Ruth Perry’s death last year was a tragedy. The headteacher had carried the burden of an Ofsted inspection pretty much alone over the Christmas holiday. The sword of Damocles was no longer dangling by a thread, but hurtling towards her. Perry knew that the inspection report was on its way but only one word mattered: inadequate. Unable to discuss the report openly for fear of incurring the wrath of Ofsted, Perry took her own life on 8 January.
Now Ofsted has paused inspections until assessors have been properly trained to protect the wellbeing of headteachers and their staff. As a teacher, I wonder why it took them so long to work out that the inspection process is too often judgmental, uncaring and unfeeling to the hard work and commitment of those of us who work in schools.
Make no mistake, schools need to be externally inspected. Otherwise we risk inconsistency across the education sector, and even worse systems of internal inspections from school managements with maverick ideas.
For those who have been out of school for several years, inspection regimes have changed significantly over the last three decades. When I started teaching in 1996, a visit from Ofsted meant a team of 15 inspectors setting up camp for a whole week. I was observed three times in my first inspection with detailed notes scribbled down during each lesson. Classroom teachers like me were the focus of the inspection and our headteachers could read all about our perceived performance in the classroom. Several weeks’ notice meant that we put on a show – only the best lessons were allowed during Ofsted week. Training courses were cancelled and sickness was prohibited where possible. Anecdotal reports from other schools suggested that some particularly unruly children were educated elsewhere for the week.
But that model was replaced years ago.