Former Ofsted chief to lead watchdog’s independent review

Inquiry will look at whether watchdog's policies for responding to tragic incidents need to be revised after Ruth Perry death

Inquiry will look at whether watchdog's policies for responding to tragic incidents need to be revised after Ruth Perry death

Ofsted has named a former chief inspector to lead the independent inquiry into its response to Ruth Perry’s death. 

Dame Christine Gilbert, who served as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector from 2006 until 2011 and now chairs the Education Endowment Foundation, will lead the learning review.

A coroner ruled in December the Caversham Primary School headteacher’s death by suicide was contributed to by an Ofsted inspection. 

In her prevention of future deaths report issued in the wake of Perry’s inquest, coroner Heidi Connor noted that “no learning review was conducted by Ofsted” into its handling of her death and that there was “no policy requiring this to be done”.

Ofsted pledged to appoint a “recognised expert from the education sector” to lead the review. 

Review will not reexamine Caversham inspection

The review, to start this month, will consider the actions Ofsted took in response to hearing about the death of Perry.

This will include Ofsted’s communications, its engagement with stakeholders and information-sharing regarding the incident, the support Ofsted offered internally to staff, including inspectors, and how its approach was informed by clearly defined policies.

Gilbert will have “access to relevant internal records and be able to speak with any member of Ofsted staff she chooses”, the watchdog said. Staff can speak anonymously and will not be named in the report.

She will also have the opportunity to meet Perry’s family for the review and will be assisted by Ofsted in “obtaining any specialist advice she requires, such as in the areas of mental health and well-being”.

But the review will not examine the inspection of Caversham primary, in November 2022, or the judgements it made.

‘Concern about former HMCI leading review’

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said Gilbert has the “insight and determination to carry out a comprehensive review”.

But he added it was “important to confront head-on the concern that some might express about a former chief inspector reviewing the work of Ofsted”.

“It is therefore crucial that the review demonstrates a robust level of independence and impartiality.”

Gilbert said she “intends to take a very detailed and thorough look at all areas of Ofsted’s work – from the moment the Caversham inspection ended, through to the conclusion of the Coroner’s inquest”.

She added Perry’s death was “a deeply sad and shocking event” that Ofsted has “accepted that it is vitally important for it to learn from”.

Ofsted will publish a written report on Gilbert’s findings and its response as part of its wider ‘Big Listen’ consultation response in Autumn.

Recommendations will focus on “future actions” the watchdog can take to “improve our policies and processes for responding to incidents”.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Martyn Olliver added Gilbert has a “wealth of experience in schools, in inspection, and in undertaking a range of reviews”. 

Her work will “help us build an Ofsted that is trusted by the professionals we inspect and regulate, as well as the children, parents and carers we are here to serve”, he added.

Who is Dame Christine Gilbert?

Gilbert had an 18-year teaching career, including a stint as a secondary headteacher, before becoming chief executive of Tower Hamlets council.

During her tenure as Ofsted chief inspector from 2006 to 2011, she oversaw the watchdog’s expansion to include wider social care and adult learning responsibilities. She also launched a “crackdown” on ‘boring’ teaching.

Gilbert now chairs the Education Endowment Foundation and schools partnership Camden for Learning, and has led several other education reviews, including the academies commission ‘Unleashing Greatness’ report in 2013. 

She was also part of the review team that supported Baroness Casey in her probe into the Metropolitan Police. The damning report concluded the force is institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic. 

Gilbert received a damehood in 2022.

Not all inspectors have done mental health training yet

The inspectorate also previously pledged that all its inspectors would complete new mental health awareness training by the end of March. 

Last week, the watchdog said that all inspectors currently conducting inspections have completed the training.

A spokesperson said that in total, 3,318 out of 3,414 inspectors, 97 per cent,  completed the course by March 31. 

Of the 96 who did not, they said 31 are employees who have been absent from work due to illness or parental leave, they will be required to complete the training when they return to work and before returning to inspection. 

The other 65 are contractors who will either complete the training before they return to inspection, or will stop working for Ofsted, they added. 

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  1. Phil Hatton

    Reminds me of questions on the Post Office today. “Don’t you think in hindsight it would have been better to have someone independent leading the review?”