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Spielman suggests Ofsted did not get Perry inspection wrong

Former chief inspector Amanda Spielman has suggested Ofsted did not get its inspection of Ruth Perry’s school wrong, in her first interview since stepping down.

Spielman also discussed the Michaela Community School prayer ban row, getting “a union bashing for supporting reopening schools” during the pandemic and why she pushed for inspections at the multi academy trust level.

Her remarks, made in an interview with broadcaster Rachel Johnson for her Difficult Women podcast, come after a coroner ruled in December that Ofsted inspection contributed the suicide of Perry, the head of Caversham Primary School in Reading.

Schools Week has rounded up the key points from Spielman’s interview.

1. Spielman ‘couldn’t’ say Ofsted got inspection wrong

Ruth Perry

Johnson asked if Ofsted “did exactly the right thing at the right time” in its inspection of Caversham in November 2022.

Spielman said she was “not going to talk at that level about that particular case, it is for my successor”.

But she added: “I absolutely did what I think was the right thing at a tremendously difficult time, when it would have been very easy to say we got the inspection wrong. I couldn’t do that. I didn’t do that.”

2. Inspectors ‘have to give tough messages’

Spielman said the case highlighted a “big tension between the interests of the adults in schools and the interests of children”.

“It’s like a doctor, sometimes the doctor has to give you a difficult diagnosis. And you cannot not be upset by it, however kindly and sympathetically they give it to you.

“It’s the same for Ofsted inspectors. There are times when they have to give people really tough messages.”

Spielman added she had “found people incredibly unwilling to acknowledge and discuss…that there is no possible way that you can ever make everybody perfectly happy and totally protect the interests of children and make sure that you never have to say anything to an adult that could disappointment or upset them.

“Are we in a world where it is impossible to give a tough message or if somebody who gives a tough message is assumed to be bad by reason of giving the message? I think it’s a really dangerous place to head.”

3. Primary heads have ‘smaller shoulders’

In December, coroner Heidi Connor ruled that “parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a manner which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity (to quote from Ofsted’s Code of Conduct).”

“The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find very easily that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection.”

Spielman said Ofsted worked “bang in line with the whole inspection regime in public services”, and that all inspectorates were “there to protect the interests of users”.

But she added: “I think the shoulders of primary school head or nursery head are a bit smaller than the shoulders of the chief constable of a police force or the head of a huge hospital trust.

“I suspect that the smaller the organisation the harder it bears on the individual and that’s that’s one of the reasons why throughout my time at Ofsted, I’ve pushed to get inspection up to the multi-academy trust level, which is where a lot of decisions get made and which would distribute distribute the pressure more fairly.”

4. Academy threat ‘nothing to do with Ofsted’

Spielman said the prospect of school being academised or transferred to a different trust if judged ‘inadequate’ “creates for the individual a sense of tremendous jeopardy and uncertainty” which is “nothing to do with Ofsted”.

She said and there was “nothing similar for a hospital trust or a police force”.

But she avoided a question on Ofsted’s single-word judgments, which have been widely criticised.

5. Prayer ban shows ‘contentious’ issues faced by schools

Michaela Community School, in Brent, north-west London, faced a two-day judicial review in January after lawyers for a Muslim pupil argued its prayer ban breached equality laws and her freedom of religion. A verdict is yet to be handed down. 

Spielman said the case “exactly illustrates one of the big things I had to deal with throughout my time at Ofsted, which is that we’re in a world where there are increasing numbers of issues that are that are highly contentious”.

Fifty years ago, heads could manage issues such as uniform policy, what was taught in sex education and how to handle “children with complications in their in their personal lives, having identity crises of one kind or another”, and parents would accept this “without too much fuss”.

But “there’s a longer and longer list of things that don’t fit in that box,” she said.

Michaela “always gets a lot of attention,” she said.

“But there are a lot of schools that have that have been put under pressure, on various fronts, to make special accommodations, to bend themselves into very strange shapes to provide quite extreme accommodations for this and this and for that and the other.”

Spielman added this “makes it very hard to make a school a coherent institution that’s firing on all cylinders” and “the more time heads have to put into dealing with cases like this the less they have for the day job.”

6. School closures contributed to behaviour issues

Spielman said she was “very proud” that she had “expressed some concerns publicly about keeping children out of school from April 2020 onwards” amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“I got quite a union bashing for supporting reopening schools at the end of 2020, for January 2021 when they were closed again, but I’m I’m very glad I did that.”

“It’s very clear how much children have suffered from from the disruption on so many fronts,” she added.

And “delayed socialisation is the cause of the behaviour problems” many schools are now experiencing. 

Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can reach them on free call number 116 123, email them at [email protected] or visit to find your nearest branch.

Charity Education Support runs a confidential helpline for education staff and teachers – call 08000 562 561. 

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