Ofsted ratings may be reviewed after headteacher’s death, says Michael Gove
A Cabinet minister has called for a review of an Ofsted rule that meant a largely well-performing school whose headteacher took her own life was awarded the lowest-possible grade.
Michael Gove, Levelling Up Secretary, said there is a need to look again at the way ineffective safeguarding measures or an “inadequate” judgment in any one of four key areas is guaranteed to tank a school’s overall rating.
It was this rule – the so-called “limiting judgment” – that meant Ruth Perry’s school was downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate”, despite achieving a “good” result in most categories.
The 53-year-old, who was head of Caversham Primary School in Reading for 13 years, died by suicide after learning about Ofsted’s plans to lower its rating.
Asked about Ms Perry’s case, Mr Gove said it was “important” not to be “too political” when reflecting on her passing.
But he said the “limiting judgment” was “one issue” that should be reviewed.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, he said: “There is one issue, which I do think we need to reflect on and look at, which is that if a school is found to have failed its safeguarding criteria, then that is what is called a limiting judgment.
“And if a school is found ‘inadequate’ in that area, that means it’s ‘inadequate’ overall, even if it has strong teaching and learning and its other areas are good as well.
“I do think we need to look at the way in which a limiting judgment, as it’s called – a technical term – means that a failure in one area means failure everywhere else. But that is not a criticism of Ofsted.”
According to Ofsted’s inspection handbook, a school will receive the lowest-possible grade overall if “any one of the key judgments is inadequate and/or safeguarding is ineffective”.
Overall rating was dropped
Ofsted found Ms Perry’s school to be “good” in every category except for leadership and management, where it was accused of poor record-keeping and failings in employment checks that could have put pupils at risk. This meant the overall rating was dropped to “inadequate”.
The watchdog declined to comment on Mr Gove’s remarks, however, it is understood any changes to its inspection framework would require consultation with parents and teachers, as well as government agreement.
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”.
Her family told the BBC that the “caring” head was left a “shadow of her former self” following the inspection last November, which she had described as the “worst day of her life”.
‘Great sadness at Ofsted’
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said in a statement on Friday: “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.
“Ahead of the coroner’s inquest, it would not be right to say too much. But I will say that the news of Ruth’s death was met with great sadness at Ofsted.
“We know that inspections can be challenging and we always aim to carry them out with sensitivity as well as professionalism.
“Our school inspectors are all former or serving school leaders. They understand the vital work headteachers do, and the pressures they are under. For so many colleagues, this was profoundly upsetting news to hear.”
A Department for Education spokesman said: “We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.
“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.”