MPs launch inquiry into school inspections by Ofsted following criticism

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, addressed the Commons Education Select Committee on Tuesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, addressed the Commons Education Select Committee on Tuesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

MPs are launching an inquiry into Ofsted’s school inspections and whether they can be improved.

The watchdog has faced pressure to reform after headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life after her school was downgraded to the lowest Ofsted rating.

The inquiry – by cross-party MPs on the Commons Education Select Committee – will look into concerns that the one-word ratings that Ofsted gives to schools may not be conducive to helping schools improve.

MPs will consider the impact of Ofsted inspections on the workload and wellbeing of teachers, school leaders and pupils as part of the inquiry.

Robin Walker, chair of the committee, acknowledged that there has been a “notable groundswell of criticism” towards Ofsted about the impact of inspections and single-word judgments on school staff.

National Association of Head Teachers annual conference
A photograph of headteacher Ruth Perry attached to the railings of a school in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He said: “Ofsted plays a particularly vital role when it comes to safeguarding but ensuring that inspections are proportionate, timely and reasonable is essential to build trust, especially after the tragic passing of headteacher Ruth Perry.”

The inquiry will not examine the events that preceded the death of Ms Perry, the former headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, as an inquest is due to commence later this year.

An Ofsted report found Caversham School to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was rated as “inadequate”.

Since Ms Perry’s death in January there have been calls for one-word ratings to be abolished.

On Monday, Ofsted announced a series of changes, including launching a consultation on reforms to the complaints system and giving schools more information around the timing of their inspections.

Schools graded inadequate overall due only to ineffective safeguarding – but where all other judgments were good or better – will be revisited by inspectors within three months of a report being published as part of the reforms.

But Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said on Monday that scrapping one-word judgments would not solve the “underlying discomfort” among headteachers if the consequences of the inspection remain the same.

As part of the inquiry, MPs will explore the impact of Ofsted judgments on schools and pupils – and the adequacy of the support schools can access to enable them to improve following an Ofsted judgment.

The effectiveness of Ofsted’s complaints process will also be explored.

Mr Walker added: “Some have argued that Ofsted’s role should be expanded to provide more support to schools that need to improve, amid concerns around the impact that receiving a negative rating can have on a school’s morale and reputation.”

Addressing the Commons Education Select Committee on Tuesday, Ms Spielman welcomed the launch of the inquiry.

She said Ofsted was focused on how it “can contribute to reducing the pressure that is undoubtedly felt by school leaders around inspection”.

“I think it is fair to say that a great deal of that pressure does relate to the perceived consequences of inspection – it’s not just about the process itself,” Ms Spielman added.

But she told MPs that the consequences of school inspection – such as intervention or support – “sit with Government” rather than Ofsted.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union the NAHT, said: “The changes already announced by Ofsted do not go far enough to address the concerns the profession have or to mitigate the harm inspections can cause.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that there is an overwhelming desire for meaningful change.

“We hope the Education Select Committee will listen carefully to the experiences and concerns of the profession and help bring about much-needed change.”