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Ofsted reforms to ensure ‘no more tragedies’

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

Today Sir Martyn Oliver (pictured), the chief inspector, accepted all of the senior coroner Heidi Connor’s recommendations as he issued a heartfelt apology for the watchdog’s role in the death of the Caversham Primary School headteacher.

Both Ofsted and the Department for Education have published their response to Connor’s prevention of future deaths report (see the full list of changes here).

Oliver “apologised sincerely for the part our inspection of her school played in [Ruth’s] death” and said: “As the new HMCI, I will do everything in my power to help ensure that inspections are carried out with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect and with consideration for staff welfare.

“Such tragedies should never happen again, and no one should feel as Ruth did.”

The Ofsted changes

The inspectorate will run a formal, internal review of how safeguarding fits with individual inspection judgments, including whether it should be “decoupled” from the leadership grade and have its own judgment entirely.

An independent, expert-led learning review is to be commissioned into Ofsted’s response to Perry’s death. The inspectorate will review its “quality assurance processes” with a view to slashing “the time between inspection and publication of the report.”

Ruth Perry

An “expert reference group” will also be created to “provide constructive challenge to Ofsted,” focusing on “aspects of training and where well-being might be incorporated more explicitly across the education inspection framework.”

Connor last month ruled an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to Perry’s suicide in January last year.

This will come alongside the “Big Listen” consultation and further mental health training that has been already promised.

Ofsted also admitted that there had “previously been no clear, written policy for pausing inspections.”

During Perry’s inquest, Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distres.”

As revealed last week by Schools Week, a new pause policy will be established. The inspection handbook is set to be updated today.

The DfE’s response

The government’s response had fewer clear-cut changes. The DfE has reviewed how it communicates with schools facing intervention to ensure contact is “undertaken sensitively and with full consideration of the possible impact on school leaders.”

Training on how to pick up on distress and adequately respond has been delivered to all officials in the DfE’s regions group. It is being rolled out to relevant staff at the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Future work on “tone and style” of communications is planned, including on termination warning notices.

The DfE will also launch a call for evidence on whether further changes to safeguarding guidance are needed. This will run alongside Ofsted’s “Big Listen,” with small clarifications from September and “any fundamental changes made in 2025.”

Where schools face an adverse judgment, DfE officials will ask their responsible bodies to “ensure that appropriate support is in place to support the headteacher and broader school’s workforce”.

Speaking earlier this week, education secretary Gillian Keegan said when appointing Oliver she “was making sure that we got somebody who recognised that we needed to have a different culture, a different approach, a more supportive approach to inspection as well.”

The sector and family response

Professor Julia Waters, Perry’s sister, said Ofsted’s “new direction is encouraging. Had these reforms been in place just over a year ago, perhaps my beautiful sister Ruth might still be with us today.”

Julia Waters
Julia Waters

“Much work now needs to be done to bring about the radical overhaul to the culture of school inspections, so that a tragedy like Ruth’s cannot happen again,” she added.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Ofsted’s response showed “positive steps in the right direction”, but “does not address all the problems with the inspection system.”

Inspections are due to restart on Monday, when all lead inspectors should have completed new mental health awareness training.

But the school leaders’ union NAHT had earlier this week called for Ofsted to temporarily switch to a model of ungraded inspections and boost notice periods for schools.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, also highlighted that further reforms should “consider the wider accountability system, not just inspection.”

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