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Ofsted and Department for Education responds to Prevention of Future Deaths report

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  • @Ofstednews and @educationgovuk has today responded in full to a Prevention of Future Deaths report issued by HM Coroner ahead of school and further education inspections being notified next week
  • The response includes a new policy on pausing an inspection
  • A comprehensive listening exercise – the Big Listen – will include an independent learning review of Ofsted’s response to the tragic death of Ruth Perry

Ofsted has pledged to always act with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect, in response to a Prevention of Future Deaths report issued by HM Coroner last month.

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, has today published Ofsted’s formal response, addressing each of the recommendations set out by the Coroner following the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

The letter sets out what action has been taken before and immediately after the inquest as well as what Ofsted proposes to do next, including:

  • All inspectors trained to recognise and respond to signs of distress in school leaders
  • A clear and simple process for providers who have concerns about an inspection to speak to an unconnected senior Ofsted employee
  • A new policy on pausing an inspection
  • An expert reference group, including external representation, to look at leader and staff well-being 
  • Appointing an independent expert to lead a learning review of Ofsted’s response to the tragic death of Ruth Perry

Sir Martyn will also conduct a comprehensive listening exercise, the Big Listen, across all the sectors that Ofsted works in. 

The Big Listen will be an opportunity to hear directly from parents, leaders and professionals about Ofsted’s current approach, the changes being made, and whether more can be done to protect children, raise standards and improve lives. 

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, said:

“As a fellow headteacher, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Ruth Perry. As the new Chief Inspector, I am determined to do everything in my power to prevent such tragedies in the future. We accept the Coroner’s findings and have responded to the recommendations of her report in full.

“We must carry out our role in a way that is sensitive to the pressures faced by leaders and staff, without losing our focus on children and learners. Our critical work helps make sure that children and learners have the highest quality of education, training and care. We cannot afford to shy away from difficult decisions and challenging conversations where they are needed in the interests of children. I am determined that we get this delicate balance right.  

“We know we still need to do more, and we will do more. Nothing is off the table, as we hold our Big Listen. I know how important it is for the sectors we work with, and for parents and carers, to trust the judgements Ofsted makes. To achieve that aim, we must go about our vital work with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect.”

This comes as NEU Polling revealed that teachers think that Ofsted poses a Safeguarding risk to teachers and students. Read more here.

Sector Response to Ofsted’s Reaction

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges said:

“It is good to see this response from Sir Martyn Oliver today, and I welcome the promise of transparency and openness to rebuild and strengthen confidence in Ofsted and inspection.

“There is a real strength of feeling right across education and beyond that Ofsted needs to change for the better, and as a sector we all need to be actively engaging with this.

“While a lot of the discussion has been focused on schools, there are very real consequences for colleges when a grade 3 or 4 is given around funding and provision. AoC is in talks with both the government and Ofsted about how those rules can change to support, rather than hinder, colleges to continually improve.

“The Big Listen should provide opportunities for college leaders to share their views on the cultural change needed within Ofsted for the FE sector in 2024/25. I urge all of our members to read both Ofsted and the government’s responses in detail, and feedback back to us so that we can collate a consensus around the proposals made.

“I look forward to meeting with Martyn Oliver over the coming weeks to ensure the voice of colleges is heard and to support him to make the changes in Ofsted which will ensure it is a positive part of quality improvement in the college sector.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“The actions taken by Ofsted do not address all the problems with the inspection system, but they are positive steps in the right direction, in particular a mechanism to pause an inspection when leaders are showing signs of distress.

“This must be the beginning of a process for Ofsted and the government to improve the way in which schools and colleges are inspected – one that makes the system fairer, less punitive and more supportive.

“Our discussions with Ofsted and its new Chief Inspector, Sir Martyn Oliver, over the past few weeks have given us grounds for cautious optimism that there is a genuine willingness to reset the relationship between the inspectorate and those it inspects. This is badly needed because that relationship has reached rock bottom, and it will take time and energy to win the confidence of a sector that feels battered and bruised by an excessively harsh inspection system.

“Most importantly, the real test of the new measures and the change of tone signalled by Sir Martyn will be what actually happens on the ground in inspections. We will be asking our members to give us feedback about how inspections are going in their settings and whether they are seeing a more supportive approach.

“We will also continue to campaign for the wider system reform that is clearly necessary to scrap the current system of one-word or two-word judgements which is such an obvious driver of stress and anxiety, and which is so counterproductive when it results in a negative rating.”

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“The measures proposed by Ofsted in response to the senior coroner’s report do not match the scale of the problem that it inflicts on schools.    

“While promising that ‘nothing is off the table’ in the ‘big listen’ it’s going to organise, in fact Ofsted is clinging on to its delusions.   

“Ofsted claims that its work helps make sure that ‘children have the highest quality of education and care’. This is the reverse of the truth and as long as Ofsted believes it, the most important things will not change.  

“Ofsted inspections have inconsistent results. They penalise schools with disadvantaged pupil intakes. They do not contribute to school improvement. On the contrary, pressure from Ofsted leads schools towards a narrow focus on test and exam results. Interrogation and confrontation are built into the system.  

“Our latest survey of members, conducted last weekend, found that safeguarding of both students and staff was inadequate during Ofsted inspections. We heard cases of staff and students being reduced to tears, of inspectors casually disclosing personal information about pupils in front of their class. Inspectors casting verdicts on areas in which they have no expertise. Inconsistent judgements, and behaviour that provokes in some of those subjected to an inspection panic attacks and complications with pregnancies.  

“Just 3% of respondents to our survey felt that the recent two-week pause for mental health training for inspectors was adequate.  

“We need much more than impression management and damage control.  The time for change that addresses fundamental issues has come.” 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, which represents leaders in the majority of schools in England, said:

“There is no doubt that we have seen a welcome change in tone from Ofsted this year, and this response demonstrates an apparent willingness from the HMCI to listen and work closely with the profession.

“Some of the early actions that Ofsted have taken in response to the coroner’s report are a small step in the right direction. However, much more needs to be done if the inspectorate is to fully address the concerns of school leaders.

“Some of these proposals have the potential to improve certain aspects of inspection, but Ofsted also urgently need start addressing the underlying issues that are causing the stress and pressure on schools, rather just tackling the symptoms.

“We hope that when the HMCI says that ‘nothing is off the table’ when it comes to the future of inspection, that he really means it.

“NAHT has compiled a thorough report into the changes necessary to make our inspection system fair, proportionate and humane. This includes widespread support from school leaders for the removal of one-word judgements.

“These, and other long-term recommendations for change must be listened to if the education profession is to regain its trust in the inspectorate. We stand ready to help the new HMCI in delivering that change.

“NAHT remains of the view that far-reaching fundamental reform is still required. This must the start of that process, not the end of it.”

Regarding the timing of the report, Mr Whiteman said: “We have been assured by Ofsted that those schools expecting inspection next week will not be expected to read this full report over the weekend. The timing of its release and their inspections will be taken into account.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:

“We welcome the response from Ofsted and the Government to the report of the Coroner following the death of Ruth Perry, but much more needs to be done to actively support the work of teachers and school leaders and to secure the welfare and wellbeing of those who, every day in our schools, work tirelessly and selflessly to secure the very best for the nation’s children.

“For too long teachers and headteachers have suffered under the tyranny of a flawed and egregious inspection and accountability regime.

“At a time when inspection is contributing to the deepening crisis in teacher morale, recruitment and retention, the new Chief Inspector must be prepared to grasp the need for real change, and further action from Government is also needed to halt the exodus of new and experienced teachers and headteachers from the profession.

“Better support for school leaders, better advice, counselling and wellbeing support are welcome, but the remedy must also include structural change, too, beginning with a pause on inspections to enable a full assessment of the workload and mental health impacts to be carried out in consultation with the profession.

“No credible system should be applauding schools where workload and working practices contribute to stress, burnout and poor health of headteachers, teachers and support staff.

“Abolishing the punishing use of single-word inspection judgements and requiring all inspection teams to be led by professionals who have recent and relevant direct experience of classroom practice is also needed.

“And, we need an independent process for dealing with complaints about inspection as part of a programme for rebuilding trust and confidence with the profession.

“The new Chief Inspector Martyn Oliver has had the courage to apologise. Now he and Ministers must demonstrate that they have the will to deliver the changes needed for the sake of our children, young people and their teachers.”

Department for Education responds to coroner’s Regulation 28 report following Ruth Perry’s inquest

The Department for Education has sent the coroner its response to the Regulation 28 Prevention of Future Deaths report, following headteacher Ruth Perry’s inquest.

Work is ongoing between the Department, Ofsted, local authorities and trusts to ensure all headteachers are supported during the inspection process. There is also a further commitment to ensure schools and inspectors are aware of the wellbeing help headteachers can access, including the recently expanded £1.5 million wellbeing support

Alongside this, the Department is committed to helping to avoid future tragedies through working with local authorities and school trusts to ensure that appropriate support is made available to school leaders following an adverse inspection result.

The DfE is committed to working with Ofsted to review how judgements are made for schools that are found to be inadequate solely on safeguarding grounds, as Caversham Primary School was. Where the safeguarding issues are shown to have been resolved quickly, no further intervention will take place.

Safeguarding guidance in the Department will also be reviewed and a call for evidence will be launched in the spring, asking the sector for views on how to go further to support school leaders on safeguarding. 

Two years ago, the Department for Education launched the Education Staff Wellbeing Charter – a public commitment to the wellbeing and mental health of everyone working in education. 

As part of this, the expansion of the wellbeing support is new investment to deliver a three-year mental health and wellbeing support package for school and college leaders, providing professional supervision and counselling to at least 2,500 leaders. In addition, the Education Support which provides wellbeing help for school leaders was this year doubled in size to support an additional 500 heads by March 2024. 

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

“Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy and the coroner’s findings made clear that lessons need to be learned. 

“That’s why I have worked closely with Ruth Perry’s sister, former colleagues and friends over the past year, to listen and make important changes to inspections with Ofsted to secure a legacy for Ruth.

“We are working to ensure inspections keep children safe, whilst also prioritising the safety and wellbeing of school leaders serving in our schools through expanded wellbeing support for leaders.

“I hope lots of teachers and parents take part in Ofsted’s Big Listen to further evolve inspection practice so Ofsted continues to drive up school standards.”

This comes as NEU Polling revealed that teachers think that Ofsted poses a Safeguarding risk to teachers and students. Read more here.

Sector Response to DfE’s Reaction

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:   

“The Department for Education presides over a high-stakes accountability system, and there is abundant evidence that Ofsted is doing more harm than good. Inspectors’ judgments – which are inconsistent and often unfair – have serious consequences for schools and careers. This is the basic problem of the system. Nothing announced by the DfE or by Ofsted today will change it. A government which wants to make a difference to the wellbeing of teachers and school leaders will need to go deeper than the announcements we are currently hearing. 

“The DfE appears to take the stress of an inspection as a given, and much of the support outlined is for inspections which have already damaged wellbeing. That is not a serious proposal, when the whole problem lies in the system of inspection itself. We need not only pre-emptive measures, but root and branch reform.” 

Routine school and further education inspections will be notified from 22 January, following mental health awareness training for all lead inspectors.

Lead inspectors will talk through the changes announced today with providers during inspection notification calls next week.

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