School leaders are facing sleepless nights as they wait for an Ofsted inspection – with distress and complaints over the process “not being a new phenomenon” since the death of a headteacher in January.
Ruth Perry, who led Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, took her own life while waiting for a report by the education regulator at the start of this year.
Ofsted gave the school the lowest possible rating, despite being good in every category bar leadership and management, where it was judged “inadequate”.
But this tragedy is not an isolated case, with at least 10 teachers taking their own lives in the past 25 years in relation to the stress of an inspection.
Image: Ruth Perry was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading. Pic: Caversham Primary School And many in the sector fear there may be more if nothing changes.
So far, Ofsted has resisted calls from unions to scrap single-word judgements, but one former inspector, Andrew Morrish, told Sky News he believes reform is “long overdue”, and claimed evidence is made to fit a preconceived rating.
Mr Morrish said he could recall a number of times where he was told he “might want to go and rethink” what he put in an evidence form, as it might not have reconciled with what his colleagues were seeing.
“And that’s not particularly helpful in terms of us trying to get through to the overall final grade. So I felt very uncomfortable with that.”
School leaders ‘unable to sleep’ over Ofsted worries
On what people have been saying since the death of Ruth Perry, general secretary of the NAHT union for school leaders Paul Whiteman asked: “How many do we need before it becomes serious?”
But he said distress over Ofsted inspections is “not a new phenomenon”.
“We’ve been experiencing these calls and these complaints for a very long time,” he told Sky News.
“In 2018, we produced a report about inspections and the pressures, but obviously with the tragedy with Ruth Perry, they have been receiving calls of despair and feelings of not being able to sleep at night because of the absolute worry.”
Image: Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT He continued: “People might not know that you can get a telephone call telling you you are going to be inspected on a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday… so school leaders probably don’t sleep on Monday night, Tuesday night, and then they might be able to relax on Wednesday afternoon when they know that a call is not going to come in.
“That’s how impactful waiting for that call is, every week.”
Mr Whiteman explained that schools will be anticipating a call from Ofsted every single week once they know they are “in the cycle”.
“If you’ve just been inspected obviously you can relax for a period of time. But when you know you are in that cycle you are waiting for a telephone call on the Monday, the Tuesday and the Wednesday, and it’s a sleepless night, it’s a panic… and that’s a cycle that repeats and repeats and repeats,” he said.
Ofsted inspections are ‘intense’
Meanwhile, headteacher Simon Kidwell’s school in Cheshire was inspected last week.
Despite it being his eighth inspection as a headteacher, the stress of it still triggered his insomnia.
“I think it’s the intensity of the process. I think it’s the adrenaline because it’s very, very high stakes. And it’s worrying about your staff,” he said.
“I’m getting members of staff saying I’m not sure I can go through another inspection cycle.”
Mr Kidwell, described the Ofsted process his school undertook last week as “very intense” after they had been expecting a phone call from the regulator for 18 months.
Refuse to be complicit in Ofsted’s ‘reign of terror’, sister of dead headteacher urges
Image: Simon Kidwell, principal of Hartford Manor Primary School “We had four inspectors on site for two days and they were very, very thorough in the things that they looked at,” he said.
He said he feels a “huge sense of relief” now that the inspection is over.
“Now we know we are going to get a period of time without Ofsted coming back – we can go to London in June with the pupils and not worry about Ofsted phoning.”
He said there are high stakes involved, with schools having to be prepared at every moment to mobilise their staff and get the right individuals in front of the inspection team if they receive a call.
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Ofsted: ‘A culture of fear’ In a statement, Ofsted said: “Our inspections are first and foremost for children and their parents. We always want inspections to be constructive and collaborative and in the vast majority of cases school leaders agree that they are.”
Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman previously said she has no “reason to doubt” the inspection before the death of Ms Perry and that the “findings were secure”.
She has also defended Ofsted’s one-word assessments, which have been criticised for being too simplistic, arguing they are easier for parents to understand.