Schools ‘having hard time dealing with aftermath of lockdowns’

Amanda Spielman (PA)
Amanda Spielman (PA)

Schools dealing with the harm caused by Covid-19 lockdowns feel it is “unfair” to be held to account publicly, the head of Ofsted has suggested.

Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools in England, recognised there has been a “surge of discontent” about the education watchdog this year.

Speaking to MPs, Ms Spielman said a lot of people “resent the fact that a poor inspection judgment can lead to a change of control for a school”.

She added: “Schools are unquestionably having a hard time dealing with the aftermath of lockdowns and all the different kinds of harm that they’ve caused.

“And I think there’s a sense among schools that it’s unfair to be held (to) account publicly when they’re working so hard with such difficult issues.”

Ms Spielman said school performance is inspected in the same way as the rest of education, as well as healthcare, social services, police and prisons.

Addressing the Education Select Committee on Wednesday, she added: “It’s for Government to decide if it wants to change that whole framework of public accountability, but I think we’re feeling a bit of a push from the school sector for exemption from that framework.”

Her comments come after the inspectorate has faced calls to revamp its school ratings system – which uses one-word judgments – following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry in January.

Ms Perry’s family say she 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.

Her death is the subject of an inquest due to start at the end of this month.

Ms Spielman told MPs there is a sense that schools “want support rather than judgments”.

But she added: “For more than a decade, we’ve been responsible only for diagnosis and responsibility for support and improvement lies entirely with others.”

When asked whether she supported calls for one-word judgments to be removed, Ms Spielman said: “It is not a change I can make.”

During the committee hearing, schools minister Nick Gibb defended Ofsted’s system of single-word judgments as he said it was the “clarity that parents need”.

Last month, Sir Michael Wilshaw, who was head of Ofsted between 2012 and 2016, told MPs that the watchdog’s one-word judgments need “to go”.

But Mr Gibb said:  “I’m certainly in favour of a single-word judgment and I think the simplicity of it is important.”