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Heads reveal why they set up ‘Caversham Covenant’

Headteachers say their new ‘Caversham Covenant’ support network will ensure “colleagues disappearing after adverse Ofsted inspections” is a thing of the past.

Named in memory of Ruth Perry, former headteacher at Caverham primary school, senior teachers in Southampton will “help each other through the strains of inspections.”

Leaders of schools in the Ofsted “window” will get a “buddy” so they “know there is someone they can talk to before, during and after inspection.”

Support will also include a directory of staff with Ofsted experience that can be called on over concerns about the conduct of inspections.

There will also be an “understanding that for negative Ofsted inspections, the default
solution is to support the head and current leadership team to address the issues
causing concern.”

Those signing up to the pledge include Southampton City Council and academy
trust leaders in the area, both of which have the authority to sack their headteachers.
Ofsted has itself introduced reforms after the death of Perry.

A coroner ruled an Ofsted inspection contributed to her death.

‘Lots of us have seen colleagues disappear after adverse inspections’

Ofsted

John Draper, headteacher at Swaythling Primary School, said: “We were all shocked
and saddened by the death of Ruth Perry.

“It’s tempting to feel helpless, but we wondered if there was some way we could do something ourselves to make sure we support each other better than we do at the moment.

“Lots of us have seen colleagues disappear after adverse inspections, leaving their jobs
very shortly afterwards.

“It’s easy to talk about how we all support each other but it felt important to make explicit what that support looks like.”

The covenant is described as a “public declaration of how all parties can all work together to support each other.”

Southampton council met school leaders from local maintained schools, trusts and
unions at an event on Monday to sign the agreement.

Tragedies like Ruth Perry’s ‘should never happen again’

Peter Howard, headteacher at Fairisle Junior School, said while headship “is the best job in the world, it can be a pretty lonely place” as “the buck stops [with us].”

Howard said he’d had “mixed” experiences of Ofsted over the years, but added: “There
have been occasions where the headteacher has changed very quickly, either in the middle of or immediately following an inspection outcome.”

But the school leaders have now said “that should never happen again,” he said.

He hopes the initiative will help “make headship a job that up and coming school leaders want to do.

“There is no point in headship being so difficult that nobody wants to do it.”

Ofsted inspections restarted on Monday after they were paused so new mental health awareness training could be rolled out.

Howard said it can feel like a “millstone around your neck” when headteachers know it is “an inspection window.”

‘Caversham Covenant’ will enable heads to ‘support one another’

David Parkin, headteacher at Moorlands Primary School, called the scheme “a positive
step towards ensuring any inspection or quality assurance process is done in a collaborative and solution-focused way, rather than focusing on the negatives.

“It will enable us to support one another,” he added.

“It’s a shame we feel it’s something that needs to be written down.”

A Southampton City Council spokesperson said it “fully supports the covenant and the benefits it will deliver to school improvement.”

Elizabeth Salisbury, NAHT regional head for South Central, added the “admirable and
inspiring move” of leaders will “ease some of the damaging strain” of inspections.

Last week, Ofsted announced it will look at “decoupling” safeguarding from judgments,
publishing reports quicker, and appoint a sector expert to lead an independent inquiry
into how it responded to the death of Perry.

Those involved in the covenant include: Aspire Community trust, Bridge Education Trust, Reach Co-operative Trust, Southampton Co-operative Learning Trust, Southampton Local Authority, Southampton Council, school leaders’ union NAHT, Southampton NEU, Southampton NASUWT, Primary Heads Conference, and the Southampton secondary heads group.

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