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Ofsted needs reform not abolition, Perry’s sister tells NEU

The sister of headteacher Ruth Perry will warn “delays and obfuscation” to Ofsted reform will “put more lives at risk”, as she implores union activists to push for improvements not the abolition of inspection.

Professor Julia Waters will tell the National Education Union annual conference in Bournemouth she is “worried that the people who could bring about real change might only be paying lip service to the lessons we must learn”.

It comes after the conference passed a motion in favour of abolishing Ofsted.

A coroner ruled in December that an Ofsted inspection of Caversham Primary School in Reading contributed to Perry’s suicide.

The findings prompted a delay to the re-start of inspections in January and a series of measures from new Ofsted chief Sir Martyn Oliver, including a “big listen” consultation.

‘Seems to be a lot of passing the buck’

Speaking this morning, Waters will say she is “cautiously hopeful that the new chief inspector of schools has the ambition, determination and drive to see through real change. He started off by saying the right things.

“Yet, despite the promising start, there seems to be a lot of passing the buck going on between the government and Ofsted. There seems to be a lot of unnecessary delay.”

Julia Waters

Last month, Oliver told ITV News that following the big listen he would “take those findings and I’ll present them to the government and I’ll make a case to reform Ofsted that’s going to deliver best for parents and best for children.

He said there were “changes to the current framework which we’re working on right now…and I’ll talk about the changes that I can make to the framework for this September”.

“And then of course as the result of the big listen the changes that we might make going forward from that following a general election.”

But Waters will say: “How many more teachers will suffer from an inherently flawed, badly-run inspection process in the meantime? How many more children will lose another dedicated headteacher to a forced resignation, a nervous breakdown or worse?

“Delays and obfuscation put more lives at risk. It’s not acceptable to play politics with people’s wellbeing.”

Oliver said Ofsted’s work “keeps children safe and improves their lives…but we are ambitious to improve”.

“That is why we are carrying out a big listen. We want to hear from everyone we work with, including teachers, social workers, nursery staff and college lecturers. Crucially, we also want to hear from the parents and children we work for.”

Still waiting for Ofsted review and DfE response

Waters will ask when Ofsted would announce the start of the promised independent review into its handling of her sister’s death.

“Where is the DfE’s response to the recommendations of the education committee report on Ofsted’s work in schools, also due by the end of March? The secretary of state has gone very quiet on this recently.”

The committee’s report, published on January 29, argued a more “nuanced” alternative to “totemic” Ofsted single-phrase judgments should be developed as a “priority”, among other proposals. 

The government is expected to respond to recommendations in a select committee report within two months of publication.

However, when MPs went into Easter recess at the end of March the DfE was still yet to respond. 

The department said it had “submitted its response to the education select committee…we expect the Committee to publish it in due course”.

A spokesperson said: “Ruth’s death was a tragedy and our sympathies remain with her family, friends and school community.

“We have worked closely with Ruth’s family and Ofsted to make significant changes to ensure they continue to drive improvements in standards whilst protecting the wellbeing of school leaders”.

‘Teach Ofsted a lesson’

Waters will call on NEU members to “step up”.

“It is time for you to do what you do best – to teach Ofsted a lesson. Don’t play their game of fault-finding and bullying. Look for what’s good and make the system work, with kindness and hope.

“Do not let Ofsted and the government get away with half-hearted measures and lip service. Do not lose sight of this opportunity to demand change.”

She will say members should “do this out of kindness for your pupils and their parents. The interests of children are not best served by stressed, burnt out, anxious teachers and school leaders. It has to stop.

“I know that the NEU has called again for Ofsted to be abolished. You might expect my family and me to be calling for the same thing.

“But frankly, what would be the point? Being angry and objecting to Ofsted’s existence is totally understandable. But teaching unions have been calling for the abolition of Ofsted for thirty years. And what good has that done teachers? Look at the evidence. How did calling for Ofsted to be abolished help Ruth?”

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