Ofsted: Head teachers can request pause as inspections resume

  • By Vanessa Clarke
  • Education reporter

Image source, Caroline Gratrix

Image caption,

The inquest into Ruth Perry’s death found an inspection “likely contributed” to her suicide

School inspections in England will resume this week after a fortnight’s pause to give lead inspectors mental health awareness training.

The training was ordered by Ofsted’s new chief inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, who took up the role in January.

Head teachers, academy trusts and local authorities can also now ask for an inspection to be paused.

It follows an inquest into the suicide of Ruth Perry which found an inspection “contributed” to her death.

Sir Martyn said “such tragedies should never happen again”.

Mrs Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded Caversham Primary School in Reading, where she was head teacher, from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns. The inquest into her death heard no child had come to harm.

The senior coroner at Mrs Perry’s inquest, Heidi Connor, warned of a risk of further deaths “unless action is taken”, and wrote a Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) notice.

It highlighted areas of concern including “the almost complete absence of Ofsted training” for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders, or for pausing an inspection.

Ofsted has since made some changes, and has introduced a policy where an inspection can be paused usually until the next day, but it could be for up to five working days. This would be in exceptional circumstances – for example, where the head teacher requires support – and it would not affect the inspection grade.

Ofsted said that inspectors will contact schools which are due inspections this week to talk through the new changes and inform them that head teachers can complain about an inspection to a national hotline without fear of consequences.

All school inspectors must have completed mental health training before they lead an inspection.

Image caption,

Sir Martyn Oliver said Ofsted needs to do more and “nothing is off the table”

Responding to the PFD notice from the coroner on Friday, Sir Martyn apologised sincerely for the part Ofsted’s inspection played in Mrs Perry’s death.

An independent expert will be appointed to lead a learning review of Ofsted’s response to the head teacher’s death.

Over the next three months, Ofsted will also explore having safeguarding as a standalone judgement, rather than part of the leadership and management grade. Mrs Perry’s school was downgraded on safeguarding but all other aspects of the school were good.

“We know we still need to do more, and we will do more,” Sir Martyn said, adding “nothing is off the table”.

Head teacher unions have said “far-reaching fundamental reform is still required” and the changes introduced must be the start of that process.

The early years sector, including nurseries, also welcomed “a more compassionate approach to visits” but Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said the changes must apply “to all sectors under Ofsted’s remit”.

The Department for Education is working with Ofsted to make changes, and said that a call for evidence on how to better support school leaders on safeguarding will be launched in the spring.

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