Ofsted inspections will not restart next week, new chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver has said, as he launches an internal inquiry into how the embattled watchdog responded to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.
In a wide-ranging interview with FE Week’s sister publication Schools Week, the former Outwood Grange Academy Trust boss has promised the sector a “fresh start”, with more “empathetic” inspections and a “less defensive” inspectorate that is more “of the system”.
The watchdog has faced fierce criticism after Perry’s suicide. A coroner ruled an Ofsted inspection contributed to her death, adding there is a “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.
Inspections were paused before Christmas. Ofsted and the Department for Education have until February 7 to tell the coroner what actions they will take over her concerns about school inspections.
Oliver told Schools Week while there was a “tremendous amount that Ofsted has already done, there’s far more that’s planned to come”.
Starting the role today, he said inspections won’t restart for a “couple of weeks”, something union leaders have called for while the watchdog responds to the coroner’s concerns and training for inspectors is rolled out.
The later start to 2024 inspections applies to further education and skills, except for joint inspections of prisons.
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) have since posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) that inspections won’t commence until w/c January 15.
“I don’t think it’s a pause… I think it’s not starting until a couple of weeks where I’ve put in place the plans and training and met with these leaders to talk to them face to face.
“I think there’ll be updates on that quite quickly, by the end of this week, or the following week… as you can imagine, trying to do this before you’ve begun is very difficult.”
Emergency inspections will continue as they are “about ensuring that people and children are safe”, he added.
‘Professional, courteous, respectful, empathetic inspections’
Ofsted held emergency training last month for lead inspectors on spotting and dealing with school leader anxiety during inspections. It has promised wider training for all inspectors this term.
Further details published by Ofsted this morning state Oliver will lead initial training for all inspectors.
It will include training from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, which will also lead a “rolling programme” of further mental health awareness training for inspectors.
Details of the training will be published “ensuring it is embedded throughout the professions”.
Oliver added: “I think Ofsted needs to do a thorough review. It’s already doing a review of its EIF [education inspection framework]. I think we need to look at a review, quite rightly as the coroner requested, to our response to Ruth’s tragic death.”
The scope for the internal review is yet to be determined but is expected to include looking at how Ofsted responded to Perry’s death last year.
As part of that, Oliver will meet later this week with Perry’s sister Julia Waters, who has been campaigning for Ofsted reform.
Oliver said: “First and foremost, I just want to send my deepest condolences. As a fellow headteacher, it was a shock to learn of what happened.
“It’s been a very challenging time for the system and for the inspectorate. Quite rightly, it’s a very critical coroner’s report of Ofsted.
“I’m really clear that we should accept and take on board all of those points, very seriously. I look forward to working with everyone to develop a really strong response.
“From January, it’s about having a fresh start and really focusing and doubling down on having professional, courteous, respectful, empathetic inspections.”
Oliver will run a ‘big listen’ to get the sector’s views on change. “Part of the thing that the system fears with a new chief inspector is that it’s just going to be their ideas imposed on the system, which I’m not going to do.”
He doesn’t think a new framework is required, but if the sector thinks required changes are “untenable” under the current inspection model then “nothing is off the table”.
He pledged to look at the workload impact of any changes and to consult the sector on major proposals.
However, expanding on his idea to get more leaders inspecting, saying he wants to create a “faster track” so it becomes “part of the golden thread” of teacher development.
“The chance to be an inspector quicker, it would have certainly helped me do my job. In the role of an executive in a trust, you’re judging schools: what are the areas for development? What are their strengths?
“Well, that’s Ofsted’s profession. The more we can bring the two together: that’s that sense of synthesis that I was talking about. I think that’s when Ofsted can be part of raising standards.”
Less defensive, more open
He also promised not to just release training materials used by inspectors, but also open up the watchdog’s vast database for “researchers and academics to look at Ofsted’s working performance”.
“I’m determined to meet with the media and to be more open, less defensive, to accept the criticism because I genuinely think you [the media], researchers, serving practitioners: we’re all doing this job and you’re reporting on education because you firmly believe that the power of education and Ofsted should be a significant part of that.”
When asked if he would act on proposals for a comprehensive review of the grading system, including the validity and reliability of judgments, he said: “I think we should review all of this.”
While he has “thousands of ideas, I’m trying to contain them because … a sense of ‘of the system’ means listening to people” not just for the immediate response but also to produce a “longer-term plan, which is more sustained and more considered going forward”.
But he added: “The timing of any changes and the timing of a general election: it could be that nothing changes, it could be that things change significantly, I just need to be sensible.”
He also suggested a move away from Ofsted’s role under Spielman of publishing research, such as subject reviews.
Ofsted published a review of the business curriculum in October, a first for FE having published numerous reviews of the school curriculum since April 2021.
“I don’t think it’s not Ofsted’s role. But I do think it’s Ofsted’s role to deliver the best inspections it can for the funding it’s got. My absolute and only priority is to do that. If there is then additional time and money to be spent, my next stage would be to look at how we can be even better at doing that.”