As many will be aware, a head teacher, Ruth Perry tragically took her life recently. While it may never be known exactly what caused Ruth to act in that way, it followed her being informed that her school would be downgraded from Outstanding, the highest rating, to Inadequate, the lowest. Ruth’s sister has said Ruth was badly affected by the news and was “an absolute shadow of her former self”.
This terribly sad case has led many to question how greatly the process of Ofsted inspections, the framework itself, the culture of inspections, the information received, the one-word judgements and generally the approach taken in carrying out of an inspection can impact those individuals involved. It has put Ofsted inspectors and the inspection process under extreme scrutiny.
According to Ofsted’s ‘School Inspection Handbook’ (“Handbook”), where inspectors have gathered evidence at the end of day 1 or day 2 which indicates that the school may be graded as Requires Improvement or Inadequate, then the lead inspector will alert the headteacher immediately. It would appear that this news was shared with Ruth on day 1. The Handbook also states that where this occurs, “The inspector must emphasise that they do not make final judgements until the final team meeting at the end of day 2.”
The Handbook goes on to further detail that at the end of the final day of inspection, inspectors will make an overall evaluation, record the main points for feedback, and then conduct an on-site feedback meeting with the school. Those who are allowed to attend include the head teacher and other senior leaders. It also states that, “The draft report is restricted and confidential to the relevant personnel (as determined by the school), including those responsible for governance, and should not be shared more widely or published.”
Finally, the Handbook notes that the “inspection process should not be treated as complete until all inspection activity has been carried out and the final version of the inspection report has been sent to the school.”
The school was rated as Good in every domain apart from Leadership and Management, which was rated as Inadequate, therefore making the overall rating Inadequate. The primary reasons cited for this were that “leaders do not have the required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm. They have not taken prompt and proper actions when pupils are at risk. They have not ensured that safeguarding is effective throughout the school.” While the exact nature and extent of safeguarding failures and their frequency is unknown, it would not be the first time in this firm’s experience where Ofsted inspectors have used minimal information on isolated incidents (taken out of context) to support negative findings and justify downgrading schools. The report further went on to state that the leadership didn’t have the necessary experience or qualifications to operate effective governance systems.
Regardless of this, it appears that Ruth Perry may have felt this damning information for the school was proffered in such a way that she believed there was no way to challenge such findings and that she had to harbour this ‘secret’ until the final report was published. Arguably it is indicative of poor inspector conduct and a failure to inform the relevant persons of their rights to appeal.
As an inspectorate, Ofsted has a duty to ensure that the schools it inspects are meeting and adhering to basic fundamental standards. Its Handbook says that schools have five working days to comment on the draft report, inspection process and findings. Ofsted will then consider the comments and will respond to them when the final report is shared with the school 30 working days after the inspection.
The important take away for providers here should be that even when dealing with an inspectorate or regulator, you still have rights and means to challenge them. Regulators are bound by public law duties and must conduct themselves accordingly. Where there are questions about that conduct or the process for making determinations, providers should know they can voice them.
Ofsted and its inspection process is now facing widespread criticism regarding their process for and approach to inspections. Hopefully lessons can be learned from this and a more transparent, cooperative, and supportive approach will be taken in all inspections in future.