Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy. Our thoughts remain with Ruth’s family, friends and the school community at Caversham Primary. I am deeply sorry for their loss.
Ahead of the coroner’s inquest, it would not be right to say too much. But I will say that the news of Ruth’s death was met with great sadness at Ofsted. We know that inspections can be challenging and we always aim to carry them out with sensitivity as well as professionalism. Our school inspectors are all former or serving school leaders. They understand the vital work headteachers do, and the pressures they are under. For so many colleagues, this was profoundly upsetting news to hear.
This is unquestionably a difficult time to be a headteacher. School leaders worked hard during the pandemic to keep schools open and give the best education they could, while keeping vulnerable children safe. Since then, some children and families have struggled to readjust to normal life, and schools have had to respond with care and determination. School absence is high, mental health problems have increased, and external support services are unable to meet increased demand.
The sad news about Ruth has led to an understandable outpouring of grief and anger from many people in education. There have been suggestions about refusing to co-operate with inspections, and union calls to halt them entirely.
I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests. Our aim is to raise standards, so that all children get a great education. It is an aim we share with every teacher in every school.
Inspection plays an important part. Among other things, it looks at what children are being taught, assesses how well behaviour is being taught and managed, and checks that teachers know what to do if children are being abused or harmed. We help parents understand how their child’s school is doing and we help schools understand their strengths and areas for improvement. It’s important for that work to continue.
The broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one, but it shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used. They give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses. They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools. Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government.
The right and proper outcome of Ofsted’s work is a better education system for our children. To that end, we aim to do good as we go – and to make inspections as collaborative and constructive as we can. We will keep our focus on how inspections feel for school staff and on how we can further improve the way we work with schools. I am always pleased when we hear from schools that their inspection ‘felt done with, not done to’. That is the kind of feedback I want to hear in every case.
As teachers, school leaders and inspectors, we all work together in the best interests of children – and I’m sure that principle will frame all discussions about the future of inspection.