Ofsted bows to pressure and halts inspections after Ruth Perry’s suicide

Ofsted inspections will be halted until assessors have been properly trained in protecting the wellbeing of school staff, the watchdog’s new chief has announced, after a headteacher’s suicide.

Martyn Oliver becomes the chief inspector of education in England on Tuesday, and has pledged to launch an inquiry into Ofsted’s involvement in the death of Ruth Perry.

Last month a coroner ruled the inspection of Perry’s school had contributed to her death, and issued a “prevention of future deaths” notice listing a string of issues for the body to address urgently. Unions later called for all inspections to be suspended in the interim.

Oliver said he would heed their call until staff received “immediate training and support” on alleviating the stress put on teachers during inspections, with only emergency safeguarding visits going ahead when schools reopen this week.

“We’re not going to start inspecting until that initial training has been put in place,” Oliver said. “But this training is not just a one-off, it is part of a series that will significantly upskill all of our inspectors in how to manage the wellbeing of those we’re inspecting.”

He described how, as the former chief executive of a chain of academies, hearing of the death of a fellow school leader had come as a “great shock”.

Perry’s family, including her sister Prof Julia Waters, said Ofsted’s handling of its inspection led to a fatal erosion in Perry’s mental health, after the school she had led for more than a decade – Caversham primary in Readingwas labelled inadequate.

Martyn Oliver, the incoming Ofsted chief inspector, at Haxby Road primary academy in York. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Oliver said responding to Perry’s death was a critical moment for the inspectorate and that Ofsted needed to make a “fresh start” by overhauling its procedures to win back the trust of the teaching profession and parents.

“First and foremost, I give my heartfelt condolences to Ruth’s family. I’ve reached out and Ruth’s sister, Prof Waters, has agreed to meeting me very early in January. Under these dreadful circumstances, I look forward to meeting her and to listening to the family’s views,” Oliver said.

He added: “The prevention of future deaths notice from the coroner is an important moment for Ofsted and one that it will, under my leadership, definitely take most seriously. It’s a critical report, and we need to respond to it fully. That means immediate training and support.”

His predecessor, Amanda Spielman, came under fire last month after a briefing memo revealed Ofsted’s lead inspectors would spend just 90 minutes on a briefing to address concerns raised by Perry’s suicide.

Oliver has worked for 28 years as a teacher and school leader in the east Midlands and the north of England, most recently as chief executive of the Outwood Grange academies trust based in West Yorkshire, which runs 41 schools.

In that time, he said he had personally taken part in 96 Ofsted inspections, making him well aware of the impact Ofsted’s visits could have.

Oliver said: “It’s really important that we have a fresh start. I accept that there are criticisms, and the coroner’s critical findings, that we must take action on. If we don’t have that moment of acceptance, we can’t possibly move forward.

“And so I do think it’s important that we actually learn from this moment and that we do look at ourselves and conduct a review of our work. And that I listen carefully, not just to teachers but to parents.”

Many schools in England were still affected by the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, he added, with teachers struggling with disruptive behaviour and poor attendance – as well as the cost of living crisis and mental health issues affecting children.

“The moment of lockdown and then returning, for some children not fully returning to school, has broken that social contract with parents,” Oliver said.

“Teaching is a really difficult job. If you’ve got a class of 30 and five children are absent one day and then the next day five other children are absent and you’ve got the first five returning, you’re trying to constantly manage that. That’s making a difficult job even more stressful.

“And so I look at attendance, I look at behaviour, I look at the mental health challenge that we’ve got. You throw into that the cost of living crisis, the recruitment and retention challenge for teachers. You put all of that into the mix and, yes, it’s really hard right now for teachers.”

Title: Ofsted bows to pressure and halts inspections after Ruth Perry’s suicide
URL: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2024/jan/02/ofsted-bows-to-pressure-and-halts-inspections-after-ruth-perrys-suicide
Source: the Guardian
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Date: January 2, 2024 at 05:22AM
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