Blunt one-word Ofsted ratings could be scrapped in wake of head teacher’s death
Ofsted’s chief inspector has opened the door to scrapping one-word school ratings in the wake of a head teacher’s death.
Amanda Spielman said the debate around reforming inspections to remove grades is a “legitimate one”, in her first public statement since the education regulator was criticised by the sister of Ruth Perry.
The death of the primary school leader has provoked a furious response from head teachers, who have started to wear black armbands during inspections and have removed references to Ofsted from their school websites.
Ms Perry, the head of Caversham Primary, in Reading, took her own life in January after learning that her school would be downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate”.
Headteachers have urged Ofsted to drop its blunt ratings, which include “outstanding”, “good”, “requires improvement” and “inadequate”, because they can “hang heavy on the necks of professionals for years on end”.
In a statement, Ms Spielman said: “The broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one, but it shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used.
“They give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.
“They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools. Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government.”
Ms Spielman is due to leave Ofsted at the end of this year after seven years as chief inspector. Any change to the inspection system would have to be signed off by ministers, following consultation with parents and teachers.
Ofsted ratings impact house prices because families flock to areas with top-rated schools.
Labour has proposed scrapping Ofsted grades and replacing them with a report card showing what schools do well and what they need to do to improve.
Ms Spielman previously told Schools Week that Labour's policy could be a “logical evolution” of how school performance is assessed.
The inspection of Ms Perry’s school found it was “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, with the school accused of poor record-keeping and failings in employment checks that could have put pupils at risk. This meant the overall rating was “inadequate”.
Prof Julia Waters, Ms Perry's sister, claimed her death was “a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school”.
Ms Spielman said: “Ruth Perry’s death was a tragedy. Our thoughts remain with Ruth’s family, friends and the school community at Caversham Primary. I am deeply sorry for their loss.”
Some teaching unions have demanded that Ofsted inspections be suspended following Ms Perry’s death.
Ms Spielman said: “The sad news about Ruth has led to an understandable outpouring of grief and anger from many people in education.”
However, she added: “I don’t believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children’s best interests.
“Our aim is to raise standards, so that all children get a great education. It is an aim we share with every teacher in every school.
“Inspection plays an important part. Among other things, it looks at what children are being taught, assesses how well behaviour is being taught and managed, and checks that teachers know what to do if children are being abused or harmed.
“We help parents understand how their child’s school is doing and we help schools understand their strengths and areas for improvement. It’s important for that work to continue.”
Teaching union leaders, who have long called for an overhaul of inspections, said they will continue to campaign for urgent reforms of Ofsted.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “School leaders want to see tangible actions being taken to reduce the intolerable pressure that the current inspection regime places on everyone in schools, and they want to see those actions now.
“We are not against inspection per se, we simply believe that a fairer, more humane approach is possible.”
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The chief inspector acknowledges that reforming inspections to remove blunt and reductive one-word or two-word judgments is a legitimate debate, but there are no plans by Ofsted or the Government to even consider this question as far as we know. There must surely be some reflection following this tragedy.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “Ofsted has a crucial role to play in upholding education standards and making sure children are safe in school.
“They provide independent, up-to-date evaluations on the quality of education, safeguarding, and leadership which parents greatly rely on to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.”