Ofsted reforms to ensure ‘no more tragedies’

Martyn Oliver issues heartfelt apology and accepts all of coroner's recommendations

Martyn Oliver issues heartfelt apology and accepts all of coroner's recommendations

Ofsted will look at “decoupling” safeguarding from judgements, publish reports quicker, and appoint a sector expert to lead an independent inquiry into how it responded to the death of Ruth Perry.

Today Sir Martyn Oliver, the chief inspector, accepted all of the senior coroner Heidi Connor’s recommendations as he issued a heartfelt apology for the watchdog’s role in the death of the Caversham Primary School headteacher. 

Both Ofsted and the Department for Education have published their response to Connor’s prevention of future deaths report.

Ruth Perry

Oliver “apologised sincerely for the part our inspection of her school played in [Ruth’s] death” and said: “As the new HMCI, I will do everything in my power to help ensure that inspections are carried out with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect and with consideration for staff welfare. 

“Such tragedies should never happen again, and no one should feel as Ruth did.”

The Ofsted changes

The inspectorate will run a formal, internal review of how safeguarding fits with individual inspection judgements, including whether it should be “decoupled” from the leadership grade and have its own judgement entirely.

An independent, expert-led learning review is to be commissioned into Ofsted’s response to Perry’s death. The inspectorate will review its “quality assurance processes” with a view to slashing “the time between inspection and publication of the report.” 

An “expert reference group” will also be created to “provide constructive challenge to Ofsted,” focusing on “aspects of training and where well-being might be incorporated more explicitly across the education inspection framework.” 

Connor last month ruled an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to Perry’s suicide in January last year.

This will come alongside the “Big Listen” consultation and further mental health training that has been already promised.

Ofsted also admitted that there had “previously been no clear, written policy for pausing inspections.” 

During Perry’s inquest, Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distress.” 

The DfE’s response

The government’s response had fewer clear-cut changes. The DfE has reviewed how it communicates with schools facing intervention to ensure contact is “undertaken sensitively and with full consideration of the possible impact on school leaders.” 

DfE does not make clear how much of its response will apply to the FE sector.

Training on how to pick up on distress and adequately respond has been delivered to all officials in the DfE’s regions group and “relevant” staff at the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Future work on “tone and style” of communications is planned, including on termination warning notices.

The DfE will also launch a call for evidence on whether further changes to safeguarding guidance are needed. This will run alongside Ofsted’s “Big Listen,” with small clarifications from September and “any fundamental changes made in 2025.” 

Speaking earlier this week, education secretary Gillian Keegan said when appointing Oliver she “was making sure that we got somebody who recognised that we needed to have a different culture, a different approach, a more supportive approach to inspection as well.” 

The sector response

Professor Julia Waters, Perry’s sister, said Ofsted’s “new direction is encouraging. Had these reforms been in place just over a year ago, perhaps my beautiful sister Ruth might still be with us today.”

“Much work now needs to be done to bring about the radical overhaul to the culture of school inspections, so that a tragedy like Ruth’s cannot happen again,” she added.

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges said: “I welcome the promise of transparency and openness to rebuild and strengthen confidence in Ofsted and inspection.”

“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,” he said.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Ofsted’s response showed “positive steps in the right direction”, but “does not address all the problems with the inspection system.” 

Inspections are due to restart on Monday, when all lead inspectors should have completed new mental health awareness training.

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