since the tragic death of Ruth Perry, our inspections have come under great scrutiny.

"I’m determined that we learn from this to improve the way we work and respond fully to the coroner’s inquest, taking tangible actions to address the concerns raised.

"A lot has been done already, but a lot more can be done now – starting with a robust programme of mental health awareness training for all our inspectors. That begins next week and will become an integral part of how we train and develop our people.

"The materials we use and the changes we have already made, along with much more to come, will be made available for all to see.

"We are determined to bring about a fresh start in the new year to inspire greater confidence in our work among parents and the sectors we inspect and regulate."

He added: "Along with immediate training on mental health awareness, one of the first things I want to do is listen – to parents, to professionals in the sectors we work with, and to people with an interest in our work.

"We are here for children, their parents and carers – and we will serve them best by working constructively, respectfully and empathetically with the experts who are responsible for their education and care.

"Our people come from these sectors. We understand the pressures they are under – and we will make that clear as we go about our work."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: 'Inspections are placing intolerable strain on school leaders and staff.' Credit: PA

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: "This announcement shows that the new chief inspector has a greater understanding of the problem. Allowing time for training is a positive signal.

"Next, Sir Martyn needs to agree with the profession immediate steps that will bring sufficient confidence to allow time to develop much-needed long-term reform. I look forward to discussing this with HMCI (His Majesty’s Chief Inspector) this week."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We welcome this decision and Sir Martyn’s commitment to listening to the profession’s concerns about the current inspection system."

He added: "Today’s announcement should pave the way for Ofsted to fully address each area of concern raised by the coroner, but it must also set Ofsted on a path of wider reform in the long term – including the removal of single-phrase judgments."

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Sir Martyn Oliver’s announcement of a pause in school inspections signals that the chief inspector recognises that it is now time for Ofsted to listen to the voice of educators and their unions.

"The pause should be the start of a root and branch reform of school inspection.

"Our present system is inconsistent, unfair and unsuccessful in promoting school improvement.

"Ofsted is a harmful presence in our schools and needs to be replaced with a collaborative system that truly reflects a rounded picture of the work of schools.

"Parents, students and teachers all deserve better."

Former Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman previously apologised on behalf of the schools regulator to the family and friends of Mrs Perry.

She said Ofsted had made changes to reduce pressures felt by school leaders and "will do more" to address concerns raised by the coroner.

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