UK

Ofsted chief challenged over inspections leaving people ‘in tears’

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, defended the watchdog and how it carries out inspections (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, defended the watchdog and how it carries out inspections (Stefan Rousseau/PA) Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, defended the watchdog and how it carries out inspections (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The head of the schools watchdog has been challenged over the impact of inspections on schools and local authorities, which have left people “in tears”, as she repeated her sadness at the death of a headteacher whose family said took her own life after a downgraded rating.

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman spoke as the inquest into Ruth Perry’s death continued in Reading.

Mrs Perry’s family say she took her own life after a report from the watchdog downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating, outstanding, to its lowest, inadequate, over safeguarding concerns.

Mrs Spielman began a speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference (NCASC) in Bournemouth on Friday by referring to the inquest.

She said: “I do just want to acknowledge the inquest that is underway at the moment. I’m sure many of you will have seen media reports. Obviously, I cannot talk about that today.

“I would like to say again how saddened everybody at Ofsted has been at the death of Ruth Perry and we are thinking, of course, about her family and friends and colleagues at this time.

“We’ve given evidence at the inquest this week, and of course, we’ll carry on assisting the coroner in any way we can.”

Following her speech, which covered some of the content of Ofsted’s annual report – published last week – Mrs Spielman was asked about the watchdog’s inspection approach and its effects on school and local authority staff.

During a question-and-answer session, a person working in children’s services said people are “afraid to challenge” Ofsted and while they recognise the need for inspections, the level of stress often causes a “nosedive” in the aftermath of a visit by the watchdog.

The woman, who said she believes in inspection, added: “I’m going to put my head above the parapet to say something that I think is really important – that I am not sure that from your speech you understand the impact that your inspections have on local authorities or schools.

“Because they’re afraid to tell you.”

She said she has known people left “in tears” due to inspections, adding: “People are afraid to challenge Ofsted”.

She added that after an inspection often “the team (at a school or local authority) takes a nosedive because of the stress of what they’ve been through”.

Mrs Spielman said she and the Ofsted team “absolutely recognise the anxiety that can build up” around inspections but insisted the system has been designed to be “as constructive and fair and professional” as possible.

Ofsted protest
Ofsted protest Ruth Perry’s family say she took her own life after a report from the watchdog downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate (Andrew Matthews/PA)

She said: “Every inspection is designed to be as transparent as possible, to have as many opportunities for people to have a further conversation, to introduce new thinking, to say that they would like the inspector to look at something else.

“We are extremely open and extremely flexible. And it is really important that people know that and have the confidence to use inspection the way it’s intended.”

A survey last month suggested the majority of teachers believe Ofsted inspections are inaccurate.

More than nine in 10 (92%) teachers surveyed agreed that Ofsted is not a “reliable and trusted arbiter of standards”, according to a poll commissioned by the Beyond Ofsted inquiry.

That inquiry, which found that nearly two in three (62%) teachers did not think the outcome of their most recent inspection accurately reflected their school, was launched in April amid calls for the inspectorate to revamp its one-word judgments system following the death of headteacher Mrs Perry in January.

Mrs Spielman said: “I’m confident that we are getting it right. But it is very hard to deal with a narrative where there are stakeholders in the system who do not want it to work.”