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NAHT mulls ‘legal and industrial routes’ to Ofsted reform

The NAHT school leaders’ union will explore “legal and industrial routes” to secure more radical Ofsted reform and “safeguard leaders’ lives”.

General secretary Paul Whiteman today put the government “under notice” that his union would explore its options if it did not receive “meaningful answers” from ministers.

The emergency motion, passed today at the union’s annual conference in Newport, comes after the government rejected calls to scrap single-phrase judgments.

Leaders and MPs have demanded change after a coroner ruled in December that an Ofsted inspection contributed to the suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry.

In its response to a Parliamentary education committee report, the Department for Education said the judgments were valued by parents, and scrapping them would lead to civil servants, politicians and the media “drawing their own conclusions” about schools.

The motion stated that government “has effectively ignored the findings of coroner’s prevention of future deaths report by rejecting the select committee’s recommendations. 

“Its tin-eared defence of discredited and reductive single-phrase judgments, and its unwillingness to enter into any meaningful consultation or negotiation, poses a real and present danger to the mental health, well-being and lives of school leaders and teachers. 

“Should another tragedy happen in the future, it will be ministers who need to answer for their decisions.”

‘We will take legal advice’

The motion instructed the NAHT’s executive to “explore all campaign, legal and industrial routes to secure necessary changes to inspection to safeguard leaders’ lives”.

Paul Whiteman, the union’s general secretary, told journalists the “first thing to do is to engage with government and just say, look, you’ve completely failed to recognise what the profession is saying.

“What conference has said today has underlined that simply saying that they think there’s a value to it…I mean, the value to single phrase judgments is more political convenience than it is for anything else. And that simply isn’t good enough.”

But if engagement with the government does not lead to “meaningful answers”, “then government is under notice from this conference that I’m now instructed to go and explore what we can do about it.

“I haven’t got a list of things that happen sequentially, but we will take legal advice on the powers of the inspectorate we will take legal advice on how our members protect themselves when they get the call and go from there.”

Whiteman added that there were “different aspects of law that are playing out here”. Headteachers cannot legally turn away inspectors. But they also have a legal right under health and safety legislation to protect themselves and their employees from harm.

“So you’ve got two competing aspects of law here, which is what we’re going to have to take advice on and see how we make sure that the demands of both those areas of law are properly met. Obviously what we’re most interested in is protecting our members’ welfare.”

The NAHT last year took the first step towards legal action over the decision not to pause inspections in the wake of Perry’s death. But that action was paused as interim changes were announced by Ofsted.

‘This is an emergency’

During a debate on the motion, headteacher Angi Gibson told the conference of the “terrible health impacts of the current unsafe and unreliable high stakes inspection model”.

“Inspection reform is needed immediately. This is an emergency. This motion mandates your national executive to use all means at its disposal, including campaign, legal and industrial routes to secure the necessary changes to inspection to safeguard leaders’ lives.”

Sir Martyn Oliver

Addressing the single-phrase judgments “elephant in the room” in his speech earlier today, Ofsted chief Sir Martyn Oliver insisted again that scrapping them would be a government call.

“I’m sure you’ll know, especially from recent media stories, that we can’t do that unilaterally.

“So much of the government’s school improvement system rests on our grades, that any changes would need to align with a bigger, wider remodelling of the whole accountability system. That has to be a government decision.”

He said the grading system “like any system, has strengths and weaknesses”.

“The case against the grades is that they are simple. That they lack nuance and can be a blunt summary of a complicated reality.

“The case for the grades is that they are simple. That they are unambiguous and give a clear picture, while more detail is provided in the sub-judgements and reports.”

Oliver added that there was “no perfect answer, but it’s right the debate goes on and that we continue to challenge ourselves about the way we present information to you and to the public. That’s a big part of the Big Listen.

“And, whether grades stay, go or are reformed in the future, that decision will not stop us from building a better system now. As I’ve said, that’s why I took this role.”

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